The East Vassalboro Post Office rests discreetly along Main Street in a room hardly bigger than a walk-in closet.

But for all its smallness, the little room has become more than a place to mail letters. It helps define the village that it serves. And if it closed, as has been proposed, people fear the community would never be the same.

“We would lose so much,” resident Jan Murton said during a meeting held Wednesday to brainstorm ways to save the post office. “We find out all the news of the day from the East Vassalboro Post Office. It really is part of the fabric of the community.”

Such sentiment has done little to sway the U.S. Postal Service, which is seeking to find billions in savings. The East Vassalboro Post Office is one of more than 3,700 offices across the nation the service is considering closing.

A list of potential closings released Tuesday named 34 post offices in Maine, including the one on Water Street in Augusta.

The East Vassalboro Post Office was marked for potential closing earlier this year. The timing of Wednesday’s meeting, a day after the post office released its latest list of potential closings, was coincidental, said Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, who facilitated Wednesday’s meeting.

Some 30 people turned out for the meeting at the Vassalboro Grange Hall, just a short walk from the threatened post office. The gathering included Rep. Karen Foster, R-Augusta, as well as representatives of U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, and U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-1st District.

All came ready to share their stories and their passion for preserving the tiny office.

“About 15 years ago, they tried to do the same thing,” said resident Vivian Flamm. “The community got together and we stopped them.”

The U.S. Postal Service, which lost $8 billion last year, is trying to reduce costs and improve operations as more customers direct their postal business online, on their smart phones and at local retailers. The postal service receives no tax dollars, and relies on the sale of postage, products and services to fund operations.

The East Vassalboro Post Office serves 74 post office boxes or general delivery customers, according to the postal service. The office has a total of 113 post office boxes.

Postal officials have gotten mixed results from its attempts to garner feedback since announcing the potential closing earlier this year.

The service in April delivered 175 questionnaires to East Vassalboro delivery customers. Of the 84 returned, 28 expressed a desire to keep the post office open, 12 were in favor of the closing and 44 expressed no opinion, according to report released by the postal service last month.

The postal service in May held a question-and-answer session at the town hall. Nine people attended.

“That public meeting was not well publicized and was scheduled at the beginning of the Memorial Day weekend,” Katz said, explaining the low turnout.

A study by the postal service determined the retail window in East Vassalboro averaged 18 transactions per day, accounting for a workload of 17 minutes in addition to duties associated with delivering to 74 post office boxes.

The postmaster position has been vacant since 1992. The fill-in, called a non-career postmaster relief, may be forced to leave the postal service, according to the post office report.

“No other postal service employee will be adversely affected,” the report says.

Tom Rizzo, spokesman for the postal service’s northern New England district, said the service always tries to re-assign employees to other positions.

“The truth is they would be offered another position,” Rizzo said.

The report says that receipts for the East Vassalboro office during the 2008 fiscal year were $24,500, which slipped each of the next two years to $22,500 in the 2010 fiscal year.

The post office survey estimated closing the East Vassalboro office would save the postal service about $29,000 every year.

But Murton, owner of AAA Whitewater Rafting, said none of the money she spends on mailers is credited to the East Vassalboro Post Office. Murton, who said she has tried to correct the accounting error with postal officials, said this time of year she spends up to $2,000 per week on mailings.

“Everything is delivered here,” she said.

Delivery and retail service would move to the North Vassalboro Post Office, which is about two miles away, should the East Vassalboro office close.

 Murton said her loyalty to the postal service will end if they close the East Vassalboro office. She said she would seek other carriers in order to avoid using the postal service.

“They’re not going to get my money,” she said.

Paul Cates, owner of Cates Family Glads, a cut-flower business based in the village, said his family counts on the post office to ship across the globe.

“Within the past 10 years, this post office has become absolutely essential to our family,” Cates said.

But residents said the community has an emotional attachment to the post office that exceeds dollars and cents. Most people in the village walk to the post office, many because they are unable to drive. The daily stroll helps keeps neighbors connected, residents said.

“It’s just been an institution in the community,” Cates said. “I hate to see it go.”

Postal service officials determined that closing the post office would “not adversely affect the community,” but officials who reached that decision failed to grasp the dynamic of the town, said resident Dianne Hogendorn.

“We are three separate villages,” she said. “There are many people in this village that do not go north, they go to Augusta. The post office doesn’t understand the demographics of the area.”

Postal officials said during the May meeting that the church or the Grange could be used as a gathering point for residents, Flamm said.

“We had already discussed how that would not work,” she said. “It feels like nobody is listening to us.”

The postal service is accepting public comments through Aug. 14, Katz said. After that officials will make a preliminary decision on whether or not to close the post office. That decision can be appealed, Katz said.

In the meantime, Katz said he would ask the postal service to hold another public meeting in town. He urged residents to write letters to the postal service detailing why the post office is important to the community.

“Between now and August 14, the more letters you can generate from the community, explaining what the post office means to the community, would be very helpful,” Katz said.

Those leading the effort to save the post office have already collected 220 signatures on a petition. Katz said the response tells him two things.

“The community is pretty upset about this and you have an active group working on this.”

Craig Crosby — 621-5642

[email protected]