AUGUSTA — Keith McCray has been telling customers for more than 20 years to not wait until the last minute to send holiday gifts. For whatever reason, McCray still has plenty of customers who do just that.

“It’s always been like that,” said McCray, the owner of the Mailing Center at 126 Western Ave. “This weekend will be our busiest few days because people think they have so much time because Christmas is on a Sunday.”

McCray said he’s cautioned his customers that the last day to ship something for arrival before Christmas is Dec. 23, because nothing shipped on Christmas Eve will be delivered the next day. But anyone shipping something two days before Christmas will be paying a much greater cost because it would be an overnight shipment.

“I’ve done radio ads telling people when to ship, but on the 19th they’re going to come in and bombard us with shipments,” McCray said. “And as soon as you start flooding USPS and UPS with packages, things will slow down.”

Not only does procrastination have a big impact on shipping around the holidays, but weather conditions play an important role too.

Monday would have been a busy day for the Mailing Center, McCray said, but the snowstorm kept people away. The end of this week is expected to have subzero wind chills, and when it’s that cold, people tend to stay home.

“I can’t change the weather,” McCray said. “I tell people to give themselves a day of leeway in case there is a problem. They’d only be behind one day.”

The best advice McCray can give customers is to ship their packages, letters and cards now. He said if people wait and wait, he can still make sure the items get to their destinations, but you’ll have to pay a lot more.

“The choice really comes down to how much you want to spend versus when you want something to get there,” he said. “People want to wait and wait, but it’s going to cost them if they wait.”

Just a half-mile east on Western Avenue, the U.S. Post Office had a line nearly to the door at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday afternoon, and Postmaster Michael Thurston said long lines have been the norm at the station with the exception of Monday.

“We’ve had a pretty good stream of people in here, and the lines have been pretty long,” said Thurston, who came to Augusta earlier this year after more than 25 years in Auburn. “I think people are getting better about getting their stuff shipped on time.”

Thurston said a lot of the packages being sent or delivered this time of year are from Amazon, and the station had 4,000 Amazon packages this past Sunday alone. He expects even more Amazon packages this Sunday and in the days leading up to Christmas.

The post office has also seen an increase in phone calls from people asking for advice about best holiday shipping practices, the deadline to ship packages for arrival before Christmas and when to come into the post office. A lot of the calls come from the elderly because so many of them don’t have computers and a way to access important postal information.

“They want to know the best way to get something delivered in the fastest way,” Thurston said. “Though the elderly tend to wait longer, because they think the package will get there quicker the closer it gets (to Christmas).”

To eliminate concerns about weather delays or any problems in the shipping process, like incorrectly labeled packages, Thurston suggests starting 30 days in advance.

“You can have problems with addresses or the package being undeliverable, and then it gets sent back to you,” Thurston said. “It’s good to start about a month before.”

Thurston and McCray think weather and procrastination are two of the biggest problems this time of year, but they both acknowledged there are plenty of ways people can minimize the potential impacts those two things have on their holiday shipping.

Last week, three homeowners in Gardiner and one in Randolph reported packages delivered that day were stolen. McCray and Thurston said they haven’t heard of anything like that happening in Augusta, but McCray said there are ways to make things safer.

“People have the option of having their packages delivered to us, and I’ll sign for them and we’ll keep them at the store for pickup,” McCray said. “People send us packages all the time because they don’t want things sent to their house and possibly left outside.”

The U.S. Postal Service says Dec. 21 is the recommended send-by date for priority mail items for expected delivery by Dec. 25 and Dec. 23 for priority mail express. UPS and FedEx lists several deadlines based on different shipping categories, but Dec. 23 is the last day for delivery before Christmas using next-day and overnight shipping options, which carry a higher cost.

Jason Pafundi — 621-5663

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Twitter: @jasonpafundiKJ