Downtown Carlisle businesses say they’ve been receiving mail as infrequently as once per week, with some items still missing, since a slowdown of postal services began in August.
The U.S. Postal Service says that staffing shortages and leave policies are at the root of the problems, although local businesses and officials have observed delivery inconsistencies between Amazon packages and other mail that they surmise may also play a role.
The mail delays in the borough, appear to have started well before the scheduled postal service changes, which begin Oct. 1 and could slow delivery further.
Stephanie Patterson Gilbert, owner of Georgie Lou’s Retro Candy, said the slowdown has been acute for about a month.
“There are people who started experiencing this in mid-August,” she said, to the point where business mail is down to once-a-week delivery. Delays in receiving orders, invoices and payments are “catastrophic” to small businesses in the downtown area, Gilbert said.
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“We were give or take a week without mail, through no fault of our long-time carrier,” said Buz Wolfe, who founded Wolfe & Co. Realtors at its South Pitt Street office in 1986. “I don’t ever recall this, and we’ve been here 35 years.”
“We began to notice the effect six weeks ago,” said Jeff Wood, owner of Whistlestop Bookshop. “The past two or three weeks, we’ve gotten one delivery a week.”
Wood said he’s no longer confident that the online orders he sends out will actually reach customers on time. Invoices from publishers he buys from arrive haphazardly. His last mail delivery included an invoice that was 10 days old. The trade publications and catalogs he uses are showing up only sporadically.
“The way you operate informationally and practically is just kicked out from under you,” said Wood, who has run his bookstore for 36 years. “It’s something we’ve taken for granted to have six-day delivery. To have it change so quickly is unsettling and unnerving.”
Likewise, Earth Artisan & Outfitter owner Jessica Miller said mail delivery began to slow dramatically about a month ago, and “in the past week, it’s gotten even worse. Between last week and this week we had a five day stretch with no mail at all.”
When the mail does come, Miller said she doesn’t receive everything she’s expecting.
“Some things I should’ve gotten over the past month still aren’t there,” she said. Some of the smaller artisans whose products she stocks send orders via USPS, and Miller said she’s uncertain if she’ll ever get the packages. Likewise, she’s held off on fully launching her online store due to uncertainty over being able to send items.
All of the downtown businesses said that their individual mail carriers were excellent, and appeared to be putting in significant overtime. The problems appear to be coming from the upper echelons, they said.
“It’s nothing against the individual mailmen or mail-women. We know they’re doing the best they can with what they’re given,” Gilbert said. “It’s decisions being made at a higher level.”
The Carlisle Post Office referred inquiries to the USPS regional office. In an email, regional spokesperson Steve Doherty said that “staffing is occasionally impacted in Carlisle” due to the employee leave provision of the American Rescue Plan Act.
ARPA, the COVID-19 relief bill passed in March, funded paid leave for federal employees and the postal service for a variety of pandemic-related circumstances, such as caring for a family member with COVID-19 or caring for a child whose school or care facility has been closed due to the pandemic.
“We are currently making full use of employees on overtime and bringing personnel in from surrounding communities, where available, to service Carlisle customers with daily mail delivery,” Doherty wrote, adding that the postal service is “aggressively recruiting” staff.
Local businesses, however, said they have observed that Amazon deliveries are being given priority over other mail. A package from the e-commerce giant will arrive much faster than a similar parcel from another vendor.
“If we order off of Amazon we’re getting those packages at the right time, some even early, but we’re not getting other mail,” Gilbert said.
Miller’s shop is connected to her home, and business mail comes to the same address as household mail. Amazon orders for her family arrive consistently, and typically separately from other mail that is delayed.
“We have seen and experienced this first hand, where if we order anything for our home … all of those packages, we’ve had no problem, we’re getting all of our Amazon packages. Its our regular mail that’s suffering,” Miller said.
The matter has come to the attention of the Borough of Carlisle, and Deputy Mayor Sean Shultz said he was able to speak with someone more locally in the postal system to get a better understanding of what’s going on, although a resolution is still unclear.
Shultz said he was informed that the Carlisle office has less than half the staff needed to cover the 22 city routes in the borough. Shultz also said was told that the contractor that previously made Amazon deliveries was no longer available, with that parcel delivery now falling back on the post office.
“We’ve been trying to help all these businesses stay alive through the pandemic, they’re still struggling, and this doesn’t help,” Shultz said. “I feel bad for the people working [at the post office], they’ve got to be stressed out.”
Nationwide changes are also expected to impact postal service, with Oct. 1 marking the start of Postmaster General Louis DeJoy’s plan to stabilize the service’s finances.
The DeJoy plan will involve investing a new fleet of delivery vehicles, moving long-distance delivery away from air transit, and — most controversially — slowing delivery of some first-class mail.
The change is expected to primarily impact larger pieces of first-class mail and periodicals, with slowdowns of around 30%, NPR reported this week.
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