As of press time on Monday, the U.S. post office still had not delivered the Sept. 9 issue of this newspaper to our Chestnut Hill subscribers. Businesses all over Philadelphia that rely on the mail service to ship their goods report similar problems.
As of press time on Monday, the U.S. post office still had not delivered the Sept. 9 issue of this newspaper to our Chestnut Hill subscribers.
Worse, we can’t tell you where they are. All we know is that somewhere between the bulk processing center and your local post office at the Market Square Shopping Center on Crittenden Street, they’ve somehow managed to wind up across the river in New Jersey.
Delays like this would be bad enough if it were just us experiencing them. But businesses all over Philadelphia that rely on the mail service to ship their goods report similar problems, and neighborhood-based social media groups across the Northwest section of the city feature complaints about missing packages and undelivered mail.
Russell Goudy, owner of Kilian’s Hardware Store, said his service was so bad at one point he had to stop using the service altogether. He does about a third of his business by mail and couldn’t afford the disruption. “Service just totally broke down,” he said. “We were getting all kinds of complaints.” Goudy said his service has improved in recent months, which he attributes in part to his use of tracking numbers.
Brad Simpson, president of the trade group Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association, said his group’s members are all experiencing similar delays, and many are now considering some sort of collective action.
“This is not just a newspaper problem and it’s not just a Pennsylvania problem,” Simpson said. “It’s impacting all 50 states, and it affects any business that relies on the postal service – such as magazines and mail order drugs.”
Newspapers like this one are particularly vulnerable to problems at the post office. Of the roughly 250 newspapers in the state of Pennsylvania, 175 are weeklies – most of which are of a similar size to the Chestnut Hill Local. Smaller papers like ours, which don’t have their own distribution network, are heavily reliant on the post office and are the most hurt by these delays. But even the 75 larger daily newspapers use the post office to deliver papers to at least some extent, Simpson said.
Here at the Local, we are doing what we can. We’ve called and emailed everyone we can think of. We’ve even contacted our representatives in Congress. So far, we’ve seen the most action from U.S. Rep Dwight Evans, D-Philadelphia/Montgomery, who told us he intends to open a congressional inquiry into the matter.
“We’ve been bombarded with complaints,” said Numa St. Louis, his district representative at the Philadelphia office. “And they run the gamut – car repair shops that can’t get their registration stickers, checks that aren’t making it to vendors, mortgage payments that are delivered late. It’s really affecting every aspect of life. And while it’s been an ongoing problem, it does seem like in the last few weeks it's gotten worse.”
St. Louis made some calls on our behalf, and told us on Monday that apparently, due to staffing shortages, deliveries are no longer being made every day. They’re now scheduled for once every three days, on a rotating basis.
Post office performance has been a problem for the Local throughout this past year, particularly for subscribers in the Germantown section and the Montgomery County neighborhoods. Last November, our first issue of Wissahickon magazine sat at the bulk distribution center for nearly six weeks before it was delivered to some areas. Other areas did not receive theirs until January.
John Derr, publisher of the Local, said he is particularly frustrated by the lack of response by customer service representatives. So last week, he stopped trying and wrote directly to Postmaster General Louis De Joy.
“I'm hoping the USPS is not a fish that stinks from its head,” he wrote. “I am spitting mad about the treatment we've received from the Philadelphia (postal distribution center) and the lack of any communication back to our circulation manager. Can you jump in here and intervene? I know this is a bold step, going right to the top, but your people have left me no recourse.”
As for our specific and immediate problem, here’s what we know: Our printer sent the papers to the post office’s bulk distribution center on Tuesday Sept. 7, at which time the post office promptly took $400 postage out of our account. So far so good. If everything else had gone the way it’s supposed to, that distribution center would have sent them straight out to local post offices for delivery the next day.
More than a week later, the papers headed to Mt. Airy and Roxborough had finally been delivered. Chestnut Hill’s papers, however, were nowhere to be found.
Melissa Melewsky, media law counsel for the PNA, has been advising the trade group on options for collective action. She said a class action lawsuit is technically possible but probably not a good idea, as it is notoriously difficult – and expensive – to sue the federal government.
She suggested taking it to the Legislature. And, she said, we could always insist on getting our money back.
“That would not be unreasonable,” she said. “Nobody should be allowed to take your money and then not deliver what they promised, whether they’re a government agency or not.”