Postal Service delivers good news to Lantana

By Mary Thurwachter Christmas came early in Lantana, where officials received word on Nov. 20 that the town’s post office will stay in business, after all. The branch at 201 West Ocean Avenue was taken off the list of 241 post offices facing possible closure by the U. S. Postal Service in an effort to stop the bleeding in deficits. Town Manager Mike Bornstein, also known as the Barefoot Mailman for his portrayal of the local legend, was pleased as punch when the news arrived. He helped lead a crusade to save the branch, which averages 2,058 customer visits a week during the winter season and far less during the summer. “We really pulled together on this,” he said, “and when I say we I mean Lantana and the surrounding communities that use the post office, too, like Hypoluxo, Atlantis, Manalapan and South Palm Beach.” Officials from all of those towns turned out at an old-fashioned grass-roots rally at the post office on Oct. 21. A few county commissioners were on hand, too, as were school children and a not so jolly Ol’ St. Nick, dressed in fluffy white fur-cuffed shorts and lamenting about not being able to get “Dear Santa” letters from area children. A small plane circled above pulling a sign that read “We are nuts about our Lantana P.O.” That day, Bornstein, shoeless and clad in his Barefoot Mailman costume, and Mayor David Stewart gave stirring speeches and led the crowd in a publicity stunt that captured national attention. They encouraged fans of the local branch to write notes on coconuts and mail them to Postmaster General John E. Potter. Stewart and Bornstein got the ball rolling by donating a few hundred bucks of their own money to the cause. One by one, others addressed the coconuts and took them into the branch to pay the $4-$17 postage needed to mail them (depending on weight) to Washington, D.C. More than 1,000 coconuts were sent to Potter, who donated them to a homeless shelter. The idea for mailing coconuts has a historical base, Bornstein said. “Sometimes friends of the Barefoot Mailmen (there were several of them in the 1880s) would pay postage on a coconut and the mail man would be obliged to carry it on his journey, a six-day round-trip between Palm Beach and Miami.” It was a practical joke that inspired the recent publicity blitz. Residents also collected more than 5,000 signatures on petitions and sent hundreds of letters of support to keep the branch open. At the rally, Stewart acknowledged that the branch’s numbers did not look good for keeping the office open. “We know the postal service is trying to run a profitable service,” he said. “But they’ve got to look at this from a service point of view. We’ve got a group of elderly people who use the post office. Not everyone pays bills on the Internet.” USPS spokeswoman Debra Fetterly said there was a study to look at the branch’s customer access, service standards, cost savings, impact on employees, environmental impact, real estate values and long-term post office needs. “It was determined that it was in the best interest of the Postal Service and its customers that the Lantana Post Office remain open,” she said. “We appreciate our customers, and our employees look forward to continue providing outstanding service to customers in Lantana and surrounding communities.” On Nov. 23, Lantana town commissioners signed a proclamation declaring Dec. 2 as “We Saved the Lantana Post Office Coconut Celebration Day.” A noontime party at the branch was planned for that day, complete with coconut treats. This happy ending story will not quickly be forgotten, Bornstein said. “The mayor and I will be going to the schools to talk about this. It’s a good civics lesson that shows that people can make a difference.” Two other local branches – the Southboro station in West Palm Beach and one in Boca Raton – are among 11 Florida post offices that remain on the list of stations considered for closure.
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