SUGAR HILL, N.H. — This little town in the White Mountains is not at the forefront of the digital revolution. Just about half of its residents still cannot connect to broadband service.
Yet Sugar Hill is enduring e-mail’s toll on the Postal Service. With fewer letters being sent, the agency has announced cutbacks to hours at post offices across the nation. The small white building where Sugar Hill’s residents send and receive their mail is among the most drastically affected by postal budget trims.
The post office is now open just a half-hour a day, Monday through Saturday — down from three hours on weekdays and an hour and a half on Saturdays. The Sugar Hill post office no longer may stamp letters or packages, sounding a death knell for the town’s cancellation stamp.
But more significantly, residents say, the cutbacks mean the loss of a community spot in Sugar Hill, a town of stunning vistas and a population of 563 that once included Bette Davis and US Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart.
“This was a gathering place, a place to check in and find out what was going on,” said Margo Connors, chairwoman of the Board of Selectmen. “It’s a part of our very small town center.”
Connors plans to challenge the Postal Service decision, which was announced with a sign on the post office door on Memorial Day weekend with no warning.
Tom Rizzo, spokesman for the northern New England district of the United States Postal Service, said the announcement “could have been handled better.” But he said budgetary constraints mean the decision will stand.
“Times have changed drastically,” Rizzo said. The loss of revenue because of increased electronic communication means the Postal Service can no longer afford to staff places like Sugar Hill for hours a day, he said.
The Sugar Hill hours reduction comes in advance of sweeping national cutbacks. Seeking ways to trim costs, the Postal Service announced plans for closing dozens of small post offices. Protests propelled a change to reduced hours. Those changes are expected to begin this summer and will be completed by the summer of 2014, Rizzo said.
The Sugar Hill post office, which used to be the police station, and before that, a blacksmith shop, is in a slightly different category. Technically, it is a “non-personnel unit,” meaning it is staffed by a carrier who tacks on window-service responsibilities to his or her deliveries. Regulations require that someone service the facility for 15 minutes a day.
“The bottom line is the Postal Service can no longer continue to have a rural carrier spend hours there when they are designated to be there for just 15 minutes,” Rizzo said.
Brenda Aldrich, an owner of Harman’s Cheese & Country Store, said her math suggests otherwise. She said her business uses the post office for its mailings and for about 25 percent of its shipping, totaling $13,707.94 in 2011. The town offices also use the post office, as do other businesses.
“The frustrating thing is this post office was making money,” she said, noting she knows the rent paid by the post office — $400 a month — because her family owns the building. “It was bringing in more than it was spending out.”
Rizzo said in an e-mail that it was incorrect to look at the Sugar Hill office as a stand-alone operation. The office, he said, “is a stopover point for a rural letter carrier where face-to-face service is made available for local customers at a scheduled time, generally 15 minutes each day.”
“Revenues and postal activities conducted by a rural letter carrier in the performance of their duty as a ‘post office on wheels’ are rolled into the bookkeeping of their administrative post office,” he said.
The postal cutbacks are psychically hard-hitting in Sugar Hill, a town that has labored to cement its identity. In 1962, it seceded from the town of Lisbon. In 2004, it won the right to its own ZIP code. This year, residents were working to create a commemorative cancellation stamp for the town’s 50th anniversary,
“It’s a blow now that that’s out the window,” Aldrich said.