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Dispute between Yarmouth store, USPS still not licked

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Dispute between Yarmouth store, USPS still not licked

YARMOUTH — The U.S. Postal Service has made an offer that would enable Andy's Handy Store to again offer postal services on Main Street, just one month after its USPS account was closed.

But Matt Williams, who bought the store over the summer, isn't satisfied.

According to the Postal Service, Williams has been offered Village Post Office status, which would allow him to sell stamps and flat-rate shipping boxes. The stamps could help draw foot traffic, but they would be sold at face value and create no direct profits for the store, which has been a Yarmouth mainstay since the 1930s.

Williams, however, still wants the opportunity to weigh packages and issue money orders – all the services he offered before the store's account was closed. He failed to realize when he bought the store from Tom and Andrea Hutchinson that USPS contracts don't transfer from one store owner to the next.

Fortunately, he still has the support of the community: More than 650 people have signed petitions to restore postal services to the Handy Store. One, Elinor Jones, helped gather more than 200 of them herself, Williams said.

"I can't thank her enough," Williams said. "She has walked the community for me, gone door-to-door, dropped petitions off at storefronts, homes, her hairdresser."

State Rep. Janice Cooper, D-Yarmouth, has also been an important proponent for the Handy Store. She said postal services at the store are important, regardless of the fact that there's a full-service post office in Yarmouth less than a mile away.

"It's a way of encouraging the notion of putting your public services in a central location you can walk to," Cooper said. "When they moved the post office from Main Street (to Forest Falls Drive, in the late 1990s), people weren't thinking about smart-growth kinds of issues.

"Andy's is a community center," she continued. "It's not just a place to buy a loaf of bread or a sandwich. It's a place where people hang out, sit and chat. There's a bulletin board there and so forth."

The level of service at the Forest Falls Drive location is another reason why the community wants the Handy Store back in action, Cooper said.

"Every time I go there's a long wait," she said. "There's not enough personnel there, and it's not unusual to have to wait 20 minutes to get some stamps. It's just not very convenient."

Cooper also contacted the office of U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine.

"I used to work for Congressman Tom Allen, so I know that sometimes the congressional office can help with disputes with federal agencies," Cooper said.

It seems to have worked.

"We've spent a lot of time talking to the Postal Service about it," said Willy Ritch, a spokesman for Pingree. "I think this is particularly important to Congresswoman Pingree. She lives in a small town on (North Haven), where a post office is really a community center.

"In our conversations with (the USPS), I would characterize them as not being enthusiastic about continuing any kind of arrangement with the store," Ritch continued. "But when they saw the petitions, and went out and met with (Williams), they were impressed. I think that's part of the reason they agreed to go along with the Village Post Office."

It sounds like a nice compromise, but Williams said the Village Post Office won't work economically for him. He estimates he would have to spend roughly $3,000 to purchase enough stamps to get started.

"It's not feasible for me, as a small business like this, to purchase that much up front," he said.

In an email, USPS Northern New England District spokesman Tom Rizzo said "the owner (of a Village Post Office) prepays for stamps only, and it will be as little or as much as he would like to purchase."

Williams, however, believes he would have to purchase several thousand dollars worth of stamps in order to avoid an interruption in sales, because the USPS can be slow to fill orders.

He has looked at other postal options that could bring in revenue and foot traffic, but hasn't found the right fit.

"I looked into (United Parcel Service), but we have a UPS service right down the street at Goff's Hardware," Williams said. "I would never compete against them, being local. And I could probably have a FedEx drop box, but you don't do a lot of business that way."

So for now, Williams is at a standstill. He has made progress, and has an offer in hand from the USPS. But he's not satisfied with the terms and finances of the potential agreement.

For now, though, he is selling stamps at the Handy Store. He buys a few at a time from Hannaford Bros.

"It's frustrating," he said. "But I haven't given up. I'm still fighting for it."

Brendan Twist can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or btwist@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @brendantwist.