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Residents raise money to rescue Bailey Island post office

News

Residents raise money to rescue Bailey Island post office

HARPSWELL — When word spread that the Bailey Island post office might close, the biggest concern among the 300-plus islanders who rallied to keep it open wasn't the loss of convenience.

It was the loss of identity and community.

Now, thanks to an effort led by two former postal employees and more than $115,000 in donations, Bailey Island residents won't have to worry about the post office disappearing for at least another five years.

Last week, the group called  Save the Bailey Island Post Office finalized its purchase of the building at 2120 Harpswell Islands Road and signed a five-year lease with the United States Postal Service.

Bailey Island wasn't among the hundreds of post offices recently slated for closure nationally by the USPS. However, with the old lease set to expire in 2010, the postal service and the former building owner failed to reach a renewal agreement, effectively bumping the Bailey Island post office to the endangered list.

That's when Kim Doughty, the recently retired Bailey Island postmaster, started an effort to save the post office.

"Every few years there would be a rumor that the post office was closing," Doughty said. "I was never really concerned. But this time, with the (national closures) and the lease, I was led to believe that we were in jeopardy of closing."

And that, Doughty said, would be a real shame.

"For me, this is the center of our community," Doughty said. "Here the post office is where people get to know each other, or where people find contractors to work on their house. People can get help here."

Doughty and Ron York, another retired postal worker, asked the USPS if it would extend its lease if Doughty and York could find a buyer for the building. The USPS agreed, but it was a long-shot proposition: A buyer would pay $209,000 for the building, yet collect just $6,000 annually in rent from the USPS.

And Doughty and York had just two weeks.

First, they convinced the postal service to grant an extension. Then, since the hope of finding a single buyer was slim, they appealed to several – and ended up with dozens.

Doughty and York held a meeting this fall to ask Bailey Island residents to contribute to the cause. Twenty-five people attended, including, Doughty said, two residents who donated $10,000 apiece. When the meeting ended, the newly formed Save the Bailey Island Post Office LLC had more than $65,000 in anonymous pledges.

The group has since raised more than $115,000.

Doughty said the response wasn't too surprising, since Bailey Island residents, like those in Cundy's Harbor or Orr's Island, identify themselves as Bailey Island residents first and Harpswell residents second.

"Our identity here is strong," Doughty said. "A lot of it is tied to the town's geography. ... I noticed it right away when I became the postmaster 12 years ago. People were afraid that changing their address on their letters was a sign of losing their identity as a Bailey Island resident."

The preservation of community and identity turned out to be powerful motivators. The group's new owners closed on the post office building Dec. 3. Residents who donated more than $1,000 will get a stake in any profit if the building is eventually sold.

The group is still collecting donations, which will stop once it collects the entire $209,000 purchase price. Checks can be mailed to Doughty at 16 Ocean Drive, Bailey Island, ME 04003.

Steve Mistler can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 123 or smistler@theforeaster.net