GOODLAND — Not every protest comes with sweet tea and cookies. But this was Goodland, as down-home as you can find in Southwest Florida, and they do things their own way.Over 60 residents came out in a downpour Wednesday evening to rally in support of their post office, waving homemade signs and ready to do battle to save the eccentric facility.
The meeting had been called by Naples and Golden Gate Postmaster Richard Barber, who showed up to present the results of a survey the Post Office made of Goodland mail customers. Overwhelmingly, the residents favored option number one, with 96 percent of the respondents choosing to keep the post office open, with a "realignment" of hours. USPS mailed out 325 surveys, and received 140 back.
Realignment translates to reduction, but the good news Barber delivered was that the visible change the USPS contemplates making in Goodland amounts to reducing window hours by just half an hour per day. The residents came prepared for a fight, notwithstanding the sweet tea and cookies, carrying a variety of homemade signs with slogans including "Save our Post Office," "We love 34140," and "It won't make it better … if we can't send out letters." Sopping wet postal customers with rain jackets and umbrellas crowded the area inside the tiny post office, and many more filled the covered porch outside.
But Barber, although perspiring and the only one wearing a necktie among the t-shirt clad Goodlanders, took control of the meeting and made sure everyone understood the solution being put in place was one everyone could live with.
"Listen to me, and listen to me good. We are not closing this post office," Barber said. The major cost-cutting measure, he said, would be reducing administrative hours, which would not change the residents' ability to access their mail and take advantage of postal services.
"We've got 28,000 post offices in the nation about this size," he said, and costs have to be cut somewhere. "We closed one about this size in Vanderbilt Beach, but that was about two miles from a major facility."
Barber, who spent four years as Marco Island's postmaster, and decades in the postal service in Southwest Florida, stressed his local connections.
"I know this facility well from my time on Marco. I'm not here because I'm an outsider," he said.
Barber noted that he has two sons in Bonita Springs who are morticians, and asked that if the crowd did decide to kill him, they at least use his sons' services for funeral arrangements.
"Send me to them," he asked. The residents, though, had other ideas.
"Wait, it's crab season," came a voice from the crowd, with the implication – probably in jest – that there is always a need for fresh bait in the traps.
"Are they going to consolidate? When?" asked Tommie Moss.
"If you're not changing anything, what are we doing here?" asked Ken Moss. The two own the building that houses the Goodland post office, and Tommie is a former Goodland postmaster, said Barber.
The meeting and the survey were required by USPS regulations, said Barber.
"By law, we have to inform the public, and we have to get input, any time we make any changes whatsoever," he told the crowd. The new hours, he said, would probably take effect in December.
The walls of the Goodland post office are covered with murals of island scenes, signs touting local businesses, and appliquéd seashells. The building serves as an informal library, with a book exchange offering a rack full of hardbacks, paperbacks and magazines on the honor system.
Barber said he couldn't comment on what affect closing the Goodland facility might have on Marco's post office, as there are no plans for such closing. In addition to serving as Postmaster for Naples and Golden Gate, he is manager of postal operations for Collier County and Bonita Springs.
He professed himself very happy with the outcome of the meeting, and asked the residents if he could take their signs along with him to show his superiors.
"I love the enthusiasm, and the passion of the community for their post office," he said.
The crowd trooped back into the rain mollified, and Barber got into his car with an armload of signs, the last to leave, along with officer in charge Shannon Mitchell, who runs the Goodland facility.