By Daniel Krieger
One morning last week, Brigitte Ortner went to her local post office on Columbus Avenue by 95th Street to purchase stamps. Some birthdays are coming up and she likes to send cards because the people she knows like to display their birthday cards. So she walked up to the counter and asked to look at some stamps. “I wanted to pick something pretty,” she said, in a recent phone interview.
The woman at the counter of the Park West Station told her they didn’t have stamps and to go to the post office on 104th Street. Ms. Ortner, who is 94 years old, did not feel up to the walk of more than half a mile.
“I said, ‘what do you mean you don’t have any stamps? You’re a post office!’” she recounted. “I think I was too astonished to say anything more.”
In over 70 years of living on the Upper West Side and buying stamps, she has never had this happen and is still not sure where she’s going to acquire the stamps she needs. “Maybe they’ll have stamps sooner or later,” she said.
Two weeks ago, Marcia Epstein, an Upper West Sider of over 50 years, went to the same post office to get stamps to mail some bills and had the same experience, as reported in the Rag. Asked what she makes of this in a phone interview, she said, “I think it’s weird. This has never happened before.” She is now considering trekking up to 104th Street, but it depends how her back is doing.
Hearing about this mysterious stamp shortage, I went to the Park West Station on Tuesday at 3pm. Moments after arriving, I saw a customer service rep walking down the line asking if anybody needed help. A woman at the end said she was there to buy stamps and wanted to know if that was possible.
“We don’t have stamps,” the rep said.
“Why don’t you have stamps?” the woman asked.
“No, no, no,” the rep said, “it’s not that we don’t have stamps, we have them, but the person who can take them out of the safe is not here right now.”
“And you don’t have a backup person?” the woman asked.
“Ma’am, ma’am,” the rep said, “we’re trying to solve this problem.”
Just to make sure that I was hearing correctly, I said to the rep: “So the stamps are locked in a safe and the only person who can open the safe is not here?”
“Yes,” she said
“And they weren’t here last week, either?”
“Is she on vacation?” the woman asked.
“I don’t know,” the rep said.
“This is really incredible,” the woman said. “It has to be addressed.”
As she was walking away, I asked for her take on the matter. The woman, Linda Cardona, who has lived on the Upper West Side for over 30 years and had come to mail an international letter, told me that this station has problems. (She pointed out that the lift for wheelchairs to get down the stairs was broken, and next to the lift there was a sign that says, “Please Ring Bell For Service,” but there was no bell.)
“I came here a couple of days ago and they didn’t have stamps,” Ms. Cardona said.
Asked what she thought of the rep’s explanation about the stamps, she said, “It doesn’t make sense. This is a first.”
To get to the bottom of this, I sent an email to several United States Postal Service media relations specialists who deal with stamp issues. I got a response pretty quickly from a USPS spokesperson, Xavier C. Hernandez, who wrote:
“As a result of unfortunate circumstances, officials with normal access to the secure storage vault are not available. This issue prevents the Park West Station’s ability to sell certain accountable items like stamps or money orders until a qualified locksmith is contracted. The Manhattan postmaster and the retail team have been, and continue, doing everything in their power to resolve the situation. They expect a resolution soon.”
You can always order stamps online at: https://store.usps.com/store/home
Update, Saturday, 1 pm:
I called the post office on Saturday morning, and asked, “do you have stamps?“
“Yes, we have stamps.”
“When did you open the vault to get the stamps?”
“We just have the stamps, OK? Have a nice day.“