So much depends upon a small post office, in a store on Route 12, beside Lake Elmore
There isn’t a lot in Elmore, and what is there is pretty much all in one place. Without moving an inch, you can see the Elmore Store, the Elmore School, Lake Elmore, Elmore Mountain, and, if you wait long enough, at least one of its 886 residents.
Odds are, it’ll be Bill Pickens, and odds are, he'll be at the store. He’s been in town since 1975.
“I used to live upstairs,” he said. Meaning: right above the store. “Yup. When I first moved into town, I lived upstairs for a year.”
Now he lives three-quarters of a mile down the road. And he says he knows what the store means to the village, and what the post office means to the store.
“I’d call it the heartbeat of the village," Pickens said. "It’s just a shame to close it off because some bureaucrat somewhere thinks it doesn’t mean anything to the people here. When it really does.”
In mid-January, after a change in ownership at the store, the postal service sent word that the P.O. boxes would be removed. The new owners say they weren’t given a solid reason, but figure the set-up wasn’t cost-effective for the postal service – a lot of rural post offices cost USPS more money than they bring in.
But that means that in order to get their mail, Elmore residents would have to put up a mailbox, or drive about five miles up Route 12 to the post office in Morrisville.
This news was not well-received. Elmore residents wrote letters, made calls, and contacted Vermont’s congressional delegation. And, so far, it seems like it may have worked – the store’s owners say they are in negotiations with the postal service for a new contract.
But why the outcry? What's the big deal about a post office in a general store, when there’s another one just down the road?
“If they close the post office," Bill Pickens said, “that's going to cut down an awful lot on who comes in here.”
Mike Green lives in Wolcott, but he’s had a P.O. box at the store for 40 years. “Come in here, I know everybody,” he said. “I know Bill, and I know the former owners for all those years, and very rarely I come in here– there’s always somebody you know.”
Mike says there’s a small-town camaraderie here, and it’s centered in the store.
Sharon Fortune has also had a P.O. box at the Elmore Store for 40 years. And 30 or so years ago, her kids went to the school across the road. It’s the last running one-room schoolhouse in the state. Elmore kids grades 1-3 go there.
Sharon says the reason for keeping the post office in Elmore is the same as keeping the school in Elmore – last year, a school closure was recommended due declining enrollment, which would have sent kids to school in neighboring towns.
“It’s the fabric of Vermont,” she said. “It’s the fabric of who we are. It’s small and it’s personal, we know each other. And so even though we may have disagreements about politics or about other issues, we still come together for the betterment of the community and support our kids and the people who are working hard to eke out a living here.”
There are 212 P.O. boxes at the Elmore Store. They’re the old-fashioned kind, metal with art deco detailing, a star-shaped dial and a little window.
Every day, people step in the door and onto the creaky wood floor, check their mail, pick up something for lunch, run into someone they know, talk with the storekeepers.
Bill Pickens says it’s something you have to experience to understand.
“This is small village Vermont, this isn’t Boston, this isn't New York or Washington D.C.," he said. "This is a small community of people that gather around each other, know each other. I know three quarters of the people in the village. The other quarter just moved in, [and] I’ll get to know them before the year’s over.”
Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or get in touch with reporter Anna Van Dine @annasvandine.