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COLUMN: Clifton's post office, with Sesame Street-level charm, may be moving

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Posted at 7:00 AM, Jun 22, 2017
and last updated 2017-06-22 09:36:18-04

CINCINNATI -- When I first moved to Clifton, I got the Sesame Street song "People in Your Neighborhood" stuck in my head walking through the business district.

No, there weren't Muppets roaming Ludlow Avenue. But like Bob on Sesame Street, I befriended the people at a dozen neighborhood haunts, like my high school classmate "Mr. Eric" Davis, the children's librarian at the Clifton branch.

And the Anagnostous who own Ludlow Wines, who always have a giant jar of Dum Dums suckers ready for my kids.

And Brian Valerius, who opened Ace Hardware after managing Keller's IGA. While we waited centuries for that supermarket to reopen as Clifton Market, Brian filled a need by selling Shadeau Bread alongside gardening tools.

But maybe the quaintest storefront of all is the one-clerk post office tucked next to a one-room travel agency in an old building just off the main drag on Ormond Avenue.

Weighing in at a mighty 581 square feet, the post office packs P.O. boxes, a few envelopes and mailing labels for sale and a standing desk for one into a lobby that holds maybe three or four customers at a time before the rest spill onto the sidewalk.

Antique P.O. boxes gracing Clifton's post office. Photo by Bob Driehaus | WCPO

When it's time for the clerk who runs the joint to go to lunch, she draws the shades and locks the door.

It may be charming, but it also may be history. The US Postal Service met with residents Tuesday night at the Clifton Recreation Center to float the idea of leaving the old office and setting up shop in a bigger building with 24-hour access to P.O. boxes and stamp machines.

"We want to give you a better space if we can," David Wolff, a postal service real estate specialist, told the small crowd.

The Post Office is taking public comments about the possible move through July 20 and will make its decision shortly after that. The current lease expires in about 1.5 years, and officials want a new location up and running by then if they move.

Have an opinion on the fate of the Clifton post office?
Community members may submit written comments regarding the proposal through July 20.
Submit written comments to:
David Wolff, Real Estate Specialist
USPS Headquarters Facilities
P.O. Box 27498-1103
Greensboro, NC 27409

He traveled from Greensboro, North Carolina, to scout locations as far south as the Bruegger's Bagel store near Terrace Avenue, west to PNC Bank at Whitfield Avenue, north on Clifton Avenue to, well, nowhere with commercial space, and east on Jefferson Avenue just past Jagdeep's Indian Grocery.

With help from Bob Redden, who handles real estate locally, he found 1,000 square feet at 362 Ludlow Ave., formerly the headquarters of Rob Richardson's ill-fated mayoral campaign. Also formerly a satellite office of the ill-fated Hillary Clinton presidential campaign, next to Whole Bowl walkup restaurant window.

Future home of Clifton's post office? It's the No. 1 prospect.

The landlord is willing to rent it, but now Wolff needs the blessing of Clifton residents who don't always take kindly to change.

The move may or may not happen. Dave Taylor, owner of the current post office landlord, Gaslight Property, came to the meeting to tell Wolff and the community that he is willing to sign the post office to a new 10-year lease.

That was news to Wolff, who said he'd pass that information on to the department that handles renewing leases.

If it does move, the post office is going to lose an unofficial helper in Suzanne Sanchez, a travel agent at Brown's Tours and Travel, which shares an alley with the post office.

"I feel like a postal worker," Sanchez said. "On holidays like Martin Luther King Day, I run over and put a little handwritten closed sign on the door when Veronica (the clerk) forgets."

Sanchez, I can say from experience, is a sort of den mother to the neighborhood, always happy to sit and catch me up on the latest scuttlebutt or offer a trinket from her desk to children who visit. Wednesday, she had a sort of barricade on the door to protect an aging little dog from aggressive pit bulls outside.

She obliges neighbors who ask for her to call or text them when the postal truck show up to empty the mailbox and bins.

"It's busy all day long. This street is constant turnover," Sanchez said. "I know the people who have post office boxes. We check on each other."

The other week an elderly woman didn't show up for a while to check her box. Sanchez asked about her, and Veronica brought her by when she had recovered from a fall.

Sanchez said the modest move around the corner would mean the loss of some charm in the neighborhood.

"It is a cute little post office. It's not like going to Corryville (a larger branch on Short Vine)," she said. "The new office would be more open with machines and stuff. I think as quirky as it is from 8:30 a.m. to 1 pm, and 2-4 pm, it makes it a charming place."

The proposal to move 200 yards into the heart of the business district while adding 24-hour access to boxes and stamps sort of squashed my theme of paradise lost, and some residents who attended the meeting like the idea of 24-hour access.

Others weren't on board with the move. Steve Slack, a longtime Clifton homeowner, doesn't want to lose the convenience of parking on the Ormond side street rather than having to deal with Ludlow Avenue traffic.

Bob Redden and David Wolff of the U.S. Postal Service take questions during a meeting to get feedback on moving the Clifton post office. Photo by Bob Driehaus | WCPO

"The access is superior in its current location," he said.

Others were wary of being left out of the final decision since Wolff said Tuesday night's meeting would likely be the last one.

Dave Wuebker, who normally works at the Corryville post office, was filling in Wednesday for Veronica, the clerk.

"While Veronica is on vacation, I feel I am too. Definitely not the hustle and bustle of craziness that Corryville has," he said.

Wuebker downplayed the  prospect of charm lost.

"It won't have the visual charm of the old place, but Veronica will be there, and the customers. And that's the real charm of the place," he said.

And the possibility remains that the postal service reverses course and signs a new lease in the little old post office.

David Taylor, whose Gaslight Property owns the current post office building, and his consultant came to the meeting to correct the perception that Taylor was unwilling to sign a new lease.

He said Tuesday that he's game for another 10-year lease, although the post office was seeking a 20-year one.

Jerry Atkins, Taylor's consultant, said Gaslight wants to leave the possibility of moving into a brand new space -- a "white box" -- when Gaslight builds a new multi-use complex on the nearby merchant lot and site of three rental houses bordering Ormond and Howell avenues.

"We tried to limit the number of years that went forward. Our idea was we were going to build a more functional space," he said.

So, the neighborhood awaits Washington's decision on the fate of its tiny post office. And the suspense has me singing Sesame Street songs again.

Bob Driehaus covers economic development. Contact him and follow stories on Facebook, Google, and Twitter.