Rural post office without profit, but with purpose

By Mike Linn

SAINT VRAIN — Across the highway from the train tracks, where the pavement meets a sun-baked dirt road, rests the Saint Vrain Post Office.
A beacon for a community not even recognized by the United States census, the post office adds character to a town dotted with just a few homes.
During the week, Postmaster Maxine Odom sorts mail for the 17 customers who have rented post office boxes and 24 others on the local route. Saint Vrain — with a core population of about 10 residents, according to Odom — is a community outlined by ranches roughly 13 miles west of Clovis.
The rickety yet quaint post office has no running water or bathrooms, but an outhouse in the back — one that rarely gets used, but serves its purpose nonetheless.
“People just cannot believe it’s there,” Odom said. “We do have people who use it occasionally, but it’s not widely used, no definitely not. Nobody even knows it’s around there unless we tell them about.”
Customers of the post office include the few locals living in the area; the occasional trucker and summer vacationer passing through on U.S. Highway 60/84; and friends of Odom who come from bigger communities to avoid long lines during the Christmas holidays.
Sometimes people will come to the office just to get the Saint Vrain postage as memorabilia, Odom said.
Given its location and the size of the community, the office doesn’t generate enough money to pay Odom’s salary.
Even so, it would literally take an act of U.S. Congress to shut the small post office down, said Margaret Romero, manager of marketing and communications for the U.S. Postal Service in New Mexico.
“We certainly lose money in supporting the post offices in those small communities. But for the few members that receive their post office boxes, the post office and their zip code is worth their weight in gold. They will fight to the death to keep it,” Romero said.
The Saint Vrain Post Office was built in 1907, and according to an April 1, 1929, article in the Clovis News Journal was the first federal building in Curry County. It is open every weekday from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., categorizing it among the smallest post offices in New Mexico.
“Our post office is here strictly for the convenience of our local community,” Odom said. “The people here don’t want to let go of their little post office. Several years ago there was talk of closing it … it’s hard to say if they will … as far as I know there’s been no mention (lately) of closing.”
Don Taylor, a truck driver who moved to Saint Vrain from House, said the post office serves its purpose.
“It does a service to the community,” Taylor said. “(The postmaster) knows everybody. People like to go by and say ‘hi.’”
Romero said the last rural post office shut down in New Mexico was seven years ago in Bell Ranch, a community about 50 miles northwest of Tucumcari. Romero said at the time there were only three members of Bell Ranch receiving mail.
Since post offices are funded through stamp sales — not tax money — small post offices can stay afloat thanks to better business at bigger post offices.
“When we go to close a small post office you would be surprised how upset the community becomes and how the (U.S.) senators support the community,” Romero said. “Basically, we close very, very few of them in the rural New Mexico.”
Kay Davis, postmaster at the Rogers Post Office southeast of Portales in Roosevelt County, said even though she rents just 11 postal boxes the office is necessary.
If the post office wasn’t there, Davis said the 77 customers on her route would have to either travel the eight miles to the Dora Post Office or the 15 to the Portales Post Office to take care of mail.
“I really like working here, just because it’s so personal,” said Davis, who became postmaster in March. “My customers are just so open and friendly. They feel like they can call me anytime … Everybody is just so trusting.”