Food Truck Post Office

By Jason Villafranca

East End Post Office customers stand in line at the limited service Post Office on Wheels (Photo by Jason Villafranca)

Church Hill is a happening place. According to Peter Chapman, Richmond’s Chief Deputy Officer for Economic and Community Development, the trend goes beyond the mere retention of businesses in the area. New businesses are opening in the historic district at a record rate. Cafes and restaurants are trending and winning national awards. Real estate values are skyrocketing, as young, wealthy buyers purchase and renovate old homes. By nearly any measure, business is booming. 

Compare that to North Church Hill just a few blocks away, where even the post office is closing.

I discovered this while walking south on 25th Street, through the neighborhood where Robert Smith, Jr. grew up. (Link), I’d gone looking for one of Robert’s old haunts, the East End Theater, only to learn that it closed years ago. As I turned the corner and passed the only U.S. Post Office in Church Hill, I noticed a sign posted on the door (below), which announced that the office was closing on April 9.

A notice on the door to the East End Post Office announces that the office is closed due to safety concerns. (Photo by Jason Villafranca)

A notice on the door of the East End Post Office announces that the office is closed due to safety concerns. (Photo by Jason Villafranca)

In its place would be something more like a food truck than a post office—a postal service van parked on 25th Street, where Church Hill residents still receive limited services about six hours a day. That’s a distinct hardship for any residents who work during business hours, or those without transportation forced to walk to the nearest post office at Montrose Heights, four and a half miles away.

“I don’t understand how this post office can close when you see all these other places in Church Hill being fixed up,” said an elderly gentlemen waiting in line. “You’d think the post office would come first.  Now I know why my mail was late all last week!”

 The closing of the East End Post Office is symptomatic of a much larger problem in Church Hill and  surrounding areas: poverty and neglect.  And as is often the case in Richmond, the negative effects fall especially hard on elderly African Americans, who depend on the services provided by a local post office, where they receive checks, buy stamps, and purchase money orders to pay their bills.  

According to data obtained through the Spatial Analysis Lab at the University of Richmond, more than 60 percent of residents 65 or older in the Union Hill and Church Hill North neighborhoods live in poverty. Both neighborhoods are nearly 100 percent African American. Church Hill, in contrast, is 46 percent black and 50 percent white.  

The closing of the East End Post Office has not gone unnoticed, and community leaders are pressuring USPS to reconsider.  Congressman Donald McEachin, who represents the people of Church Hill within the 4th District of Virginia, complained in an April 10, 2017 letter to the Postmaster General:

“For over 40 years the East End post office has served . . . the economic and postal needs of the local community,” he wrote. I have serious concerns with how this closure will negatively impact my constituents, in particular the elderly and less fortunate. 

I spoke with the USPS employee working inside the mobile post office, who wished to remain anonymous.  Almost all of her customers are elderly, she said, and many have complained.  She sympathizes with them. “The government people need to do something to help these old folks.”

M, John. 2017. 25th Street Post Office is Closed, May Not Reopen. Accessed 2017.04.21
McEachin, Donald. 2017. McEachin Address Post Office Closed. Accessed 2017.04.21.
Virginia Commonwealth University. 2010 – 2017. DataShare Metro Richmond.
Virginia Defender. 2017.
Woo, Megan. 2017. Church Hill Post Office Suddenly Closes. Accessed 2017.04.21.