A downtown Belleville retailer soon will be carrying the mail.
Work is underway to establish a new postal service center inside Ben's Crafts & Floral at 112 E. Main St. The new unit could open to the public by next week and will offer most of the services that a post office does, except post office boxes, money orders, registered mail and passports.
The U.S. Postal Service solicited a number of Belleville business with a postcard almost a year ago seeking a place to establish an in-house postal service counter. It had several inquiries and chose Ben's.
Janine Blythe, a retail specialist for the U.S. Postal Service's Gateway District, said the post office has had postal contract units for decades, but the postal service has recently been looking for more sites.
"We're trying harder now to be in more places for the convenience of customers," Blythe said. "They are open on Sunday and later on Saturday and have extended holiday hours. We're always looking for businesses that would be interested and if it's a good fit."
Ben's manager, Beth Wamble, said the new in-house post office counter, which is being built next to the store's customer service counter, said the new service will help bring in more customers who are looking for postal service on weekends and holidays. The postal counter at Ben's will be open when the store is open and will be staffed by Ben's workers, not postal employees. Store employees are being trained this week.
"We just felt like it would be a good service for the local customers," Wamble said. "That was our main reason, to serve our customers."
Although the U.S. Postal Service has recently been challenged with budget cuts, Blythe said Ben's new in-store postal service will not affect operations at the main Belleville post office located a few blocks away downtown. She said that the Gateway District, which serves Southern Illinois and Eastern Missouri, has 45 of these postal contract units, including ones in Collinsville, Edwardsville and Washington Park.
"The post office has been in financial problems, but we're always looking for ways to work smarter, be smarter and be more places," she said.
"At this time, obviously, we're not building new buildings, but we still want to be here for our customers."
Contact reporter Will Buss at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2526.