Brad Nettles // The Post and Courier
Myrtle Brinkley has been coming to the post office in Adams Run all her life, and she and others are fearful that the office could become a victim of U.S. Postal Service cutbacks. Postal officials have told residents that there are no immediate plans to close the branch.
ADAMS RUN -- Myrtle Brinkley smiled at her brother as she held up a small brass key that had been passed down in their family for generations. The small number 1 on its side marked the family's standing as having the first post office box in this small, rural community.
As kids, Brinkley and her brother, Robert, would run along after their father on trips to check for mail. They would share laughs with neighbors, eagerly page through the latest Sears Roebuck catalogues and play with mail-order chicks that hatched by the time their eggs arrived in town.
Now in their 60s, the siblings still make the daily trek to the squat, cinderblock post office on Highway 174 with a hand-painted sign over its dented blue awning. But these days, no postal workers greet them.
A robbery in August caused the U.S. Postal Service to temporarily suspend window services at the tiny branch. Residents expected the place to be up and running again in a few days, but that hasn't happened.
And the prolonged closure has residents worried that the cash-strapped Postal Service is going to close the 168-year-old branch for good -- an all-too-real prospect for many small post offices in the Lowcountry and across the nation.
"I've only got one leg, and I don't want to have to drive all the way to Hollywood (about six miles away) to use their post office," said Robert Brinkley, 65. "This is the only one I've ever known my whole entire life."
Postal officials say they have no immediate plans to close the branch or one in neighboring Ravenel, where rumors of a pending closure are also flying.
The situation, however, illustrates just how much folks in rural communities prize their post offices as important social hubs and vital connection points to the outside world. Many don't have ready access to the Internet, shipping stores and other modern alternatives to the beleaguered Postal Service.
"The post office out here is a cornerstone in a lot of these rural communities," said state Rep. Robert Brown, a Hollywood Democrat who has been flooded with calls from worried residents. "It's part of the culture, a way of life, and we must have it."
Janet Trivett, chairwoman of the Adams Run Crime Watch, said the community is home to many elderly and disabled residents who can't get around easily.
Some have no transportation and can't afford the price of a cab to Hollywood. Other residents can't read and don't have checking accounts. They depend on postal workers to help them fill out money orders to pay their bills each month, she said.
Ravenel Mayor Opal Baldwin feels the same way, and she's ready for a fight if anyone tries to take her post office away. Residents in her town have cast a suspicious eye on a cutback in hours at their branch and a recent shift of carriers to the post office in Hollywood.
Postal officials say its all in the name of efficiency, but some residents aren't too sure.
"We've always been treated like a red-headed stepchild out here," Baldwin said. "They wouldn't even put 'Ravenel' on the sign out front. But the bottom line is, we want our post office to stay open."
Neither of the two Charleston County branches is on a list of post offices being studied for possible closure, said Harry Spratlin, communications director for the Postal Service's Greater South Carolina District.
But that said, no one can speak for the future, particularly in light of the Postal Service's financial woes, he said.
The Postal Service has cut $12 billion in costs and 110,000 workers over the past four years, but it needs to reduce its annual costs by an additional $20 billion and another 220,000 people over the next four years to become profitable again, officials have said.
On the possible chopping block are post offices in Berkeley County's Cordesville, Russellville near St. Stephen and Grover near St. George. Also on the endangered list are Colleton County branches in Williams and Lodge.
Spratlin said he's not sure when workers will return to the Adams Run post office and re-open its window service. Officials are in the process of conducting a security review after the Aug. 17 holdup, in which two men robbed a clerk, firing a gun into the floor as they left.
It was the second such robbery at the facility, which is still open for post office box customers to pick up their mail, he said.
"No priority is greater for the Postal Service than the safety of our customers and employees," he said. "The purpose of the security review is to survey the property with the goal of finding a cost-effective way to protect customers and employees from violent crime."
To that end, Trivett of the local crime watch has written government officials offering to hold fundraisers, seek private donors and do whatever else it might take to make the improvements and get the post office open again.
"This is a valuable asset," she said. "This is not just a mail drop. It's a personal relationship."