Lorie Shaull was filming the U.S. Postal Service’s burned down Lake Street station when she happened upon a couple trying to retrieve their stimulus check.
The check, along with the couple’s P.O. box, was destroyed. On the evening of May 29, two post offices in South Minneapolis, the Lake Street station on East 31st Street and Minnehaha station on 27th Ave South, were destroyed amid uprisings following the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer.
The incidents are currently under investigation by local authorities and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service.
The stations, both built in the 1970s, were deemed to be total losses, according to Nicole Hill, the customer relations coordinator in the St. Paul Postmaster’s Office, but it was too early to assess the cost of the damage. The Postal Service is currently “assessing our options for razing the buildings,” she said.
While most of the mail inside the two stations was retrieved before they burned, mail inside P.O. boxes was not, and the couple Shaull ran in to while filming weren’t the only people who lost something. Cindy Pratt, a psychologist, lost checks when her Minnehaha station P.O. box was destroyed in the fire. Lift Garage, a nonprofit in South Minneapolis that provides low-cost car repairs to low-income clients, also lost donations that were in its P.O. box at Minnehaha station, according to the group’s executive director, Cathy Heying.
Allison Anne, a Minneapolis collage and mail artist, was using their Lake Street station P.O. box to accept submissions for the Twin Cities Collage Collective’s Open Call when the building was destroyed by fire. “I think the furthest-traveling piece that was at the post office at the time of the fire was from the mail artist Ryosuke Cohen in Japan,” Anne said.
Yet it’s more than just mail and P.O. boxes that were lost with the destruction of the buildings. DFL Rep. Jim Davnie, in whose Minneapolis district the Minnehaha station was located, said that the post offices were also a “resource for money orders for low-income residents and the unbanked.” Now, with nearby check cashing establishments and banks destroyed, Davnie says that the neighborhood is left with no banking options while also facing a lack of grocery and pharmacy options.
The destruction of the stations has also disrupted the ability for people to access medications, and Davnie says that the Post Office is working with those who may have lost medical supplies in the fires.
The stations were community assets in other ways too, said Ian Taylor, Jr., a south Minneapolis resident. “It was nice to have a post office in relative walking distance,” to send letters, packages, and cards to friends and family outside of Minnesota.
With both stations destroyed, the facilities’ operations have been moved outside their respective neighborhoods, which has made accessing postal services more challenging for those who rely on public transit or are vulnerable to the coronavirus.
Pratt, who said she is immunocompromised and therefore has a higher risk of contracting COVID-19, said she has not been inside a store in two months. But she still managed to pick up her mail at the Minnehaha station. “The door was always open,” Pratt said. “I would wait until no one was in there, then go in and open my box.”
Operations for the Minnehaha facility have been relocated to the U.S. Postal Service’s downtown station, on North 1st Street, while operations at the Lake Street station have been relocated to the Loring station, at the corner of North 12th Street and Hawthorne Avenue.
The Postal Service does not have a timeframe for reopening the destroyed post office stations. When locating stations, Hill says the service considers customer convenience as well as “population density and service requirements,” which include the number of deliveries, the volume of mail, and how the delivery routes are designed. The size of a potential site is also a factor.
In the meantime, Hill said people who lost mail should contact the sender to have it replaced. Hill also encourages postal customers to sign up for Informed Delivery — a free service that gives people the ability to digitally preview their mail — so that they can “assess what they are missing” in the future.
For those who lost packages that were insured, Hill asks customers to open a claim through the USPS Claims Process.
In the meantime, many look forward to the day that both stations reopen. Said Taylor: “I hope it does get rebuilt, and that people working there are taken care of.”