The signs were printed on standard 8½-by-11 white paper and were hung at eye level on the automatic door leading into the Ace Hardware at the Cloverdale Shopping Center.
The wording is precise, the meaning unambiguous. The store is closing at the end of the week after an 11-year run.
All sales on All merchandise final!! No returns
In and of itself, a small business — a hardware store at that — closing its doors isn’t unusual. National big-box home repair megalodons have been swallowing little fish competitors for years.
But it’s the secondary message, almost a postscript typed on one sign and also scrawled on a U.S. Postal Service priority mail envelope, that is sending ripples through the surrounding Ardmore neighborhood.
Post office closed permanently
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“Not having a post office is pretty minor when compared to someone whose children were in the front yard when their house was shot at,” said customer Lisa Gould. “But it is a concern for older folks.”
Ardmore, whether residents realized it or not, in many ways represents a scaled-down version of larger challenges faced by the U.S. Postal Service as the agency has tried to balance its traditional neither-rain-nor-sleet-nor-snow ethos against well-documented (and ruthless) cost-cutting and modernization.
The former Ardmore Station post office was housed for years in a nondescript brick building at 229 Miller St.
The building was sold in 2006 to what’s now known as Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist, and the USPS began renting the space from the hospital.
Not owning the spot, combined with the medical center’s need to expand, meant Ardmore Station was living on borrowed time. The full-service branch — and all its glass-doored P.O. boxes — opened in 1963 and closed in June 2011.
In and of itself, that was cause for consternation and lament.
Since the days of the Pony Express, having reliable postal service meant connectivity. A brick-and-mortar post office building, for many rural communities, literally meant a place on the map.
“There’s something about having a neighborhood post office. Nostalgia maybe,” Ardmore resident Kim Babon told a reporter 11 years ago. “I’m just sad to see it close.”
The closure, which came six months later than originally planned, set off a scramble of sorts as local politicians pushed for some sort of alternative.
As things turned out, that alternative was the postal counter tucked against a wall inside the Cloverdale Ace Hardware, a CPO — “contracted post office” in USPS-speak.
(What’s a federal agency without acronyms?)
Since 2011, the little CPO has accepted packages, sold stamps and keyed in addresses for priority mail.
It didn’t have PO boxes — not enough room in the little hardware store — or sell money orders, but it served its purpose.
Confusion and inconvenience
A simple lap around the inside of the hardware store tells a story heard many times over when businesses close.
Many of the metal shelves have been left bare. A few basic tools, lawn-care items and the like can be found; there are bargains to be had.
But toward the back, hard against a wall that Ace shares with the anchor tenant Harris Teeter next door, the CPO is no longer operational.
On Tuesday morning, a few stacks of flat cardboard shipping boxes and mailing labels were about all that’s left of it. A pair of plexiglass shields put up during the pandemic had black-and-orange “Closed” signs taped to them.
For customers, the closure is equal parts transition and inconvenience.
When Ardmore Station closed, they were instructed to try the Center City Station downtown between Second and Third streets or stations farther out on Robinhood Road or Healy Drive.
“The only other option I have is going over to Healy Drive,” said Suzanne Barrows. “That’s not exactly the greatest place to have to get into and out of. And there’s usually always a line.”
These days, with official warnings about mail theft having been posted by the Winston-Salem Police Department still resonating, some customers — older residents in particular — aren’t happy with the change.
(A spokesman for the U.S. Postal Service did not respond to emails asking about the closure.)
“Police have told us not to use the blue boxes (on sidewalks) because mail gets stolen from them,” Gould said. “That compounds the whole thing.”
Not one to sound an alarm without a possible solution, Gould does have an idea. Empty storefronts in Thruway, maybe a half-mile away, seem reasonable spots to look to relocate.
“It’s convenient and there’s plenty of parking,” she said.
Only time will tell if another post office opens in the neighborhood.
Neither rain nor sleet nor snow can keep mail carriers from their appointed rounds but a changing economic landscape can close their stations.