LIHUE — United States Postal Service officials are considering several options that would restore some services to Hanamaulu residents but say it is unlikely the town’s freestanding post office destroyed in a fire last year will be rebuilt.
“Because the building has already burned down, it isn’t really feasible for us to go back into a place because of the costs to rebuild and make it post office ready,” Hauula Post Office Postmaster Janice Shimizu said at a July 31 public meeting at the Lihue Annex. “If you had a house and you were in debt, do you say, ‘Oh, I’m going to buy another house?’ We’re just trying to find ways we can save money and be cost-efficient while still maintaining our services.”
The Hanamaulu Trading Company building, which housed the old post office branch for more than a century, burned to the ground on Dec. 14, 2012 after a large structure fire engulfed the wooden, two-story building on Kuhio Highway.
All post office services for Hanamaulu customers were redirected to the USPS Lihue branch or the new Nate’s Freight Service in the months after the fire.
Hanamaulu Trading Company Co-owner Joaquina Abben said she is in the process of rebuilding the historic structure and open to the idea of having the USPS as a tenant again.
But that may not be an option.
USPS representative Jodi Nascimento said the entire federal-backed organization as a whole is looking for creative ways to maintain current service levels, curb costs and address challenges that have, in recent years, included declining revenues and decreased mail volume.
One option, Nascimento said, would be to open up a village post office in an existing retail store in Hanamaulu that would provide basic retail, mail collection, package receiving services.
“This adds traffic into their business,” Nascimento said. “More people are going to come in and you hope they buy a soda, hot dog or some other things and will be also able to go to the post office at the same time.”
Other services, such as mail delivery and post office box services, would be handled through other branch offices or contract postal units.
If it were to open, Nascimento said it would be the first village post office on the island.
Some residents, however, are not so sure.
Hanamaulu resident Elli Ward said she is worried that the permanent closing of the post office will disenfranchise the town’s growing Filipino community and aging population.
“I’m kind of disheartened already, because it just seems like an exercise in futility,” Ward said. “That post office enhaces our identity as a Filipino community — it’s a source of pride for us Filipinos to have that historical building there. Part of what makes that building really important to our community is that it is also where we interact with each other — at the post office.”
Hanamaulu resident Florentino “Tono” Duterte, who has had a post office box at the old Hanamaulu Post Office for nearly 50 years, recalled the old post office was an informal meeting place for older residents during the plantation days, when they used sit on the bench outside and talk story or go shopping at the nearby variety store.
“That was a kind of therapy for them,” Duterte said.
The invitation for customers to provide feedback during a 60-day comment period will end on Aug. 12 and a final determination on the future of the Hanamaulu Post Office will follow soon after.
The mailing address to send comments about the proposed Hanamaulu closure is: Janice Shimizu, 3600 Aolele Street, Honolulu, HI 96820-9998.