The tiny post office in a corner of the Valleyford Store is crammed with Christmas.
Piles of packages, letters and holiday cards form a cramped obstacle course behind the front counter. It’s the busiest place in town, especially during the holidays. It’s also the busiest post office per square foot in Spokane County.
Everyone’s on a first-name basis with the man behind the counter, Valleyford Postmaster Rick Straub.
“Usually, it’s pretty crowded in here,” said Straub, a slight man who’s worked in the office for six years. “Once you’re in here, you don’t get out. It seems a little unorganized, but we know where most things are.”
There’s not a lot of places most things could be, considering the entire office measures only 10 feet by 19 feet.
Straub makes use of the space he has. The floor is stacked with piles and piled with stacks. One corner is devoted to sorting mail. One wall holds 114 post office boxes.
Christmas is evident everywhere, from the packages stacked on the floor to the decorations on the ceiling. On top of one cabinet, a miniature Christmas tree sits next to a tiny lighted post office from a ceramic Dickensian Christmas village.
The Valleyford post office is bigger than the replica, but not by much.
The quarters may be growing soon. The U.S. Postal Service has just handed Straub an early Christmas present - approval for a new post office that will be about 13 times bigger.
“It’ll be 2,500 square feet,” Straub said. “Just a little bigger than this one.”
The new office probably will be built within two years, according to a U.S. Postal Service spokeswoman.
Until then, when mail gets heavy, it’s piled behind the counter. It’s piled in the store lobby. It’s piled in the back of the sole mail carrier’s station wagon.
This is the office’s busiest season, brought on by a storm of holiday mail and a flurry of sweepstakes letters promising million-dollar winners in Valleyford, about 20 miles south of the Spokane Valley.
“This is crunch time,” said mail carrier Chuck Lamphiear as he sorted mail.
Valleyford customers appreciate that. They send Christmas cards to Straub and Lamphiear. They give them plates of fudge and cookies. They feel guilty if they ask the post office to hold their mail when they’re away from home.
Straub and Lamphiear “don’t really have room for the box to put the held mail in,” customer Molly Gross said after visiting the post office this week. “But they keep it anyway. They give great service. And they know everybody by name.”
They know everybody by address as well.
The mail route sprawls 85 miles from Valleyford to Mica, Freeman and Valley Chapel. Lamphiear piles the letters and packages in the back of his station wagon every day.
When he started the job 16 years ago, he delivered mail to about 240 customers and finished by early afternoon.
Now, he delivers to about 470 customers. His job stretches until late afternoon.
“I carry stamps with me,” Lamphiear said. “I can pick up packages and mail them. I can do just about everything.”
His customers agree.
“They deliver everything, which is wonderful,” Sharon Lockard said. “They spoil us.”
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