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Patrons Line Up To Get First Lick At Stamps Post Offices Jammed As People Buy Up 3-Centers, New 32-Centers

Like a New Year’s hangover, the holiday rush returned to cause headaches at post offices in Spokane and elsewhere Tuesday.

People stood in long lines trying to get 3-cent stamps after the U.S. Postal Service raised the cost of first-class postage from 29 cents to 32 cents on Sunday.

The 3-cent stamps became the hot commodity as people sought to use up leftover 29-centers. There was also a run on the new 32-cent G stamps.

Postal clerks found their supplies going fast.

Nearly 50,000 of the 3-cent stamps were sold Tuesday at the Shadle-Garland branch, said clerk Betty Farmer.

“Are we busy? It’s worse than Christmas,” Farmer said.

At Jones Pharmacy at Ninth and Monroe, manager Lenore Sullivan said she sold her entire supply of 5,000 3-cent stamps in two hours. She ordered more.

At the downtown post office at Riverside and Lincoln, there was a steady line of at least 20 people. Off to the side, people were licking 3-cent stamps and putting them on letters with 29-cent stamps already attached.

“We’ve had lines all the way to the door,” said clerk Bob Foster.

Carol Guthrie, of Spokane, had 150 holiday greeting cards with 29-cent stamps that now needed an additional 3 cents postage. “I’m late with my Christmas cards every year,” she said. This time Guthrie’s tardiness is costing her an extra $4.50.

Postal officials in Washington, D.C., said both 32-cent and 3-cent stamps were generally available across the country, though, and they had no reports of major shortages. The post office printed 16.3 billion G stamps to cover the new rate, a big boost over the 9.9 billion F stamps that were available four years ago, the last time the price went up.

At the 19th Street postal station in Washington, D.C., hung a sign urging customers to “Beat the Rush: G stamps 32 cents.”

“We’re selling them as fast as we can stock them,” said Postmaster Richard Esslinger in Charleston, W.Va. His office sold 60,000 3-cent stamps in four hours Tuesday.

The office serves as the main distribution center for West Virginia and Esslinger said outlying post offices were faxing in emergency requests for more 3-cent stamps.

In Rochester, N.Y., the line snaked back 25 yards at times, prompting many to turn away. Others were willing to put an extra 29-cent stamp on a letter rather than wait.

Postal lines were out the door in Wheeling, W.Va. By midday, the office had sold more than 75,000 stamps and the postmaster had left for Pittsburgh, an hour away, to bring back 103,000 more.

Many people buy their stamps in supermarkets, though, and shortages were reported in those stores.

“I went to Wray’s Thriftway on Saturday and the lady there said she’d sold 10,000 of the 3-cent stamps and wouldn’t have any more until today,” said Robert Wheeler, accounting manager for the city of Yakima.

Letters postmarked Jan. 1 and thereafter are supposed to carry 32 cents postage. In addition to the G stamps, the post office printed 2.2 billion stamps with a blue dove to cover the 3-cent increase, and regular 3-cent stamps were also available. Where the 3-cent stamps were unavailable, many people were buying sheets of 1-cent stamps.

Postal Service spokesman Frank Brennan said stamps had been selling briskly for the past two weeks as people prepared for the increase.

Americans are very good about putting the right postage on letters, said Brennan. “Americans are a very, very honest lot in dealing with the post office. … The percentage of people who try to beat the post office out of a few pennies is minuscule,” he said.


The following fields overflowed: BYLINE = Mike Prager Staff writer Staff writer Alison Boggs and The Associated Press contributed to this report.