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" It moves very quickly," said Kandy Brandt of Spokane as she used the new automated shipping machine at the Spokane Valley Post Office on Sprague Avenue on Monday, December 15, 2008. KATHY PLONKA the Spokesman-Review (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)

Top shipping day draws crowds

Post offices were crammed with customers today as the rush to mail Christmas cards and packages hit its seasonal peak.

More than 600,000 pieces of mail were expected to be sent by residents of northeast Washington and North Idaho on what’s traditionally the busiest postal day of the year.

Packages have to be shipped by Tuesday to make it to their destinations by Christmas via the cheapest shipping option offered by the U.S. Postal Service. The deadline is Friday for first-class mail, and Dec. 23 for guaranteed express mail delivery.

But standing in line could be a thing of the past for customers willing to embrace change.

Postal officials said they have new automated and Web-based services available that can be more convenient.

Sandra Gepford, of Spokane, said she was standing in line at the Shadle-Garland postal station, 1903 W. Garland Ave., when she noticed a new automated postal center, and decided to use it to buy her stamps with a debit card, saving her from what was a slowly moving line.

“All I needed was stamps and it made it convenient,” she said.

The machine is one of three automated postal stations recently installed across the Spokane area. The other two are at the Rosewood station, 6325 N. Monroe St., and the Spokane Valley station, 11712 E. Sprague Ave. All three are open 24 hours a day.

Despite the seasonal rush, postal officials in Spokane said the volume of mail has dropped by 30 percent over the past 15 months as more people and businesses use alternatives to traditional mail, said Lisa Nystuen, customer relations coordinator for the postal service in Spokane.

That is forcing the post office to realign delivery routes and job duties, but no layoffs have occurred as a result of the slowdown.

The postal service Web site at www.usps.com has a range of new services for customers.

If you have a package you would like to send from your home, you can use the Web to notify your mail carrier to pick it up at your door the following day during regular mail delivery.

Postage stamps and labels can be purchased online; greeting cards can be ordered and mailed on the Web; and mail delivery can be suspended while you are on vacation.

You can upload a family picture and have it printed on customized greeting cards. The postal service will either mail the cards directly to family, friends or associates, or you can have them shipped to your home. Card deliveries can be scheduled up to five years in advance. The Web site will handle an electronic mailing list.

“There are so many things you can do. It’s so much fun,” Nystuen said.

One last caution, this holiday shipping season: U.S. Postal Service shipping rates are based on the size of the parcel, so customers should remember to use as small a box as possible to hold their delivery, Nystuen said.

Mike Prager can be reached at (509) 459-5454 or by e-mail at mikep@spokesman.com

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