To Sonia Vidal, Judy Guth and scores of other San Fernando Valley residents, Saturday was not a red-letter day for the U. S. Postal Service.
With letters in hand, Vidal and Guth walked up the steps of the main post office on Chandler Boulevard in North Hollywood, only to discover it is now closed on Saturdays--one casualty of a $1.2-billion Postal Service budget cut aimed at reducing the federal deficit.
Besides the North Hollywood office, Saturday service will no longer be available at the main post offices in Burbank, Northridge, Pacoima, Reseda and Woodland Hills, as well as one office each in Canoga Park and Panorama City, postal officials said.
On the first day of the closures, there was confusion and irritation, but it was too soon to tell if the cutbacks would mean long lines at the 15 postal facilities in the Valley still offering limited Saturday service.
The effect on Vidal and Guth, however, was immediately apparent.
'Depend on It'
"This is ridiculous," Vidal said. And then, when she realized that the price of first-class stamps would jump from 22 to 25 cents in a few months, she said it again. "Raise our stamps and diminish our services? That's ridiculous."
"I depend on it on Saturdays," Guth said of her neighborhood post office. "That's why I have a P.O. box here."
Rick Reebel, director of city operations for the Postal Service's Van Nuys region, said officials will be monitoring the effect of the Saturday closures.
If demand warrants it, Reebel said, there is a "good chance" that the Postal Service will increase the number of "contract stations" in the Valley--outlets that operate out of stationery stores, pharmacies and other private businesses and provide most mail services under a government contract. Of the 15 facilities still operating Saturdays, 10 are contract stations.
One such station in Chatsworth--at Elie's Lock & Key--was "definitely busier than normal" Saturday, said store owner Ted Root. He said many customers visited his store after fruitless trips to their local post offices.
"They seemed to be upset," he said. "They seemed to be a little confused."
At a private mail service in Encino, Mail Boxes Etc. USA, business doubled in the first 90 minutes. "We usually get about 20 customers early in the morning," manager Nadine Mendoza said. "Today, we had about 40 come in already."
But workers at a Mail Boxes Etc. USA branch in Sherman Oaks noticed no change at all. "It was pretty normal as far as our load of mail," said manager Craig Ostwault.
But, for those who opted for visiting their local post office, the scene was always the same. They walked up to the front door, noticed the "closed" sign, looked again and walked away. Most of the time, they frowned.
At the Northridge post office on Reseda Boulevard, a woman ran up to the front door just before what should have been its noon closing time. Obviously pleased that she had beaten the deadline, she reached for the door.
'It's Not 12 Yet'
"It's not open," another customer warned her. "It's not 12 yet," the woman replied confidently. Then she saw the "closed" sign. "Arggggh," she muttered before stomping off.
Outside the Burbank post office, there was more muttering, this time from a man who wanted to send a money order by registered mail to relatives in the Mexican state of Zacatecas. A sign on the front door referred customer Abel Ramirez to a contract station on Pass Avenue, but such stations do not provide money orders.
"This is really bad," Ramirez said, holding the letter outside the office.
At the North Hollywood and Northridge post offices, no signs directed customers to alternative locations. Reebel promised such information would be posted at all offices before next weekend.
Staff writer Claudia Puig contributed to this report.