PO'd: University station loses lease
For John Bartelt at Studio Art Shop on West Main, shipping late afternoon orders has been a simple matter of toddling across the street to the University Station post office.
After March 10, never more.
"We lost our lease," says Postal Service district coordinator Lois Miller. "We were notified by the owner that our lease would not be renewed."
"I'm not evicting the post office," says the building's owner, W.K. Heischman. "They wanted a longer-term lease. I didn't want to do that."
The 11th Street SW building sits in the middle of a West Main Street destined for redevelopment– squeezed between UVA hospital expansion on one side and Heischman's long-vacant property at 10th and West Main on the other.
Around 2000, plans were afoot for a mixed-use project called Holsinger Square that might eventually stretch west to include the land under the University Station.
"I have several options," says Heischman, who declines to say more about what those options are– or what's going on with Holsinger Square/University Station. Whatever happens, it seems unlikely the simple 1965 brick postal building will remain standing.
Heischman's University Station LLC bought the 6,818-square-foot structure on nearly half an acre in 2002 for $1.18 million. The post office was neighbor to the legendary Trax nightclub, demolished by the university's bulldozers in early 2003.
Like its razed neighbor, which in the early 1990s became the proving ground for the Dave Matthews Band, the post office has a Dave connection.
Chris Tetzeli, a 13-year veteran of the musicians' empire and now head of ATO Records, says he has "very fond memories" of shipping Dave Matthews Band t-shirts, hats, and CDs from an office upstairs over Trax.
"At first we were going over there with five packages," recalls Tetzeli. "They were very friendly. When it started becoming 50 packages, they weren't as happy to see us."
That shipping business grew into MusicToday, a company so large that its 200-plus-person staff now occupies much of the former ConAgra food-processing plant in Crozet. Customers include such musical acts as the Rolling Stones, Eminem, Shania Twain, and the Grateful Dead.
Back at University Station, the 528 P.O. boxes and four or five employees will be relocated to the Downtown station on the first floor of the Market Street parking garage. While Miller says the Postal Service sought space closer to the university, a letter is going out next week to customers informing them that their P.O. boxes will now be a mile and a half away.
"We were unsuccessful at finding something at this time," says Miller, who doesn't rule out a future site near the Corner.
Of the four major branches– Main, Barracks Road, Downtown, and University– the latter made the least money, according to Miller, so finding a new home for the branch could be an uphill battle.
"That's one way of accounting," says local businessman Eugene Williams, whose Dogwood Housing real estate office is close by. "The post office is located in a neighborhood with the most low-income families. It affects a lot of people who do not have cars and walk– a lot of senior citizens. It's hard even for people with cars, finding parking at Barracks Road and Downtown."
"It's inconvenient for us," concurs Bartelt, no fan of parking at the Barracks Road station.
For businesses like Bartelt's, there's an option, but it's one perhaps most dreaded by the Postal Service: dropping the USPS for UPS.
But that doesn't help when all somebody really wants is a book of stamps.
The University Station post office moved into its 11th Street SW location April 1, 1966. Forty years later, its time is up.
PHOTO BY BILLY HUNT