As fire consumed dozens of businesses along E. Lake Street in the unrest following the death of George Floyd, the Minnehaha and Lake Street post offices were reduced to gaping, charred hulks.
Now the United States Postal Service (USPS) is “exploring many options” to re-establish itself in the south Minneapolis neighborhoods affected by the recent fires and looting.
“We are already moving forward to provide customers a local facility to call their own,” said Nicole Hill, a USPS spokeswoman, in an e-mail. “It is too early in the process to provide a timeline.”
But the simple scrawl on the remains of the Minnehaha post office seemed to reflect the neighbors’ views: “Rebuild!!!”
“Tears came to my eyes when I watched [the Lake Street] post office go down in flames,” said Tiwanna Jackson, president of Tweak The Glam Studio, a small beauty business at Lake and Lyndale Avenue. “The whole community is crushed.”
Jackson said she stopped by the Lake Street station every week to retrieve mail for her business, which was damaged by looting. “They need to bring it back,” she said.
The 43-year-old Lake Street facility, which is owned by the USPS, spanned 80,000 square feet on nearly two acres of land at 110 E. 31st St. near Lake and Nicollet Avenue, according to Hennepin County property records. Because it is a federal property, no market value is listed.
The Minnehaha post office at 3033 S. 27th Av., built off Minnehaha Avenue on nearly an acre in 1970, is owned by a Bloomington-based limited liability corporation and leased by the postal service. Its market value is just over $1 million, county records state.
Local residents and business owners say the post offices not only provided a critical lifeline, they served as an impromptu meeting place for neighbors.
“The post office is part of the fabric of the community,” said Jane Aldrich, a Longfellow neighborhood resident who used the Minnehaha facility frequently, especially to send care packages to family.
Aldrich said she knows many of the postal clerks by name. “The post office is a great leveler. Everyone uses it and it’s so representative of our community,” she said.
That being said, she added: “Buildings can be replaced. George Floyd cannot.”
As the community continues to recover from the unrest, mail delivery that lapsed on May 28 was restored by June 1, Hill said.
“We are happy to report that all of our customers are receiving mail to their homes and businesses,” Minneapolis Postmaster William Jones said in a statement.
For the time being, mail service for the Minnehaha facility has been redirected to the downtown Minneapolis post office. Lake Street post office patrons should go to the Loring Park station on the western edge of downtown.
The Postal Inspection Service is investigating looting and fires at both facilities, a federal crime that could result in severe penalties should the perpetrators be charged.
About 70 employees worked out of both post offices, but no one was present or injured as the fires raged, said Brad Sandberg, president of Local 125 of the American Postal Workers Union in Minneapolis. Employees are now working in other facilities, he said.
Both post offices were very busy, he said. Several hundred P.O. boxes in the buildings were destroyed, too.
“Especially with COVID, a lot of people running small businesses went online to sell their products to survive,” he said. “People would be in line with armfuls of boxes. They were so thankful we remained open.”
Hill said the bulk of the deliveries had been made from both locations before the fires, though some mail and packages were damaged. “Due to the ongoing investigation, we are unable to address specific volume,” she said. But if customers believe they are missing mail or packages, she said, they should contact the sender.
A third post office in the Lake Street vicinity, the Powderhorn station at 3045 Bloomington Av., sustained some damage but reopened Tuesday.
“We were very lucky,” said Eduardo Barrera, manager of nearby Mercado Central on Lake Street. “The post office provides a critical service.”
While other post offices nationwide were damaged in the riots and looting that followed Floyd’s death, none were burned as extensively as those in Minneapolis, Hill said.
As the community rebuilds, the memory of the post offices lingers. Someone spray-painted on a partial brick wall left standing at the Lake Street post office: “We [heart] our postal patrons! We will be back to serve you!”