NEW PRAGUE, Minn. — Leaders in the southern Minnesota city of New Prague are growing increasingly frustrated with the condition of their local post office, and even more flustered that they can't get a meeting with USPS officials.
Mayor Duane Jirik told KARE that he's spent two years just trying to get a response about what steps the city can take to speed up the process of replacing the local post office.
"We’ve been trying to inquire, hey, who can we talk to at the post office?" Mayor Jirik told KARE. "We just want to find out the procedure. How can we try to get a new post office built in the community? And it’s kind of fell on deaf ears."
He said the local post office has been in the same place on Main Street for a century and hasn't kept up with the growth of the city or changes in street design that made it even less accessible to postal customers.
A MnDOT project made that stretch of downtown New Prague more pedestrian friendly, but at the same time it removed the parking spaces next to the post office. The letter collection box that used to stand near the front door has been moved 100 feet to the west and faces a parking spot that is often occupied by vehicles.
The post office serves the city's 8,260 residents plus many more from rural areas that surround the community, which is located partially in Scott County and partially in Le Sueur County.
Wednesday US Rep. Angie Craig held a listening session with local elected leaders and postal customers in a local bakery. The group then walked together down the street to post office to show Craig how cramped the facility is indoors.
"We asked the postal service if I could get a tour of this post office and we were declined, so today I came inside and saw for myself how small the lobby is, how difficult it would be for someone with disabilities to access this location."
She thanked the postal workers staffing the counter, assuring them she knows the issues with the building aren't their fault.
"This is certainly not their fault, but we need the USPS to engage here, and that’s what I’m asking for."
Congress can't control the postal service, but members can definitely apply pressure and highlight problems. Craig wrote Tony Williams, the district manager for the Minnesota/North Dakota District of the USPS, asking that Williams meet with New Prague leaders.
In her letter, Craig noted that the New Prague post office operates in a leased building, one of 25,000 post offices in leased space.
"The lessor, American Postal Infrastructure, lists their principal executive office address in Foster City, CA," Rep. Craig told Williams.
"I’m concerned that such a private equity firm halfway across the country is focusing more on their returns for investors than the service for rural New Prague residents who rely on an efficient, open and functioning post office."
In response to an inquiry from KARE, regional USPS spokesman Desai Abdul-Razzaaq wrote the following:
"Thank you for your interest in the United States Postal Service. The Postal Service will investigate any concerns raised by Representative Craig and will respond directly to her."
Local residents first began raising the issue with Craig in 2019 because the building was closed to customers, first for an asbestos removal project and another time for unspecified safety-related changes. The nearest alternatives were 15 miles away or more.
"These folks had to travel to Belle Plaine, they had to drive to Prior Lake for weeks at a time in order to access to the nearest post office, so they feel they’ve been ignored by USPS," Craig told KARE.
Mayor Jirik said there are plenty of other suitable locations in the city for a modern post office building that would include parking for customers and employers and be more accessible to people who use wheelchairs or walkers.
Thus far, he hasn't been able to get a signal from the USPS about what proactive steps the city can take to get the ball rolling.
Ben Bartusek, an older resident who uses a cane when he walks, thanked Craig for putting the issue in the spotlight and pressing postal officials to come to the table.