To the 10,000 or so folks who live in Croydon, the local post office was more than a warehouse for packages and letters. It was a community staple, where an impromptu lending library thrived and neighbors shared their stories.
Now, it's a literal shell, its door replaced by a thick piece of plywood that has weathered the elements and stood against the growing resentment in this Bucks County community.
Croydon has been without its post office for three months, lost to a still-unexplained fire at a strip mall where the U.S. Postal Service leased the space. Nearby residents, just four weeks removed from Christmas and the steady flow of letters and packages its brings, are restless.
"This is ridiculous. To have a town without a post office is bad," Pat Hamil said on a recent dreary afternoon. "We seem to be a town people forget about."
Hamil has lived in Croydon for all of her 65 years. Regular mail service has been uninterrupted, she said, with carriers filling her mail box. But she and her neighbors, fed up with having to drive to nearby Bensalem to buy stamps or mail packages, are demanding answers.
Their plight has caught the attention of the recently re-elected U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R., Pa.), who penned a letter of complaint to Postmaster General Megan J. Brennan on Nov. 13.
"In the nearly three months that members of the community have waited, we have not received information on when, or even if, the post office will reopen," Fitzpatrick wrote. "As I'm sure you can understand, the interruption of service, and the limited resources deployed by USPS to mitigate this interruption, have caused challenges to many of Croydon's residents."
On Aug. 22., a late-night fire raged through the Croydon Center, according to officials in Bristol Township. Kevin Dippolito, the township's fire marshal, said the cause of the blaze remains undetermined, and it is still unclear if it was set.
What is known is its origin point, between the door to the post office and an adjacent coin laundry in the aging strip mall on Bristol Pike just east of the Neshaminy Creek.
Dippolito said the fire "heavily damaged" the laundry, completely gutting its attic. The post office sustained only moderate damage, he said, mostly from smoke. The township's investigation into the fire is now closed, pending further information, he added.
Raymond Daiutolo Sr., a regional spokesman for the Postal Service, declined to say when the post office might re-open.
He said the Postal Service is working with the owner of Croydon Center, who recently completed the necessary paperwork and is making arrangements for repairs.
David Fiori, the strip mall's owner, did not return multiple requests for comment.
Daiutolo echoed the fire marshal in saying the damage to the post office was "moderate." He said the Postal Service attempted to use a temporary mobile station after the fire – as it often does in cases where post offices are closed – but was unable to because of safety concerns at the site. The damaged post office was "unsafe for employees to enter and exit," he said.
The laundry, post office, and Sarappo's, a family-run pizzeria, remain shuttered. The post office's debris-strewn floor can be seen behind its plate-glass window, which bears a sign directing customers to pick up mail at the Bensalem post office, two miles away, "until further notice."
Rhonda Ryan knows firsthand how vital the post office is to Croydon – she spent eight years behind its counter. These days, she's on the other side, usually to drop off packages for her budding eBay business.
"They say, 'Oh, the Bensalem office is so close,' but you have to understand something," she said. "Here, a lot of people walk, ride their bikes, or are disabled and use motorized scooters. It's much harder to get to Bensalem."
It's certainly not a viable option for Vickie Andress. With two bad knees, she's under doctor's orders to limit her walking and avoid standing for more than 20 minutes at a time. The influx of people to the Bensalem post office – already a busy hub – has her standing in lines 10 to 15 people deep just to pay her utility bills "the old-fashioned way."
"People like me are screwed," Andress, 57, said. "Going to Bensalem is a pain, and going to Levittown is even worse."
She implored the Postal Service to find a solution, especially as she gets ready to send holiday packages out to her family, scattered throughout Pennsylvania.