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The sawmills in Annapolis have shut down, the apple orchards are mostly gone and the only store in town burned down about 20 years ago.

Now the rural hamlet, home to about 500 people in the far northwest corner of Sonoma County, faces the loss of one of its last remaining institutions, a one-room rustic post office on a curve in Annapolis Road six miles from the coast.

Among the 3,700 post offices nationwide targeted for possible closure by a deficit-ridden U.S. Postal Service, the weathered, wood-frame post office built in 1901 is more than a place to pick up mail and buy stamps.

"It's like a hitching post," said Brother Toby McCarroll of the Starcross Community, harking back to Annapolis' 19th century origins.

A bulletin board provides space for notices and longtime postmaster Rae Brodjeski is a human conduit for community concerns, like the latest missing dog.

"If I find a dog, I'll call her," said McCarroll, whose monastic order has been an Annapolis fixture since 1975.

But in the Washington, D.C., accounting over the Postal Service's multi-billion-dollar losses, the social fabric of communities like Annapolis may not count for much.

The Postal Service, a self-funded federal agency, faces steadily dwindling revenues brought on by a epochal shift in human communication to the Internet, with e-mail, texting and social media supplanting letters and stamps, now derisively called "snail mail."

In small communities especially, the prospect of losing a post office is stirring protests, with members of Congress, including North Coast Reps. Lynn Woolsey and Mike Thompson, expressing concern.

"They want to rip the heart out of the downtown," said Barry Vogel, a Ukiah attorney opposing the plan to move all postal services from the historic office downtown to an annex on the east side of the city near Highway 101.

His group gathered 5,000 signatures on a petition to preserve Ukiah's 74-year-old downtown post office with New Deal murals on the wall. If their appeal of the postal service's decision to abandon the old building is denied, Vogel said his group will consider legal action.

Healdsburg lost its downtown post office after a fire gutted the building and the Postal Service moved all service to a postal annex, refusing entreaties to move back into town.

The Camp Meeker and Villa Grande post offices in west Sonoma County also are on the list of 104 California sites under study for possibly closure.

In Camp Meeker, the post office is a scruffy trailer beneath the redwoods along Dutch Bill Creek, next to the volunteer fire department off Bohemian Highway.

It's not much to look at, but for residents in Camp Meeker's aging homes — most originally built as summer cottages on a steep hillside — the post office is a community hub.

"A place to meet and talk about ideas," said Bill Blackburn, a Camp Meeker resident since 1992, picking up his mail on a sunny afternoon last week.

The mandatory public meetings to discuss the Postal Service's proposed closure plans will be held Wednesday at the Villa Grande post office and Thursday at the Camp Meeker post office.

In an 80-page report to Congress last year, the Government Accountability Office said the postal service's business model "is not viable" and that losses due to declining mail volume and stagnating revenue could exceed $238 billion over the next decade.

The GAO report said the service can no longer afford to maintain its 32,000 post offices, but also acknowledged the "formidable resistance" to closures and consolidations.

Members of Congress and postmaster organizations consider post offices as "fundamental to the identity of small towns, providing them with an economic and social anchor," the report said.

By law, the Postal Service is required to provide "effective and regular services" in rural areas and small towns, and is prohibited from closing small post offices "solely for operating at a deficit."

Rep. Thompson, D-St. Helena, said he was concerned by the "disproportionate number" of rural post offices among the 3,700 facilities "that have been put on the chopping block."

The closure study list for California includes 12 post offices in Los Angeles and five in San Francisco, but most are in tiny places ranging from Alleghany (Sierra County) to Zenia (Trinity County).

The Postal Service is in a bind, having lost $8.5billion last year and is expected to run an equal or larger deficit this year, spokesman Jim Wigdel said.

"That's definitely unsustainable," he said. "We are a business. We don't get any taxpayer dollars."

The post office, founded by Benjamin Franklin in 1775, is a year older than the United States itself and as much a part of Americana as the flag and apple pie. "We've basically always been there," Wigdel said.

With nearly 32,000 post offices, the service is bigger than McDonald's, Starbucks and Walmart combined. About 9,000 offices, including the one in Annapolis, earn less than $40,000 a year from sales of stamps and other products and box rentals.

The service has no quota or target for post office closures, Wigdel said. Among the criteria for possible closure is whether the office's revenue is dropping, as it is in Annapolis and Camp Meeker, and whether another office is nearby (Camp Meeker's post office is a mile from one in Occidental).

In Annapolis, mail is delivered on a rural route or residents rent a mailbox and get their mail at the post office. If it closes, one choice would be Gualala, a curving six-mile drive from Annapolis to the coast near The Sea Ranch, and the another seven miles north on Highway 1.

The possible closure was triggered by the landowners, Dorothy and Gary Craig, who decided two years ago not to renew the lease on the bedroom-sized building constructed by her grandfather in 1901.

Mary McMillen Fiscus and her daughter-in-law, Alice Fiscus, (Dorothy's grandmother and mother) served as Annapolis' postmasters for a combined 80 years. Brodjeski, the community's third postmaster, took over 25 years ago.

Dorothy Craig and her husband, a retired CalFire battalion chief, live in a tidy home behind the post office on 140 acres of family-owned land.

"It's here; it's a convenience. You just don't want to give it up," Dorothy Craig said. But the lease became a money-losing proposition and the Craigs agreed last year to extend it until this Oct. 3.

Jane Simmonds, a former teacher at Horicon School in Annapolis and 31-year area resident, said she was dismayed by the postal service's rejection of an offer to relocate the office, rent-free, at a Sonoma County road maintenance yard four miles east of the Craigs' property.

The problem, Wigdel said, is that a new post office would cost money to install and operate, and the revenue from Annapolis won't cover it.

To McCarroll, the situation reflects the plight of tiny communities across the country. "No place like Annapolis is ever going to meet any kind of bottom line financial statement that will make any sense to people in Washington," he said.

Rep. Woolsey, D-Petaluma, said she is trying to arrange a meeting of Annapolis residents, county and Postal Service officials in hopes of finding an alternative location for the post office.

"I will continue to do all that I can to ensure that the people of Annapolis don't lose access to vital postal services," Woolsey said.

On Thursday, the official closure proposal was posted at the Annapolis post office. It gives residents 60 days to comment on the plan, with a decision to be made on Nov. 2.

An additional 30-day period would follow the decision, during which the community could file an appeal, and the Postal Service would have up to 120 days to review the appeal.

That process will play out. But because the lease expires on Oct. 3, postal services at the little old building will be suspended at that time, Wigdel said.

Simmonds said her group, called Relocate Annapolis Post Office, isn't giving up. "To quote Yogi Berra," she said, "This ain't over til it's over."

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