The East Falls neighborhood of northwest Philadelphia has been without its own post office for a year, since the building flooded during the remnants of Hurricane Ida.
But the East Falls post office, which sits close to the Schuylkill River, is finally scheduled to reopen September 30, according to United States Postal Service spokesperson Paul Smith.
“I am relieved,” said Emily Nichols, president of the East Falls Community Council. “We had been hearing that there was some talk that our post office wouldn’t reopen. So I’m very happy to know that it will reopen and glad that it’ll be open before the holidays.”
The East Falls post office is housed in a one-story, flat-roofed, brown brick building on Ridge Avenue, a residential and commercial road that runs along the river through East Falls. Parts of the road flooded when the Schuylkill overflowed its banks last September, swollen with runoff from the storm.
“That street itself was under at least a foot, probably two feet of water at some point,” Nichols recalled. “People couldn’t leave their homes.”
Floodwaters were about three-feet deep in the post office building, said Isaac Richter of Postal Realty Trust, which manages the building on behalf of the owner, which leases it to USPS.
Thursday morning, the post office sat empty, with dust and debris visible on the floor inside. Hot pink graffiti was scrawled across a blue mailbox outside. A piece of paper taped to the inside of the office’s glass door directed customers to another office in Germantown. Mary Jane Fullam, a retired teacher who heads the East Falls Town Watch, said it’s the same sign that’s been there since Ida — with no information about how repairs are progressing.
“They could have updated the sign and said, you know, we’re making progress — or, we’re working,” she said. “Nothing, for month after month after month.”
Fullam has been working with two other East Falls neighbors — Isolene Nelson and Joan McIlvaine — to advocate for the reopening of the post office. They’ve been contacting elected officials for months, they said, and even lodged a complaint with the Biden Administration.
“This has been a festering problem,” said Fullam, who is concerned about the “neglected” appearance of the post office.
Nelson, a retiree who works part-time as an usher at a theater, has been frustrated with what she characterized as a lack of responsiveness from the USPS over most of the past year. She had a post office box at the East Falls location — and has been traveling to Germantown to get her mail.
“You call the postmaster’s office, all you get is the answering machine,” she said. “Nobody calls you back.”
But Nelson now believes she’ll have her post office back soon. She noticed some repairs being made about two weeks ago. She received a letter last month from a USPS official saying work should be done by Sept. 30, and the post office will then reopen.
“I think it’s going to happen,” Nelson said.
McIlvaine, who runs a funeral home in East Falls, said she’s been traveling to a post office in nearby Manayunk several times a week to send business mail, such as death certificates and checks to contractors. She’s hesitant to put large checks in the big blue mailboxes along streets, because she fears they’ll be stolen. And those trips have added up.
“It’s taking time. It’s taking gas,” she said. “It’s been most inconvenient. A real hardship.”
The remnants of Hurricane Ida brought historic flooding and tornados to the region, killing several people. In the following weeks, the state documented thousands of residential properties that were affected, dozens of which were classified as destroyed. Tens of thousands of Pa. residents received federal aid to help them recover. Some households are still struggling.
Several other businesses in East Falls flooded. In Riva, a restaurant next to the post office building, was closed for months — only reopening in May. A few blocks away, a popular corner store that sells hoagies known as Majors reopened around the same time, said Michelle Feldman, director of the East Falls Development Corporation.
The post office is the last business in the neighborhood that has yet to reopen, she said.
Reopening has taken so long in part because of USPS procedures, said Richter, of Postal Realty Trust. Before the building owner could make repairs, USPS had to clean and secure their inventory and equipment. The repairs also have to go through a “rigorous environmental review process,” he said. USPS declined to provide details about the repairs.
“While the delays associated with the above steps are unfortunate, the safety of customers and USPS employees is priority number one,” Richter wrote in an email.
Now most of the repairs are finished, Richter said, with the exception of new flooring that has yet to be installed.
Subscribe to PlanPhilly