T & C may stay if post office goes

Read my story below on a proposed land swap that could steer the future of downtown Winslow.

(The story is an expanded version of an earlier blog post)

If the Winslow post office moves, the downtown’s anchor business is likely to stay.

The U.S. Postal Service announcement this week that the island’s main post office will likely relocate has disappointed some, but its given hope to others that the Town & Country Market will have the room it says it need to expand, and remain firmly rooted in the heart of downtown.

“It’s always a little bit of a disappointment when a post office leaves a downtown, but we are really happy that T&C decided to stay,” said Bainbridge Island Dowtown Association Director Ashley Armstrong.

While both the postal service and T&C owner Larry Nakata stress that all plans are tentative, a proposed land swap between the two parties would move the post office to a T&C-owned property on High School Road and allow the market to expand westward onto the post office’s current location, a half-acre owned by the federal government.

“The additional (downtown) parcel would give us greater opportunity to remodel or rebuild,” said Nakata.

The move would also help the postal service grow its operation, said postal service spokesman Ernie Swanson.

“We generally look at three possibilities when we feel a post office has outgrown its existing building: expand it, purchase an existing building, or start from scratch on a piece of property and build from the ground up,” he said.

While overall mail volume has declined, the use of the Winslow post office by individuals and businesses has led to longer lines and crowded working conditions, Swanson said.

Swanson declined to discuss the T&C land swap, but said “one or two properties are under consideration” for relocating the post office.

If the land swap moves forward, the post office would relocate somewhere on a long High School Road property stretching from the McDonalds restaurant on the west edge to an apartment complex on Ferncliff Avenue. About half the property is occupied by an Ace hardware store, while the other half is undeveloped.

Nakata has hinted at plans to move T&C to the High School Road property, which would allow for additional retail and parking space, as well as easy access to State Route 305. The move may also make T&C more viable against the larger Safeway market on High School Road.

T&C’s possible departure from downtown has elicited dire predictions from other Winslow business. Many small shops depend on anchor businesses like T&C and the Virginia Mason clinic for the regular flow of traffic they draw to downtown.

“T&C is the central part of downtown,” Armstrong said.

T&C’s potential move spurred various city planning initiatives aimed at retain the market and the clinic, which also hopes to expand. Nakata has championed some of planning proposals, including a city-owned parking garage.

The land swap may alleviate some fears about the future of downtown, but it won’t come without a price.

“You always hope you can retain a post office facility,” said Armstrong, who mentioned the ease and convenience of getting groceries and mail in one spot.

“But overall I think this is a good thing,” she said.

Nakata may have been laying the groundwork in his negotiations with the postal service to ensure both a carton of milk and a book of stamps continue to be available downtown.

“Larry said part of his discussions was kind of a promise of keeping some sort of (postal) facility downtown,” Armstrong said.

About two months ago, the Winslow office supply store Paper Products contracted with the postal service to act as a full service postal unit. The store now sells stamps, sends mail and offers other mail supplies.

Post office powwow

The U.S. Postal Service will host a public meeting Tuesday at the Bainbridge Commons, 370 Bjune St., to present options on relocating or expanding the Winslow post office. The meeting begins at 5 p.m.