All day last Monday and Tuesday, the line at the Potomac Falls post office branch was to the door, marking the beginning of the holiday rush to mail out parcels and Christmas cards.
“The [number of] customers in the retail lobby has picked up the first week of the Christmas season,” said Linda Strong, postal station manager of the Potomac Falls branch in Cascades, adding that business the week after Thanksgiving was busier than it was last year. “I expect starting next Monday, our parcel [business] will really be into the Christmas season.”
At about 10:30 a.m., Dec. 9, Teresa Peterson of Sterling was waiting in a line that nearly reached the door with three packages stacked in front of her.
"I wanted to come as early as possible, so they would get there before Christmas," Peterson said, adding that she likes to send out her packages and Christmas cards before the middle of the month. "More and more people are sending out gifts. It's so global now. A lot of people, their families and friends, are scattered across the world."
THE NUMBER of parcels the Potomac Falls branch handled began increasing Saturday, Nov. 30, at about the same rate as last year. The week after Thanksgiving, the branch and the Sterling Main Post Office handled 24,877 parcels, compared to 19,000 parcels during the same week last year.
"We only have three full weeks after Thanksgiving this year," said Jim Farley, Sterling postmaster. "[We] always equate the weekend after Thanksgiving as the time to start getting ready for Christmas. We have a shorter Christmas season this year."
The number of parcels the post office handles is expected to triple in volume on Dec. 9, remaining at that level for the next two weeks, Strong said. The busiest day at the branch and at the Sterling Main Post Office is expected to be Dec. 16, the Monday falling almost two weeks before Christmas and after one of the busiest shopping weekends.
“We will probably process more incoming mail that day than any day of the year,” Farley said.
Bob Sheehan, an executive from the headquarters in Washington, D.C., will help direct traffic that day, providing information and showing customers where they need to go for services. The U.S. Postal Service plans to send executives to several post offices in the metropolitan area for the first time this year. “They want to see what’s going on and what kind of service we provide and help out too,” Farley said.
THE CUSTOMER service windows at the Sterling Post Office and branch will be fully staffed by the weekend of Dec. 14-15 and stay that way until Dec. 22. The post office aims to keep the customer wait to a maximum of five minutes.
“We’re ready for whatever needs the customers have,” Farley said.
So far, the parcel volume the first week after Thanksgiving increased 50 percent from last year and Christmas cards started coming through the office the last week of November and the first week of December, Farley said, adding that even so, the “letter delivery hasn’t increased.”
Farley expects the increase in cards and letters to come Dec. 9-10, spike Dec. 16 and hit a smaller spike Dec. 23, as indicated by the general trends noted by the postal service. He was told to expect the same in parcel business as last year, which dropped 5 percent from the year before following Sept. 11, 2001 and the anthrax scare, not increasing again until that summer.
“Our projections are that we should be doing OK,” Farley said, adding that the parcel business locally could indicate “a busy holiday.”
The Potomac Falls branch will be open Saturday, Dec. 14 and 21, until 6 p.m., and open Sunday, Dec. 15, and 22, from noon to 6 p.m. The post office will close a half hour early Dec. 24.