Click onto the U.S. Postal Service’s website, and you will see a pitch for Summer Harvest Forever Stamps, featuring stylized designs that celebrate watermelons, tomatoes, cantaloupes and corn. Keep browsing and you’ll find stamps that honor Batman, Harry Potter and — of course — the much-revered Elvis Presley. So the Postal Service isn’t totally devoid of artistic whimsy; it just seems that way when it comes to the Tieton Post Office.
Tieton has turned into a creative hub in the past decade, thanks largely to the Mighty Tieton group that has attracted a range of artistic talent to the Upper Valley town of 1,200. Mighty Tieton’s nonprofit arm, Tieton Arts & Humanities, in recent weeks has overseen a project to replace the nondescript siding of the town’s post office with a mosaic of 41,500 hand-cut glass tiles. The mosaic would resemble a giant postage stamp, with a design that celebrates the surrounding area’s fruit industry.
On July 1, Mighty Tieton launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise the necessary money. By the middle of this week, the campaign was less than $2,000 shy of the $48,000 needed to finance the project, with two weeks to go in the campaign. Tieton appeared very close to realizing supporters’ dream of “the coolest post office in America.”
The idea may be cool, but the Postal Service’s response is downright cold. In the process, the agency has magnified its image as an unresponsive, obtuse, out-of-touch bureaucracy.
At first, all seemed good. Tieton’s postmaster liked it, as did her supervisor. But then the agency’s Seattle District sent a letter dated July 15 that arrived five days later — this is why we call it snail mail — stating the Postal Service was not interested in participating in the project.
No real reason was given, except it didn’t follow procedure — a procedure that is unclear not only to project supporters but also USPS employees closest to the situation. An agency spokesman suggested an appeal to a higher authority, specifically the USPS vice president of facilities.
Ed Marquand, the founder of Mighty Tieton, intends to do just that. Tieton’s mayor has suggested appealing to an even higher authority, U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse. In a perfect world, it shouldn’t come to congressional intervention, but it seems the world of the USPS is far from perfect.
The inspiration for the project, according to Marquand, stemmed from the critical role that post offices perform in connecting small towns with the outside world. That role, as we all know, has been challenged by modern developments of the Internet and competing ground-delivery services. The Postal Service, a financially self-supporting federal government agency, is far from the only entity that has struggled with 21st century trends, and it frequently cites onerous labor agreements and congressional mandates for many of its problems.
But here, the Postal Service is handed an opportunity for a tiny post office to stand apart, to serve as a point of pride for the town, an attraction for visitors and an image boost for an agency that desperately needs one. It could even turn into a template for similar nationwide efforts for communities to design their own “coolest post offices.” It was, as Marquand put it, a “win-win” for all.
But the Postal Service stumbled over procedure and bumbled the whole thing, and now the agency may lose it for everybody. In the process, USPS is not inspiring confidence that it is an agile, creative corporation that can compete in the 21st century marketplace.
The best way to make people want something is to tell them they can’t have it. The Kickstarter campaign has been put on hold pending resolution of this issue, but the funding drive should have no problem reaching its goal should the project ultimately win approval. By all means, Mighty Tieton should keep going for it.
All the Postal Service really needs to do is say yes. Here’s another idea: An image of a post-office facade made up of 41,500 tiles could comprise one of the coolest postage stamps in the country. Maybe not as cool as Elvis or Harry Potter, but it certainly could compete with watermelons, tomatoes, cantaloupes and corn.
• Members of the Yakima Herald-Republic editorial board are Sharon J. Prill, Bob Crider, Frank Purdy and Karen Troianello.