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Hard Times: America’s Post Offices

As post offices around the country face an uncertain future due to budget cuts, part of the conversation about what stays and what goes is taking place in Horatio, South Carolina and its LeNoir Store, considered by some to be the oldest family-run business in America.

A proud legacy

“My family has operated a country store in Horatio for over 200 years now, and the post office was established in 1900…. My father before me operated it, and that was his lifeblood. He didn’t hunt, fish or have any hobbies, but he loved that country store.” Steve LeNoir, postmaster

Though the U.S. Postal Service announced plans on May 9 to preserve rural post offices, the LeNoir Store remains on shaky ground. According to LeNoir, the new USPS proposal would cut the location’s business hours to just two a day, with low salaries and no benefits for workers.

“It would be impossible,” said LeNoir. “I couldn’t stay here for two hours a day. I can’t afford to.”

LeNoir hopes to rally supporters and convince Congress and the Postal Regulatory Commission to make a push for more hours.

Service with a smile

“People gather here and exchange news, find out what’s going on around town by going to the post office. I have many elderly customers that—a lot of them don’t drive too much. They’ll call and say ‘Do I have any mail today?’ And a small office like that, it’s not a problem to check and see if they have any mail.” Steve LeNoir

More than a mail center

“The post office, and Steve, and Beverly, the lady who runs the store portion, have actually been my way of introducing myself to the community. Since I’m not from around here, I’m kind of shy. Everybody’s already known each other, been here for years, and the store really acted as a leaping point for me to find friends.” Mary Miller, moved from Los Angeles to Horatio four years ago

An indispensable place

“A lot of people get their medicine here at the post office. I’m one of them. I’m a disabled veteran. I’ve had many problems, health problems, and I’m 100 percent, totally and permanently disabled. There are others in the community, and some of them don’t have transportation. To go some other place, with the gas prices now, it’d really be hard on the senior citizens of this community.” Charles Miller, Sr., lifelong Horatio resident

American heritage

“Closing this store would be just another sign that America is moving forward and forgetting about its past. To see the railroad tracks just overgrown is sad enough, but to see a building like this. You know, when buildings are left to sit, they go and they atrophy. And I would hate to see this piece of history lost, considering it’s National Register. And I really think that the business doesn’t just keep the community alive, it keeps that building alive.” Mary Miller

From father to son

“I grew up in that store, walking on those wooden floors barefoot as a little boy. It means everything. It’s hard to describe, but it’s a feeling of community, a sense of community we have here. A very tight-knit community.” Steve LeNoir

What Horatio stands to lose

“If the post office closed, and the store closed, there would be nothing here for anybody to have a memory of Horatio. And that would be devastating to the people in this community. We look forward to coming here every day… If the post office isn’t here, then it’d be like the community has died.” Charles Miller, Sr.

Originally Published in Reader's Digest