After shipping out about 100 packages using the postal service since Black Friday, Chapel Hill Forge in Conestoga began a holiday break this week.

When the family-owned blacksmith, metal fabricator and sign carving businesses regroups after New Year’s Day, they’ll consider some changes. Namely, getting someone other than the U.S. Postal Service to handle their shipping.

“There has been absolutely no rhyme or reason to deliveries,” said Mandy Leggett, who owns the business with her husband, Zad. They’ve had packages delayed or rerouted in unusual ways recently, leaving them mulling a switch to UPS.

“So far, our customers have been understanding. We pray every day that we don’t wake up to angry messages about shipping delays,” she said. “Hopefully everything will arrive eventually.”

A pandemic-inspired surge in online shopping coupled with staffing issues as workers contract COVID-19 or go into quarantine have caused problems for the U.S. Postal Service this holiday season.

It’s not just packages like those from Chapel Hill Forge hitting delivery delays. Numerous Lancaster County residents reported that they had no mail delivered to their homes for several days last week.

In Manheim Township, Sandy Fry said she didn’t get any mail beginning last Thursday, before regular delivery resumed Monday when she got a bunch of Christmas cards. “I can’t remember when we haven’t gotten any mail (before),” said Fry, a 63-year-old retired nurse who lives with her 85-year-old mother, who had been expecting some pension checks.

While Fry said she understands some of the reason for the delays and sympathizes with postal workers who are trying to manage, the situation is cause for concern.

“I didn’t get our electric bill yet and we didn’t get our cable bill,” she said. 

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‘Historic record of holiday volume’

Postmaster General Louis DeJoy said earlier this month he was expecting this year’s holiday shipping volume to increase by one-third compared to 2019. And the postal service said last week was expected to be the busiest mailing, shipping and delivery period of the year.

In Lancaster County, all those extra packages and letters came during a week when a major snowstorm created additional strain on the system.

Requests for comment about missed delivery days in Lancaster County were not addressed by a post office spokesman, who instead offered a general statement.

“While every year the Postal Service carefully plans for peak holiday season, a historic record of holiday volume compounded by a temporary employee shortage due to the COVID-19 surge, and capacity challenges with airlifts and trucking for moving this historic volume of mail are leading to temporary delays.  These challenges are being felt by shippers across the board,” the statement said.

“After Thanksgiving, we began delivering packages on Sundays through December. We have delivery employees out early and later in the afternoon to keep up with the volumes. We also have dealt with record volumes of packages due to the pandemic. This effort has all been combined with our negotiating a record-setting snow storm,” the statement said.

Fry said that after talking to her carrier and calling in to the post office, she was told the disruption of some regular mail delivery was because of carriers being told to focus on delivering packages. Plus, she said she was told there were several days when regular mail wasn’t delivered from the Harrisburg facility that is the first stop for the county’s mail.

While the postal service spokesman did not comment on that scenario, it’s consistent with other Lancaster County residents reporting they didn’t get mail on days when carriers were seen delivering packages.

Shipping Kitchen Kettle

Kelsey Buckwalter packages jars of jam at Kitchen Kettle Village Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2020. Kitchen Kettle now rarely ships via the postal service. 

‘They’re not reliable’

When online shopping surged during the coronavirus pandemic and peaked before just before Christmas, some Lancaster County businesses were already avoiding the postal service.

“They’re not reliable,” said Doug Taylor, an owner of cookie bake shop Taylor Chip.

Taylor said the Lancaster company he owns with his wife, Sara, dropped postal deliveries in the spring because it was no longer offering a two-day shipping guarantee, which is crucial for sending cookies around the country. FedEx has been much better, he said.

Yet during this holiday season, Taylor said they’ve still been impacted by the postal service problems.

Taylor Chip has been sending out Christmas cookies on behalf of corporate clients that want to add a note or card with the treats. But in several cases when those extras got sent to Taylor Chip via the post office, they were delayed. And in one case it will result in the order being sent out too late to be received by Christmas.

“Those people are hopefully going to be getting those (cookies) between Christmas and New Year’s,” he said.

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For Kitchen Kettle Village in Intercourse, postal service delivery problems since spring prompted it to move nearly all its shipping to other carriers, even though the postal service would often be cheaper.

Chris Dydo, operations coach for the retail village with 40-plus stores and restaurants, said post office shipping delays became all too common over the last several months as Kitchen Kettle Village ramped up ecommerce. Most items are now sent out via FedEx or UPS.

“The post office is not good. They’re in a bad way,” he said. “Definitely since Thanksgiving we’ve been rethinking the amount that was going to them to the point within the last two weeks we made the conscious decision that we’re really not shipping anything postal.”

Yet Dydo is hopeful about a return to postal shipping. 

“We feel their pain,” he said. “We’re not necessarily bashing them by any means. We’re partners in this and we really want them to work it out, because we need them.”

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