Sealed With A Kiss

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Celebrating its 80th anniversary, Postal Credit Union had to shutter what used to be its most important office in downtown St. Paul.

"Here we are in our 80th year, and we have to close what used to be our flagship office," said PCU Russ Plunkett. "It was a very difficult and sad decision for us."

Originally chartered to serve postal employees, it was only natural that the credit union's flagship office be located inside a postal facility, but the credit union-and the world-has changed a lot in 80 years.

To start with, PCU is now a community charter, serving six counties. Postal employees still make up the single largest employee group but they only represent about 15% of the CU's membership.

But that alone wasn't enough to make the credit union determine it needed to close that branch. For years, the branch was a convenient touchstone for any member who worked downtown, until Sept. 11, 2001 changed the way the federal government looked at the security of its facilities.

"When the post office flipped the switch on the new security requirements, that really hurt business at our branch there," Plunkett explained. "Our office was on the sixth floor, so basically, if you don't work in that building, you can't even get to the elevators, much less the sixth floor."

Business at the branch was dwindling, and the credit union knew it, but it was loathe to close the branch there. "We actually had decided to close the branch about two years ago, but then we decided to keep it open," he related. "We just realized it simply wasn't fair to the rest of the membership to keep that branch open. It cost too much to keep it open with the small amount of business that was being transacted there."

Initially, Postal CU cut back on the offerings available at the downtown branch, cutting out new accounts and loans in favor of cash services only.

"Really, the only business you could do there was what you could do at an ATM," Plunkett observed. "We just weren't getting enough activity."

It didn't help that the U.S. Post Office was downsizing at the downtown branch with plans to build a new facility in nearby Eagan-a facility Postal CU hopes to move into, as well.

Prior to shuttering the office, PCU invested in an ATM "with all the bells and whistles"-even dispensing $1 bills for those wanting to use nearby vending machines-that it will maintain at the downtown facility.

"We're trying to do everything we can to soften the blow," Plunkett noted. "The one thing I am disappointed about is shared service centers. We were hoping to find a credit union downtown that would be willing to be a shared service center so we could tell members, 'we closed the downtown branch, but here's a shared service center right near it you can go to instead.' But that didn't happen. We're still hoping it might at some point."

And indeed, PCU hasn't entirely given up on the building. "There's talk of the Postal Service selling the building to a developer," he commented. "We might be interested in moving back in if the building is redeveloped."

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