Cortez post office closing to residents’ dismay

Cortez post office closing to residents’ dismay
This sign at the Cortez post office asks village residents to call U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan to stop the branch from closing. - Submitted

UPDATED OCT. 12, 2021 at 11:35 a.m. – CORTEZ – The Cortez post office will close on Friday, Oct. 22 at 4 p.m., leaving residents no choice but to travel about four miles to the Palma Sola branch on 75th Street off Manatee Avenue to get their mail.

The lease is up on the small office in the strip center at 12112 44th Ave. W., and landlord John Banyas is not renewing it, according to the U.S. Postal Service.

“Post Office box holders will be notified of the intent to relocate all P.O. Boxes from the current location to the Palma Sola Post Office, 115 75th St. W. in Bradenton,” according to a statement from the Postal Service obtained by The Sun. The statement lists an earlier closing date, Oct. 22, than the notice at the post office, which states: “Due to circumstances beyond our control, this office will be closing on Oct. 24.”

Oct. 22 is the last day customers can get their mail, while Oct. 24 is the day the post office must be out of the building, said David Walton, corporate communications officer for the U.S. Postal Service.

“I was taken aback when I heard about the sign they put up about circumstances out of their control. It was very much in their control,” Banyas wrote in a notice he posted at the post office. “I want everyone to know that I have worked hard to keep the post office in our village. I want them to stay here just as much as everyone else does for all of my family and friends. I own businesses in the village and I have my family in the village that use the post office. The whole process has been difficult with USPS and in the end, it was their decision to walk away from this village and all its people after all these years, not mine.”

Banyas sued the U.S. Postal Service on Sept. 21 for eviction in Manatee County Court, saying that the 5-year lease expired July 31 and that the post office was notified on July 28 that it would not be renewed, according to court records. In the complaint, he asks that his property be vacated by the post office. On Oct. 6, the case was transferred to the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida in Tampa.

Banyas said he was sued by a man who was injured when the post office flagpole fell on him two years ago. The post office lease makes them responsible for keeping their equipment in good repair, so they breached their lease, he said.

Cortez post office closing to residents’ dismay
Customers are greeted with a notice that the Cortez post office is closing permanently this month. – Cindy Lane | Sun

“I’m having to take the heat,” he said. “They won’t take responsibility for the flagpole.”

When the lease came up for renewal, Banyas asked to be added to the post office insurance policy. The post office refused, and he decided to not renew the lease, he said.

“I have insurance, but it’s not my responsibility to insure their equipment or exposure,” he said.

The postal service does not comment on lease negotiations, Walton said.

Residents are upset about the pending closure and are organizing to stop it, or at least get home delivery in the historic fishing village, located on the south side of Cortez Road. The post office already delivers mail to the newer homes on the north side of Cortez Road, resident Mary Green said.

“I’m 96 years old. I drive a golf cart. My golf cart won’t go that far,” Green said. “I’ve got to get my mail.”

Mary Fulford Green
Mary Fulford Green

“Retrieving mail from 75th isn’t very practical, especially during season,” Cortez resident Karen Bell said. “Mail is generally posted at 10 a.m. By the time someone would turn around, the bridge traffic could potentially make this a big part of the entire day.”

“It’s the convenience” resident Karen Carpenter said she would miss. “I ship a fair amount of packages to my children and grandchildren in Massachusetts. I just renewed my post office box in Cortez and didn’t want one in Palma Sola!”

A flyer has been distributed to homes in the village, stating that the post office closure is in violation of federal regulations.

“The U.S. Postal Service has violated its own regulations, which require prior public notice, feasibility study, public comment and right of appeal prior to a closing,” the flyer states, quoting the Code of Federal Regulations, section 241.3, about the procedures for the “discontinuance of USPS-operated retail facilities.”

The flyer continues: “What will happen to our community’s elders, disabled folks and folks without a car? There would be a real cost to Cortez residents in time, fuel, aggravation and loss of community.”

“We can’t do without this post office,” said Green, a founding member of the Cortez Village Historical Society.

The village has had a post office since 1896, when it was in the Bratton store at the Albion Inn, she said, adding that the post office made the village change its name from Hunters Point because another Hunters Point already existed.

The Cortez post office is a community gathering place where neighbors meet and catch up with each other and local events, posting and reading notices on the community bulletin board just outside the post office, she said.

The flyer asks residents to call U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan at 941-747-9081, and Stephen Hardin, U.S. Postal Service district manager, at 954-527-6987 to stop the closure.

“Please call now. Time is short,” the flyer states.