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      Post office of the future?

      Nearly 80 percent of all U.S. post offices operate at a loss, and with 32,000 offices across the country, the U.S. Postal Service is looking to consolidate the number of their stand alone offices by ten percent.

      "With the internet coming in and taking revenue, we've lost 24 percent of our revenue in the last five years," said Postal Service Spokesman Harry Spratlin. "We are no longer the leading bearer of messages out there, but we still do $65 million worth of business each year. So we still have to provide services."

      In an effort to combat the shrinking revenue, the postal service is shrinking their offices. So much so that the next post office you go to may not be in a post office building at all.

      In the Cherry Grove community of North Myrtle Beach, a Contract Postal Unit is opening in an Ace Hardware on Sea Mountain Hwy.

      The contract postal unit will provide full retail services, including P.O. Box rentals, shipping, stamps and express services but will not have a government paid employee.

      "We are a self-funded government agency that receives no tax subsidies," said Spratlin, "and since some of our stores only make $10,000 a year but still hire a federal employee, we need to make wise business decision."

      Those business decisions could mean less of stand alone offices and more in-store contract postal units.

      The expansion of the units during a time when the post office is down sizing is to provide alternative options for the customer, Spratlin said.

      "The big picture is that the Postal Service needs to expand opportunities to customers. 35 percent of our revenue comes from alternate access (other than post offices)."

      Forty-eight contract postal units have opened in South Carolina, and as the Postal Service continues to run in the red, the company must take shut down branches that are no longer feasible, said Spratlin.

      "It does influence our efforts, but the opening of contract postal units is an increased situation of what we've done in the past. Retail stores have had offices in them before, and we're actively seeking new contract postal units all the time."

      The Postal Service is reviewing one post office in the 295 zip code area. That office is in Fork, SC.