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New lease for Rolling Bay gets stamp of approval from Postal Service
Signed, sealed, delivered — and safe.
Howard Block and Ce-Ann Parker, the owners of Bay Hay and Feed, have signed a new five-year lease with the U.S. Postal Service to keep the beloved Rolling Bay Post Office in place.
With the prospect of post office closures looming nationwide, Block said he was excited to sign a new rental agreement that guarantees the small post office next to his bustling business at the corner of Valley Road and Sunrise Drive will stay put.
“I think it’s great for the community,” Block said.
“I could probably rent it to things that would bring in more cash, but this is perfect for the community,” he added. “This is a real gathering place.”
Block recalled how the island banded together and petitioned to save the Rolling Bay Post Office before they bought the building in 1979.
What made it popular then, he said, still makes it popular today.
“That was probably one of the biggest things about this post office,” Block said, standing on the sidewalk outside. “You got two kids in car seats; you could park right here, you could stand right there, get your mail, you’re not schlepping all the kids in and out. It’s really a big difference compared to downtown.”
“That’s one of the major reasons that people love the post office. It’s quick. There’s not a lot of waiting around.
“And they are doing great,” he said. “As hard as the post office is suffering, they are doing OK.”
The Rolling Bay Post Office first opened in 1892, and moved to the general store that now houses Bay Hay and Feed in 1914.
During one span of time, between 1858 and 1926, there were 11 post offices on Bainbridge Island. Only two remain, the downtown Winslow location and the post office at Rolling Bay, which still has its own zip code, of course, 98061.
Block recalled the first time he tried to get a new lease from the Postal Service, after he bought the former general store building, and how he asked for a 15-year deal.
“They looked at me like, ‘What are you, nuts?’” Block laughed.
“I remember this gruff old post office guy came in from Seattle. He scared the bejesus out of me,” Block added.
“He held all the cards. Here I was, just some guy with a 100-year-old building.”
To his credit, and the Postal Service’s delight, Block had painted and made improvements to the space. More were to follow, including expanding the post office into the area where Block once sold dog food so more letter boxes could be installed.
He put in a bathroom, too, so postal workers didn’t need to sneak through a tiny passageway that went behind the chimney to get to the bathroom in the feed store.
Postmaster Carolyn Leech has been working at the Rolling Bay Post Office for more than 14 years.
“This post office is very important to the community,” she said. “When they shut down all the small ones, this stayed open because of the community. They were very vocal.”
“It’s really an honor,” Leech added.
A few years ago, the post office was named in homage of World War II hero John “Bud” Hawk, a 1943 graduate of Bainbridge High School who grew up not far from the post office.
Hawk was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, presented by President Harry Truman, for his bravery in a battle near Chambois, France where he beat back an enemy tank attack with a bazooka after he was wounded, then repeatedly exposed himself to enemy fire so he could show nearby tank destroyers where to fire upon the German tanks that were hiding in the woods. Five hundred enemy prisoners were taken.
His heroic exploits are memorialized on a wall inside the post office.
The popularity of the place keeps its postmaster busy, but also off any post office closure list.
“A slow day is 100 people, busy day is 200. Christmas is a whole different ball game,” Leech said.
There’s also 368 letter boxes, with just one empty, probably because of the economy, she said. There’s been a waiting list in years past.
Leech said customers are always asking if the post office will close for good.
“The first thing they ask me, ‘Are we in danger?’”
Rolling Bay, however, is considered a first-class office because of the high amount of revenue generated at the location.
“My window is really busy,” she said.
For Leech, Rolling Bay had a tough act to follow.
Before Bainbridge, Leech was the postmaster at postcard perfect Lilliwaup, and could look out her window at Hood Canal when she wasn’t busy. Her customers became family, and she cried when she left.
But Rolling Bay has turned out to be an excellent fit as well.
Leech said her customers have been wonderful. When asked to recall those who haven’t been so special, Leech fell silent for a few minutes.
“Maybe two people at Christmas gave us a hard time,” she said finally.
“This is just a great place.”