The average American takes for granted something as commonplace as, say, home mail delivery.
For a measly 66 cents, Aunt Gertie can mail that birthday card to her niece in Sheboygan. A “wish you were here” postcard from Disney will arrive in a weathered mailbox on a snowy road in Red Devil, Alaska, for less than two quarters.
It’s mind-boggling to think about what kind of logistics are involved in moving 127 billion pieces of mail a year to more than 163 million delivery points in the United States. We don’t know how lucky we are!
You wouldn’t enjoy this sort of white glove service in places like Norilsk, Siberia, or Ittoqqortoormiit, Greenland, or Jackson, Wyoming.
Putting The ‘Zip’ In ZIP Code
For the uninitiated, here’s a bit of news that might be surprising to learn: There is no home mail delivery in Jackson or most surrounding communities, including Wilson, Teton Village or Kelly. Everyone gets their mail at the post office.
Teton County is the wealthiest in the nation, but even the millionaires and billionaires who account for that can’t get home mail delivery.
Cats and dogs stare in boredom at front door mail slots. Bored teenagers roam suburban streets swinging bats into the night air with futility.
Pretty much all of the 24,000 residents of Teton County hop into their massive SUVs and head to the post office to pick up their mail. And on select Tuesdays after a holiday weekend it can feel like every one of them is standing in line in front of you.
Welcome to the black hole that is Jackson Hole, where packages come to die.
In 2017, 6.1 billion items (4.56% of all mail) were marked “undeliverable as addressed” and either returned to sender, sent to the USPS dead letter office in Atlanta, Georgia, or destroyed. That’s down from 6.8 billion in 2016.
The cost to the Postal Service to process undeliverable mail is $1.3 billion a year — part of the reason the U.S. Postal Service loses around $8 billion to $10 billion a year. This past spring, USPS reported a net loss of $2.5 billion in the second quarter of 2023 alone.
U.S. Postal Service announced in late December 2019 it planned to buy 186,000 vehicles at a cost of more than $6 billion to update an aging fleet. Delivery of those vehicles is expected to finally happen next year.
None of them will be coming to Jackson.
As one might imagine, lack of home delivery has put an enormous strain on Postal Service frontline resources. There are never enough employees to properly run area post offices. Branches in Kelly and Wilson sometimes operate just two hours a day or don’t open at all if no one shows up to work.
The town of Jackson has two post offices, an older one on West Pearl Street and a newer one on Maple Way. Both are overrun with customers. Trash overflows and piles up on the floor. Lines are long, tempers are short — and that’s just the beginning of what’s wrong with mail in Jackson Hole.
Return To Sender
Don’t take our word for it. Read the latest angsty Yelp reviews:
“The unholy abomination that is postal service in Jackson Wyoming. This place is a nightmare.” — Jonathan G.
“I would give this a zero-star rating if I could. I've actually never been treated so poorly at a post office and that's saying something.” — Kassidy M.
“I wish I could give less than one star. This is the worst post office on Earth.” — Cora E.
“This place is an absolute disaster.” — Tucker S.
By far the biggest cause for PU at the P.O. is lost or undeliverable packages.
This can happen for several reasons, but it usually comes down to a couple. New residents to the Jackson area may not be aware that there is no home delivery in Teton County. It therefore never occurs to them to include their post office box number on a package delivery or to even have a post office box.
Usually, though, the reason so many packages pile up at the post office and eventually get returned to sender or auctioned off at places like GovDeals is the recipient does not think to include a P.O. box number because an item is shipping UPS or FedEx. That’s usually fine, except when it isn’t.
The problem begins with the “last mile delivery” phase of shipping. That’s the very last step of the delivery process when a parcel is moved from a transportation hub to its final destination: your doorstep.
When overwhelmed (this is often the case during Christmastime, for instance), shipping giants like UPS and FedEx will often hand off delivery to a local post office rather than bring a package directly to a residence.
Consumers never know when or if this will take place, and if they failed to include a P.O. box number, well, the government loves its acronyms: SOL.
“How the bloody hell do you get mail here?” recently posted one frustrated Reddit user.
Jackson Mail 101
To get a P.O. box one must fill out a form submitting a physical address. That form presumably makes it to a database somewhere which could, theoretically, be used to cross-reference a name, an address and a P.O. box number.
Therefore, USPS obviously has the ability to find you, they just don't. Ability and reality being so far removed from one another, never the twain shall meet.
Post offices in Jackson are way too understaffed to cross-reference packages with names and physical addresses.
In 2021, acting postmaster Geraldine Tiniacos admitted more than half (9) of USPS positions in the valley were unfilled. Tiniacos herself spent more than a year waiting for her replacement as postmaster until feds could hire one.
Every December, Jackson post offices are papered with dozens of signs reminding residents that without a P.O. box on their shipments, packages will be returned to sender.
Local recommendation is to always including a P.O. box number on a package, even when it is scheduled for delivery by a private shipper like UPS or FedEx.
“But the online ordering form won’t let me include a post office box number” is a common complaint.
Postal employees suggest simply dropping the words “P.O. box” and just enter a box number after your name or in the secondary address line that typically calls for an apartment or unit number.
As maddening as mail delivery is for Jackson residents, it takes its toll on employees as well.
Counter jockeys often have to make long commutes just to be abused by irate customers. Some of these employees are temporary fill-ins living out of motels as the USPS desperately tries to fill positions.
On more than one occasion, a postmaster has been brought to task and made to appear before the Jackson Town Council to explain why ordinarily law-abiding citizens were demanding a pound of flesh or their Amazon packages — whichever came first.
And you really have to feel sorry for new postmasters to the Teton area. They come into the community all shiny and spiffy like the new head coach of the Denver Broncos before the start of a long season. They stop in at a Town Council meeting and PowerPoint all the new changes they will institute to make life in Jackson appear like it’s from the 1900s instead of the 1800s.
“What about the 2000s?” a newbie councilor will inevitably ask.
“We’ve not achieved the 21st century anywhere in our postal system,” comes the answer.
A year after a postmaster’s arrival he or she is nowhere to be found. They stop answering phone calls, won’t return emails. Before and after pictures are as stark as prom queen to meth addict.
Case in point: Jennifer Grutzmacher. Postmaster Grutzmacher hired on in the middle of Jackson’s postal “Dark Ages,” a period between 2009 and 2022 where no one in his or her right mind wanted the job and it either went unfilled or, according to official federal records, was held down by “unknown.”
Grutzmacher dug into her new role with vigor after her hiring in 2012. By 2016, she was posing glumly for a mugshot at the Teton County Sheriff’s Office.
Grutzmacher was arrested for trespassing at her own post office near midnight. When officers arrived, she locked herself in the employee restroom and refused to come out for hours.
The 46-year-old was placed on “non-duty status” and eventually let go.
Please, Mr. Postman
So why doesn’t mail get delivered in Jackson?
Truth is, general apathy killed the mailman. Budget constraints now assure he’ll never come back.
In Jackson, the reason most often cited for the town having no mail delivery is a collective desire to encourage community bonding by embracing the social aspects of having to meet at the post office every few days. The forced interaction was viewed as a positive thing — a chance to catch up with one another.
There also is the argument that harsh winter weather makes mail delivery impractical in Jackson. That’s the reason why residents in Mammoth Lakes, California, don’t get mail to their homes, either.
But truth be told, the more accurate reason to give the mailman a permanent day off in Jackson is because of a failed vote back in the Nixon era.
The year was 1974. That was the last time Jackson had a say in whether or not it wanted mail brought right to houses and businesses like the rest of the civilized world. Barely more than 2,000 people lived in the town. The matter was put to a vote.
Floyd Graefe was the postmaster then. He remembers the regional office in Cheyenne thinking home delivery would be a slam dunk given. After all, every small community in the state at that time was practically begging the feds for a mailman.
A local newspaper poll indicated a slight majority (53%) wanted to get their mail at home. But when an official federal survey was sent to town residents (via snail mail), the movement failed.
It wasn’t so much that people voted against having letter carriers or in favor of a post office parley, it’s that not enough people bothered to return the survey. Only about 20% (or around 400 people) responded. The USPS required a 75% response rate for the results to be valid.
In the decades that followed that fateful 1974 survey, town residents occasionally mustered initiatives and made noise about a retry, but nothing ever came of it.
Even when a getting a new postal box in Jackson had a three-year waiting list and the original post office on West Pearl was so overflowing boxes were added to Stone Drug, nobody felt compelled enough to seek home mail delivery.
Once the new 25,000-square-foot, $4.5 million post office on Maple Way was built in 1995, the deal was sealed. With USPS operating so deep in the red, a postal spokesman for Wyoming, David Rupert, said don’t expect the hiring of letter carriers anytime soon.
In fact, since a revision to the Postal Operations Manual in 2018, it is extremely unlikely mail will ever again be delivered to residents and businesses in Teton County.
From now on, all new addresses added to the 163 million currently on file with USPS will be handled kiosk style. That means cluster boxes out on the highway or at entrance points of a subdivision.
As recently as 2018, a major push to bring home delivery of mail to Jackson was made by local resident Patrick Starich.
Starich provided compelling empirical evidence regarding the waste and inefficiency of 4,300 households and 2,400 licensed businesses making daily trips to the post office. He petitioned the Jackson Town Council to go to bat with him.
The movement never got off the ground.
Even The Feds Priced Out Of Jackson
Not only is the U.S. Postal Service never going to consider delivering mail in Jackson, it’s contemplating shutting down one of the two existing post offices in town.
The rumors have persisted for years, since the Maple Way post office was completed in the 1990s, really. Would the original town post office on West Pearl be shut down?
In 2017, councilman Jim Stanford heard the rumors and looked into the matter only to learn they were true.
“The Postal Service has informed us they are considering closing the post office on Pearl and may already be taking steps to do that,” Stanford said at the time.
A Postal Service spokesperson admitted to Cowboy State Daily that closing the old post office and expanding the newer one to accommodate such a move “has been, and still is, on the table” as an option.
And it has to do with money, of course.
The U.S. Postal Service owns about a 25% of its post offices. It rents the rest. As of 2015, USPS owned about 9,460 post offices and leased another 25,944 properties or so, paying more than $800 million a year in rent.
USPS rents its 6,800 square feet space on West Pearl from Lyle McReynolds. The agency paid $156,400 in annual rent from 2012‑2017. In 2017, a USPS spokesperson said a new five-year lease was signed then for more than $200,000 per year. That works out to almost $30 a square foot for a commercial lease.
That’s cheap by Jackson standards, but is among the most expensive arrangements USPS has in the nation, including cities like San Francisco and New York, according to a check of its own databases.
Add the post office space in Wilson (also rented) runs USPS another $204,528 per year for 5,173 square feet. That’s $39.54 a square foot for a lease that was signed through May 2019.
All told, feds were paying well over $500,000 a year for people to be able to collect their mail in Teton County at post offices in Jackson, Wilson, Kelly, Teton Village, Moose and Moran — while the average annual rent for all other USPS post offices in Wyoming was an average $18,000, or $10 a square foot.
Current rent figures are unknown. As of 2021, the USPS has removed information about rent paid from its website. USPS spokesperson Kimberly A. Frum said agency officials have decided to stop making rental rates public.
In Jackson, the newest post office on Maple Way is on a 4.35-acre parcel owned by the Postal Service. It may make more sense for the feds to add on to that facility in the future and phase out the expensive lease and duplication of services at the Pearl Street location.
The latest round of rumors began again this summer after the Pearl Street post office posted signage announcing the discontinuation of retail services at that location, including the selling of stamps.
In addition, service desk hours were whittled to 8:30 to 10:30 a.m. and 3 to 5 p.m. weekdays, 9 to 11 a.m. Saturdays. That’s “if we have proper staffing.”
Good Ol’ Days
Since the early pioneer days of Jackson Hole, mail was always an arduous endeavor. Beginning in 1892 when Fred and Mary White were Jackson’s first postmasters, mail was delivered via the Oregon Short Line to St. Anthony, Idaho. It was then carried into the valley over Teton Pass by wagon, sled or skis depending on the time of year.
In the good ol’ days at the turn of the 20th century, the valley had a population 639, mostly men, but boasted no fewer than five post offices: Elk, Grovont, South Park, Wilson and Jackson. More, in fact, if you count Antler, which operated up until December 1899.
Then there was the Brooks Post Office, in operation from 1905-1912, and the Hoback P.O. (1921-1943), and the Moose Post Office (1923-present), and the Jenny Lake P.O. (summers only beginning in 1926).
In total, some 15 post offices served the communities comprising Jackson Hole in the early 1900s. There were practically 100 people to a post office back then. Today, there’s that many in line in front of you on Dec. 23 or when you really have to pee.
The biggest difference between 1900 and 2023? Mail service was better 120 years ago.