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Know the West

An 84-year-old postal veteran

  The struggle by Red Lodge, Mont., that kept alive a downtown post office may be duplicated 150 miles away in Livingston, population 7,500. Recently, 1,500 Livingston residents signed a petition calling on Postal Service officials to forego a move to spacious new quarters and retain the 84-year-old post office in the heart of town.

"It's really the lynchpin of our downtown area," said Livingston businessman John Fryer in the Billings Gazette. The petition drive, spearheaded by two city council members and a downtown business owner, prompted the local chamber of commerce to poll its 350 members. The result: A majority preferred that the post office stay put, and now the chamber has started to enlist support from local and state political officials.

Meanwhile, Livingston Postmaster Earline Oset says something needs to give. "Growth is constant and steady," she says, "and we're just cramped for space here." Oset says buildings downtown are being rapidly transformed into apartments and offices, while development outside of town is more likely to be mobile home parks and big subdivisions. Oset says a poll taken at the post office found that 80 percent of people drive to pick up their mail.

Several dozen towns in Montana have new post offices either in the planning stage or under construction.

"If we don't have 20 building projects going on, we're falling behind - because of growth or building deterioration," says Lynden Sears, manager of field maintenance for Montana's Postal Service.

* Betsy Marston