Suheyr Nuux stepped inside the vacant Lake Street Kmart on Nov. 16. The Whittier resident was among the first patrons of a new post office that had opened that morning as a temporary replacement for the two U.S. Postal Service stations destroyed in the riots following George Floyd’s death.
At the counter serving Nuux was Fred Brombach — a gently folksy, Mister Rogersesque postman who had treated like “an extended family” the customers of the Lake Street post office where he’d worked for over a quarter century and who couldn’t bear to visit his “second home” for months after it burned down.
“We missed you guys,” Nuux told Brombach.
The new full-service post office will be open for up to 20 months as the Postal Service explores options for rebuilding the Lake Street station, at 110 E. 31st St., and the Minnehaha station, at 3033 S. 27th Ave.
The staff of both destroyed stations — a total of 12 window clerks and 81 carriers covering 61 routes — are now working out of the Kmart facility, sorting packages and letters in the big room where shoppers used to hunt for blue light specials. First-class mail has dropped during the pandemic but package volume has picked up, and the new station is handling about 27,000 deliveries per day.
“Between COVID, the post office burning down, working at a different station — it’s been trying, complicated, difficult,” said Reid Kirgiss, a postman who stood outside his Lyndale home with a hose during the unrest.
He’s thankful the larger sorting space inside the Kmart makes it easier to social distance during the pandemic but otherwise, he said, it “doesn’t really feel any different — I’m still working.”
The Postal Service is leasing half of the Kmart from the city of Minneapolis at a cost of about $30,000 a month. The full-service facility provides retail shipping and mailing and includes post office boxes, which customers can claim keys for by showing their photo ID. All mail held at the former post offices has been transferred to the Kmart location.
The Postal Service’s lease expires on Aug. 1, 2022, and the city plans to demolish the Kmart in February 2023 in order to reconnect Nicollet Avenue, though the timeline for redevelopment is still unclear. Minneapolis bought the 7-acre Kmart site for $8 million in 2017 and bought out the 33 years remaining on Kmart’s lease for $9.1 million in March.
At a Nov. 20 grand opening held inside the new post office, managers for the former Lake Street and Minnehaha postal stations sat side by side behind a folding table — wearing masks but not social distancing — and offered customers soda and fruit cups.
Outside the station, Brombach, who had been reassigned to the Diamond Lake post office since May, said he was glad to have returned to the Lake Street neighborhood.
“It was really heart wrenching [but] it’s great to be back,” he said. “I’ve gotten to know people, faces and regulars. It’s a cosmopolitan community — you’ve got anybody and everybody coming together and [forming] a cohesive unit. … It’s been a warm community communion.”