The case of the disappearing mailboxes

@James Steidl -

Stevens Square resident James Rodriguez was on his way to work, and had in his hand several Netflix movies he wanted to drop in the mailbox. The only problem was, when he reached 3rd Avenue and 1st street, where he always dropped off his mail, the mailbox wasn’t there. “Am I trippin?” Rodriguez recalled later saying to himself. “Where’s my mailbox?!”

Luck would have it that Rodriguez spotted a mail carrier on that same block. “Dude, can you take this?” Rodriguez asked the mail carrier. He apologized, saying he didn’t know what happened to his usual mailbox.

The mail carrier looked over to where the old mail box used to be, and was no longer there. “Holy S-“ Rodriguez said the carrier exclaimed. “”Where’s the mailbox? I’m supposed to pick up from that mailbox!”

The case of the missing mailbox can be attributed to what is known as density testing, which is a process that the postal service is currently undergoing, said spokesperson Pete Nowacki. “Mail that goes into mailboxes is declining,” Nowacki said. “A lot of bill paying is done online.” The postal service is using density testing to find out if the mailboxes are being used, or if they are particularly needed in a neighborhood.

In density testing, the postal service counts every piece of mail that gets dropped off in a mailbox for 14 days. If the average is 25 pieces of mail or less per day, that box is subject to relocation or removal. However, not every box that gets less than 25 pieces of mail will automatically get removed. “Some of the questions we ask,” said Nowacki, “Is: does this mailbox serve a unique need? We try to maintain one mailbox per square mile.”

In the Northland District, which includes Minnesota and Wisconsin, the postal service has done density testing on 4800 boxes so far, and removed 400. “Now that 400 number is a little skewed,” said Nowacki, “because in some of instances, we’re removing one box that was a part of a pair or trio.”

Nowacki said that if a mailbox is subject to removal, it gets a placard on it that states that it will be removed soon. If you aren’t sure whether your mailbox is still there, you can get your box location from the USPS website (

The issue was discussed on an e-democracy forum ( ), where members mentioned that there were boxes missing on Chicago and 56th street and 42nd and Cedar, both in South Minneapolis. Blogger Johnny Northside ( attests that his mailbox on Lyndale Ave N and West Broadway has a placard stating its upcoming removal.

There’s no way to tell when your mailbox will be tested for density, but if you’re worried about it, this might be the time to send a bunch of handwritten notes to your friends.

As for James Rodriguez, he somehow found a mailbox to drop in his Netflix movies. Still, without the convenience of having a nearby drop box, Rodriguez reflects: “How am I supposed to live?”

Sheila Regan Sheila Regan is a Minneapolis theater artist and freelance writer.

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Sheila Regan's picture
Sheila Regan

Sheila Regan (sheila [at] tcdailyplanet [dot] net) is a Minneapolis theater artist and freelance writer.


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What Trollope Wrought Let No Bureaucrat Put Asunder

So ends what 40 year-old novelist and postal worker Anthony Trollope began when he invented the familiar red pillarbox in 1855. (Page 154 in A BOOK OF AGES)

similarly, phone booths

This really points to a need for more personal letters to be sent via snail mail. It's still pretty cheap to send a letter. Forty-four cents, and the Post Office'll take it all the way to Alaska, if you want them to (and sometimes if you don't want them to.) Once a week or so, choose a person whose day needs brightening, and send a letter to them. There's been a steep decline in the number of phone booths, too. What if your cellphone battery dies and you have an emergency? Or--and it still is true of a few people--what if you don't have a cellphone at all? Additionally, I think that phone booths are of historic interest, and a few should be retained for this reason.