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Stamp Buyers Jam Post Offices to Get Their 3 Cents Worth

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The new year got off to a slow start for thousands of Southern Californians who queued up Tuesday at local post offices, hoping to buy 3-cent stamps to cover the higher postage rate that went into effect Sunday.

Lines were so long--50 to 60 people at some locations and as many as 100 at others--that prospective stamp-buyers found themselves squeezed out of post office lobbies and into parking lots as they waited to buy the additional postage that would make good their leftover 29-cent stamps. Drivers desperate to get into the lots honked their horns, while impatient customers inside complained about slow service.

The hectic scene was repeated around the country Tuesday.

“We’re selling them as fast as we can stock them,” said Postmaster Richard Esslinger in Charleston, W.Va. His office sold 60,000 3-cent stamps in four hours Tuesday.

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In preparation for the new 32-cent rate, the post office printed 16.3 billion “G” stamps, Esslinger said. Officials said they printed an additional 2.2 billion stamps with a blue dove that can be used as a substitute for 3-cent stamps.

Trying to deal with the influx of people was not easy. At the Bicentennial Post Office in West Hollywood, workers set up a separate line just for stamps. That line, stretching almost out the door, was filled mainly with people looking to add 3-centers to their stamped envelopes.

“I have to buy 70 3-cent stamps,” said Marilyn Satier, who had been standing in line for more than 20 minutes. “I’m buying 20 for a friend, but I didn’t know I would have tothrough all this to get them.”

Satier, who collects stamps, said she had a few ideas for increasing post office efficiency.

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“They should sell some stamps out here in the lobby to whoever has exact change,” Satier said.

Unlike most of the customers who had heard about the postal rate increases, Satier said she had not seen any television reports or notices from the post office.

Musician Charles T. McClinton, still wearing his trench coat after the morning rain, tried to persuade postal workers at the Mid-City Washington Boulevard office to accept his letters, a few of which only had 29-cent stamps on them. Though he was unhappy with spending the extra money, McClinton grudgingly added the splashy blue stamps to his envelope.

“I had these letters already stamped,” he said. “I don’t want these letters to come back in my face in a couple of weeks.”

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Grace Wands agreed with McClinton, saying she thought the price hike was unnecessary. “Twenty-nine cents was adequate. I don’t see why they had to change it,” she said.

The happiest customer of the day had to be Ernest Mason. The 85-year-old former manager of the Dockweiler post office was carrying 200 3-cent stamps.

Mason, who has been retired for 22 years, said too many people complain about small price increases. He said the price hike will help people in the long run.

“That new money will go back to improving postal services,” Mason said. “Besides, they also gotta pay my pension.”

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The Associated Press contributed to this story.


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