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The Helen Post Office closed last August. On Monday, postal officials celebrated in Helen the opening of the first village post office in the Capital District.

Post offices in general stores used to be the norm. The U.S. Postal Service is trying to return to that to prevent rural post offices from disappearing completely as the volume of mail declines and revenue shrinks.

S&L Automotive is hosting the Village Post Office of Mechanicsville in its headquarters off Route 5 in Helen, just down the road from the old post office. After the Helen Post Office closed, its 40 post office boxes were sent to nearby offices in Morganza or Mechanicsville. For the last three months, the postal service had a retail sales truck in S&L’s parking lot, selling stamps and boxes for shipping.

The village post office doesn’t operate like a standard post office — it has no postal employees. Instead, the store’s employees sell stamps, sell flat-rate shipping packages and sometimes seal up those packages. A postal carrier from the Mechanicsville Post Office will come to S&L to pick up the packages and mail once a day. A blue postal box is now in front of the business.

“We look forward to a long and profitable relationship with you,” Xiomara Chalmers, retail manager of the USPS Capital District, told Timmy Sater, owner of S&L Automotive.

“So do I,” he said. “Just glad to be aboard.”

After the old Helen Post Office closed, the postal service approached Sater about temporarily parking the postal truck outside his business and talked to him about hosting the village post office idea within his business. The postal service leases the space within his store and Sater’s family business gets to keep the money made from stamp sales.

“It’s not much. It’s better than nothing,” Sater said of the lease. “I’m not a greedy person. I wanted to try something different. I think it will help benefit the both of us,” he said. Having postal services should generate more foot traffic.

Though mail will be sent out from the Village Post Office, it won’t be delivered there.

S&L Automotive is open from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays and from 7 a.m. to noon on Saturdays. There are six employees at the business, including Sater, his wife and other family members.

Beverly Thompson of Nanjemoy manned the postal truck parked outside for the last three months. She said the people of Helen were friendly. “They still stop and say hello to me,” she said.

Now that the village post office has opened, Thompson will head back to the Bryans Road Post Office in Charles County. Another village post office is opening in Faulkner this month.

“The Village Post Office is a terrific way for businesses in rural America to provide their customers with convenient access to postal products and services — becoming the ultimate convenience store,” Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe said in a statement. “We’re pleased that VPOs have become a way to extend postal access while supporting local businesses.”

Helen’s post office first opened in 1903, named after one of Postmaster Joseph Hancock’s daughters. The Helen Post Office is the first St. Mary’s County post office to close since the Maddox Post Office closed in 1990.

jbabcock@somdnews.com