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The last minute is here

Priority mail use rises by half; mail-order also adds work at the post office

Postal procrastination appears to have had another strong holiday season.

More gift-givers and the mail-order companies they call for help are sending packages on tighter time lines this year.

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— Stacks of mail await the trucks — at downtown Medford's post office. — —

We've been conditioned that you can call someone up and have something there tomorrow, said Bill Ihle of Bear Creek Corp., the valley's largest mail-order company. We want to get our packages. We are an instant-gratification society.

The U.S. Postal Service's priority mail, which offers faster service at higher rates than regular shipping, became a more common option for mail-order companies this season.

Jim Foucault, postmaster at the Medford post office, says priority mail use rose about 50 percent. The service offers three- to five-day delivery during the holiday season and two- to three-day delivery the rest of the year.

To handle the workload, the Medford post office added 75 seasonal workers, up from the 50 it added a year ago. Though the volume of mail across the board is up about 8 percent, Foucault says priority mail is the leading reason for the bigger staff.

Mail-order-heavy companies such as Bear Creek, Gary West Meats and Musician's Friend helped fuel the increase.

Ihle said Bear Creek uses a variety of shipping methods to meet customers' needs, from the Postal Service to United Parcel Service. He was unsure whether Bear Creek was using the Postal Service more this year than last but said the company does use it heavily.

Dee West, who handles shipping for Gary West Meats, said the company sends everything it can through priority mail, though it does shift to other options when time is short. In fact, nine of the company's most popular jerky gifts are sent strictly through priority mail.

She said the rates are lower than those of UPS or Airborne Express and the Postal Service provides boxes _ a bonus for a small company.

We keep putting more and more (of our shipping) to priority mail because of the good services, the boxes and the rates, she said.

Musician's Friend is also relying more on priority mail.

We probably do more businesses with the post office in recent years because their service has been more reliable that it was in the past, said Al Bessin, vice president for operations.

The trend among individuals sending packages hasn't been as clear, though Foucault said priority mail use is on the rise with them as well.

Bill Arnold, who owns the Mail Boxes Etc. in the Medford Center, said he hasn't seen a big jump in priority mail and said many customers still prefer UPS or Federal Express because of delivery guarantees.

Those kinds of deliveries, in fact, were the only options remaining Wednesday for people who wanted to send packages that would arrive by Christmas.

At the post office, workers will be scrambling today to get the crush of incoming packages delivered.

Foucault said postal workers will start deliveries at 7 a.m. and are hoping to finish up by 5 p.m., 6 o'clock at the latest.

Our goal is to get every single one of them delivered, he said.

Letter carrier Phil Keller has his hands full with seasonal mailings. At the post office, workers will be scrambling today to get packages delivered.