Phil wants you to call him Phil. Not “Mr. Barco,” his last name. And not “Mister Postman,” as in the 1961 hit song by The Marvelettes. Phil, 63, is tall and genial, bespectacled, and the window he mans is a portal between the back of a drug store and the rest of the world. That window is a bona-fide United States Postal Service (USPS) office where letters and packages begin their journey from here to there. It is a substation, a public-private partnership that takes pressure off the main post offices and draws increased foot traffic for the businesses that house one. Those substations also give customers a personal shopping experience once common and now rare.
Standing behind that window, Phil is a one-man show, and not just because he mans the post office alone. He tells joke after joke, many of them almost the same but tailored to each customer as if Phil were a comedian doing improv. His frequent aw-shucks smile sparks smiles on the faces of many customers. Anyone seen that happen at the regular post office?
There are 14 of the “Contracted Postal Units”—Phil likes to call his by its official designation—throughout the Sarasota region. The USPS determines how many are sprinkled through a town based on the needs of the community. Phil has worked at one for the last nine years.
Phil’s window is located in the back of the Davidson Drugs in Midtown Plaza. Those who appear at the window are akin to those who are served by the bartender or hairdresser: All ages. All races. All types. People who are always cheery and people who come to the window distraught and smelling of bourbon. “I see joy. I see pain. I see sadness,” Phil says. “They share things with me that I wouldn’t.”
If a customer has been at Phil’s window at least once, there is a good chance he will call that person by name the second time. “It’s a place where everybody knows your name,” Phil says. “Just like Cheers,” the popular 1980s television show.
Regular customer Larry Twill says walking up to Phil’s window is like traveling back in time. “He’s helpful. He’s friendly,” Twill says. “At the other post offices you have to wait and wait. It’s like getting a tooth pulled.”
Phil knows all the mysterious little ways people can save money mailing stuff. He yanks off the little metal clasp on the back of Twill’s letter-sized manila envelope, saving him 21 cents in postage, then tapes it shut for him. Twill smiles.
“You should see all of the women that come in to flirt with him,” Twill says. “Women in their 40s, their 50s, their 60s. They absolutely love him.”
A woman once walked up to Phil’s window with none of that on her mind. Holding her taxes in an envelope in one hand, she burst into tears. She told Phil she didn’t know if she was mailing things properly because her husband recently died and he always handled the taxes. “I just put my hand on hers and said, ‘It will be all right. I’ll help you,’” Phil says. And he did.
It’s getting late on a Friday afternoon and a line is forming at Phil’s window. Each person has more pieces of mail than the one in front of her. Phil looks at the visitor who has been asking him questions and says pleasantly with his eyes, “Time for you to run along. These are my customers, and they come before you.”
The questioner nods a “thank you” and turns to leave. But Phil has one more thing to add. Flashing that aw-shucks smile, he says, “Go forth and be the love.” When was the last time you heard that at the post office?