After serving its community for more than 100 years, the Cortez post office is permanently closing its doors. The office, which has served as a community hub for neighbors to catch up and learn about local happenings, will close on Sunday, Oct. 24, and residents have until tomorrow, Friday, Oct. 22, to pick up their mail.
The closure is due to a terminated lease and complications with liability insurance between the U.S. Postal Service and John Baynas, the owner of the strip plaza where the post office is located.
This is the only post office in the historic fishing village and serves about 1,000 residents in Cortez and on Anna Maria Island, residents who do not have mail delivered to their homes. After the closure, they will have to drive to the next nearest location, in Palma Sola, to retrieve their mail. That is about a 20-minute drive inland, or 30 to 40 minutes during high tourist season.
For the elderly living in the village, driving is not an option. Many are used to riding golf carts, biking or walking to pick up their mail.
"We did not get any notice to look for a new location," says local hair salon owner Sally McAllister. "We've emailed and talked to many people to find a solution, but so far, no one has any idea what to do."
Residents like McAllister have worked to post flyers in business windows and on telephone poles urging action to save the post office. They've also called local, state and federal officials, including Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Longboat Key, but have not received much feedback.
Sources say residents were given a 120-day notice prior to the closure, but McAllister says it was more like three weeks. "This didn't give us enough time to draft a petition, which we'd wanted to do," she says.
McAllister says the area's growing population, which brings more traffic with it, is an added complication.
"We are all going to try and help each other out," says McAllister. "Take turns picking up the mail, buying stamps and packaging, and more. We are a tight-knit community, so we'll work together."
Former Manatee County Commissioner Jan Von Hahmann has lived in Cortez for 41 years. She says many residents feel frustrated and upset by the news. She also believes delivering mail to her side of town should not be disregarded as a potential solution.
"They are already delivering on the north side of town, so there's no reason the same delivery person can't cross over the bridge and come serve the 900-plus people living here," she says.
Hahmann also expressed personal frustration over the back and forth over liability insurance that caused the post office's closure. In July 2020, a customer of the post office was struck by a rusted flagpole that fell in the parking lot. Banyas was sued by the customer for $30,000 in damages. Banyas claimed he was denied liability insurance by the post office, so he had to take care of the incident himself. Because of this, he decided not to renew the postal service's lease and served an eviction notice in July.
"I think that both parties could have done more to save the space," says Hahmann. "The post office was the busiest store in Banyas' center, and they refuse to provide him liability insurance. Unfortunately, the post office is not being very honest about things."
The lease ended in July 2021, but Baynas has allowed the post office to stay open until this weekend.
Beyond the logistics of sending and receiving mail, the Cortez post office has become a historical landmark for residents.
"We'll be designated as Bradenton instead of Cortez by the postal service," says McAllister. "Taking away this place is like taking away a piece of our identity."