Cortez residents, Bemoan, consider closing the village post office

After serving its community for over 100 years, the Cortez Post Office is closing its doors for good. The office, which has served as a community center for neighbors to keep up to date and learn about local events, will close on Sunday, October 24, and residents have until tomorrow, Friday, October 22, to pick up their mail.

The closure is due to a terminated lease and complications with liability insurance between the US Postal Service and John Baynas, the owner of the Strip Plaza where the post office is located.

It is the only post office in the historic fishing village and serves around 1,000 residents of Cortez and Anna Maria Island, residents who do not receive mail at home. After closing, they will have to go to the next closest location, Palma Sola, to pick up their mail. It’s about a 20-minute drive inland, or 30-40 minutes during peak tourist season.

For the elderly living in the village, driving is not an option. Many are used to driving golf carts, cycling or walking to collect their mail.

“We have not received any notice of a search for a new location,” said local barber shop owner Sally McAllister. “We’ve emailed and talked to a lot of people to find a solution, but so far no one has a clue 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 also called local, state and federal officials, including Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Longboat Key, but did not receive much comment.

Sources say residents were given 120 days’ notice before the closure, but McAllister says it looked more like three weeks. “It didn’t give us enough time to write a petition, which we wanted to do,” she says.

McAllister says the growing population in the area, which results in more traffic, is an added complication.

“We’re all going to try to help each other out,” McAllister says. “Take turns picking up mail, buying stamps and packaging, and more. We’re a tight-knit community, so we’ll be working 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 that delivering mail to her side of town shouldn’t be ignored as a potential solution.

“They’re already delivering on the north side of town, so there’s no reason the same delivery guy couldn’t cross the bridge and come and serve the 900+ people who live here,” she says.

Hahmann also expressed personal frustration with the back and forth over liability insurance that caused the post office to close. In July 2020, a postal customer was struck by a rusty flag pole that fell in the parking lot. Banyas was sued by the client for $ 30,000 in damages. Banyas claimed he was denied liability insurance in the mail, so he had to deal with 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 both sides could have done more to save space,” says Hahmann. “The post office was the busiest store in central Banyas, and they refuse to provide it with liability insurance. Unfortunately, the post office is not very honest about things.”

The lease ended in July 2021, but Baynas allowed the post office to remain open until this weekend.

Beyond the logistics of sending and receiving mail, Cortez’s post office has become a historical landmark for locals.

“We will be referred to as Bradenton instead of Cortez by the Postal Service,” McAllister said. “Taking away this place is like taking away a piece of our identity.”

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