STEEN, Minn. (AP) — Seven small-town Minnesota post offices are closing for good by Saturday, the latest setback for communities that have seen a steady exit of community institutions and businesses.
They include the post office in Steen, a southwestern town of about 180 people that has lost churches, a school, a grocery store and a bank in recent decades. Mayor Mel Van Batavia told Minnesota Public Radio (http://bit.ly/utp6xr) the post office's final day will be a sad one. Although the direct economic toll from losing the post office will be small, the mayor said, the psychological toll will be high.
"It's just knowing that there's one more thing less on Main Street," he said.
Other towns where post offices are closing include Silver Creek, Taopi, Kenneth, Clements, Trail and Holland.
Steens's loss reminds Van Batavia of a major turning point.
"When the elevator left and the lumber yard closed, I think that was the biggest change," he said. "The traffic in town went from 20-30 cars a day down to nothing."
The mayor's auto repair shop is one of the few businesses left. He said the town has become basically a bedroom community. Residents drive to jobs in nearby towns line booming Sioux Falls, S.D, only 25 miles away.
Van Batavia said having that large neighbor has helped keep Steen's population fairly stable. He said city government keeps the streets repaired and the grass trimmed on its property — the bare essentials as he put it — but there aren't enough resources to pursue economic development.
"We would sure like to," Van Batavia said. "But we're just too small."
Others disagree, saying it's possible to pump new energy into Minnesota's small towns.
"I don't think you're ever too small," said Muriel Krusemark, a leader in small-town economic development in Minnesota.
Krusemark is in demand to explain strategies that have worked, including obtaining assistance from foundations and motivating residents to support improvements. In her day job she heads development efforts in the west-central Minnesota town of Hoffman. In five years, seven new businesses have started up in the community, including a hardware store and a part-time appliance store.
It's open Fridays only, but the store sells an average of six appliances a week, far more than the owner expected, she said. Some of the other new businesses in Hoffman are also open part time.
Those sorts of non-traditional arrangements have helped revitalize other small towns across the nation, said Will Lambe, an expert with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Lambe tracks economic development efforts in nearly 50 U.S. small towns, including three in Minnesota.
"I'm not suggesting that it's easy," Lambe said. "But I do think that positive change is possible in almost any community. It's just a matter of making sure that you've got a broad coalition that's committed to the same goals."
While Steen doesn't do economic development, even the basics can help. About 20 years ago the community put in sewer and water lines and got rid of individual septic tanks and wells. Van Batavia said the improved infrastructure helped persuade retiring farmers and others to move to town.
As for the post office, a resident wants to buy the lot once the run-down building is demolished so she can start an antique furniture restoration business on the site.
Information from: Minnesota Public Radio News, http://www.mpr.org
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.