Franklin Park postal clerk weathers changes
Linda Smith hands over a stack of mail for Patricia Cazzato of Schiller Park. Smith has worked at the Franklin Park Post Office for 24 years. | Jon Langham~for Sun-Times Media
Updated: December 2, 2012 6:07AM
FRANKLIN PARK — Linda Smith was behind the counter of the Franklin Park post office, explaining pricing.
Her customer wanted to mail a package to a relative in the military.
“Anything that goes on a plane costs extra,” Smith said. “The military gets it to them, but we have to get it to the military.”
Smith, 61, has worked in the Franklin Park post office since 1988. But her interest in helping people goes back to her childhood in Columbia, Tenn.
She grew up in her grandparent’s 23-room boarding house, surrounded by boarders who came to town to buy or sell corn and tobacco. At age 3, she folded linen and helped make beds. Her church upbringing also encouraged volunteer work. She helped the sick and homeless.
She married and moved to Chicago with her husband, working in the mailroom at Goldblatt’s department store for three months.
A few jobs, three children and a new husband later, Smith decided to operate a health food store.
She opened up a store, though left after a year-and-a-half when someone with deeper pockets wanted to buy the lease. She reopened a smaller shop on Chicago’s West Side, where she found an unexpected customer base.
“There were dope pushers in the area,” Smith said. “They found Isotol was a brain stimulant. Dope pushers use it to cut dope. They bought it by the case.”
Tiring of this, she asked her mailman to let her know the next time the post office had a hiring test. In 1985, he told her there would be a test in Villa Park.
“I made 88-something on my test,” Smith said. “They said they would keep the score for five years.”
She sold off her stock of health items at flea markets and sold Avon on the side. Then she got a call for an interview at the Palatine post office. Then in Franklin Park. Then Bensenville, Franklin Park and Park Ridge, twice. Finally, she was hired as a carrier at the Franklin Park post office.
Her route was a walking route, which Smith found difficult. But shortly after the husband of one of the clerks at the Franklin Park office won the lottery, Smith started working the night shift as a general clerk. As she moved up in seniority, she switched to days.
Her clerk job started in 1988. Downtown Franklin Park was a bit different then.
“It was big business,” Smith said. “There was Ace Hardware. You still had the five and dime. You had a grocery store, but it was a real grocery store. You had the lounge. All the way down you had businesses.”
The post office was different too. There were more Polish, Ukrainian and German customers. Bulk mail from area companies was big.
“At that time we had so much mail it would scare anybody,” Smith said.
Over the years, many of the traditional customers died or moved. Faxes and e-mail became widespread, private companies delivered more packages, and the post office found itself less busy. Bulk mail was moved to Carol Stream five years ago.
Clerks once had to manually operate scales and figure out postal fees. Now clerks use a computer system that figures out bulk rates and allows customers to pay into an account.
Smith, who has moved from 33rd in seniority up to third, plans to work at the Franklin Park post office until she turns 70.
“The opportunities are still here,” Smith said. “We just need more participation from the public. We do it right the first time. The postal service is still needed.”