The holiday season is the busiest time of year for Paula Trenda's business, Curly Girlz Candy, which makes gourmet chocolates.
Trenda has relied on the U.S. Post Office for speedy delivery of her guilt-free chocolates for years. It's been a partnership that has worked well for the Owatonna business, which was named Best Candy Store in Southern Minnesota.
This year, not so much. There were more delivery lapses than ever before.
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Some deliveries were late by as much as a month. Others simply never arrived. One customer received her package of chocolates on Dec. 23, three weeks after it shipped. In past years, one or two packages might get lost in the mail, but this year, she had to resend at least 14 packages to customers at her own cost — an average sale of about $100.
"What is frustrating to me as a business owner isn't that it's taking a day or two longer, but taking 20 days or more," said Trenda, who estimated that 50% of her packages arrived outside the one-to-three-day Priority Mail window.
It was a frustration echoed and shared by many area residents, based on interviews, emails and stories told on Facebook.
Candy Czernicki, of Rochester, said she paid for two-day delivery for a package to be shipped from Rochester to Madison. It took seven days to arrive and detoured through Los Angeles before arriving at its destination.
"Twice now, I have been told something was delivered when it wasn't," she said. "In both cases, the package showed up two days after the post office tracking system said it had been delivered."
Luke Brown, of Byron, said his mom sent a package by Priority Mail from Grand Forks, N.D., to Byron. It was mailed Dec. 17 with an expected arrival date of Dec. 21, but it arrived a week after that.
Brown said the package was supposed to be signed for, but the postal employee drove away after putting it in the mailbox. He texted his mom to let her know the package had arrived. The next day, she replied with an email saying that "L.Brown" had signed for the package when he hadn't.
"This was after taking nine days to travel 400 miles from Grand Forks to Byron," Brown said.
Richard Johnson, of Rochester, said his apartment didn't receive mail for three weeks. And Holly Carlin, also of Rochester, said she ordered glasses after Thanksgiving. They got shipped from California to St. Paul, then off to New York.
"Maybe someone thought it was Rochester, N.Y.," she said. "We'll see how it goes."
The Post Office had to cope with an unprecedented series of crises at the end of the year, all while delivering a record number of packages during the holiday season. They included a rising number of coronavirus cases among its workforce, huge volumes of e-commerce, and continuing fallout from a cost-cutting program launched by the postmaster general.
In other words, they were overwhelmed with packages and understaffed because of COVID.
As a result, mail performance plummeted. Only 75.3% of first-class mail, such as letters and bills, arrived within the standard one-to-three-day delivery window during one week last month, the Washington Post reported. The same time last year, the mail service had an on-time score of 95%.
Nicole Hill, a USPS spokeswoman, said a record billion packages were delivered by UPS during the holiday season.
"Shippers across the board were challenged with airlifts and trucking capacity for moving historic volumes, causing temporary pockets of delay," she said. "As is our duty, we accepted all volumes, and our employees rose to the occasion to deliver for America. This epic volume was also amplified by employee availability challenges and necessary COVID-19 policies designed to keep our employees and communities safe."
On Facebook, many defended the post office. One worker at a shipping outlet called the past month the "craziest December of all time."
"I honestly do not care," John Marshall said on Facebook. "If my package arrives today or in a month, as long as it arrives, I am content."
"Focus on what is important, people," he added.