The sooner the better for holiday shipping

A pallet of packages is just one of many already arriving daily at the Vineyard Haven Post Office, a portent of the Christmas crunch to come.
Photo by Ralph Stewart

A pallet of packages is just one of many already arriving daily at the Vineyard Haven Post Office, a portent of the Christmas crunch to come.

Unless you can talk Santa into delivering your holiday gifts via reindeer express, advice from Island postal workers and shipping business employees can be summed up in four words: mail and ship early. And they define “early” as mid-December, whether using the U.S. Postal Service (USPS), FedEx or UPS.

“The biggest challenge we have is folks not really planning on enough shipping time,” Karla Ross, manager of The Mailroom, said. “In order to have something arrive in Florida for the holidays, for example, it should be shipped by December 16.”

And as the UPS Store manager Tom Sawyer points out, shipping early is cheaper. “If you’re shipping to any place that involves substantial distance, plan ahead and pay attention to dates, so you don’t have to pay extra shipping,” he said.

USPS

The USPS expects 16.5 billion cards, letters and packages to be mailed between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, Vineyard Haven postmaster Joe Massua said in a phone conversation with The Times last week.

He said what he and his staff would appreciate most during the busy holiday season is for people to pick up their mail and packages as soon as possible, because the post office has little storage space.

“We’re already filling up with packages that are coming in,” Mr. Massua said the day after Thanksgiving. “We’re getting 700 to 800 packages a day in here.” Last week, 3,300 arrived, and that’s before the Christmas crunch has even begun.

Mr. Massua expects the busiest mailing days will be December 12 through 19. With that in mind, the Vineyard Haven post office will offer extended holiday hours.

On Saturday, December 17, the retail counter will be open from 9:30 am to 3 pm and the lobby from 7 am to 4 pm. The next day, December 18, the retail counter and lobby will be open from 10 am to 1 pm for all services. On Saturday, December 24, the retail counter will be open from 9:30 am to 1 pm and the lobby from 7 am to 4 pm. The Dutch door also will be open from 1 to 4 pm for package pick-up.

Post offices in Chilmark, Edgartown, Oak Bluffs, and West Tisbury will keep their regular hours. All post offices will be closed on December 26 to give employees a well-deserved day off.

To ensure Christmas delivery, packages sent by parcel post should be shipped by December 15, first class by December 20, priority mail by December 21, and express mail by December 22.

Customers need to be sure that their gifts are properly packaged and sealed, with no string or twine, and ready to go. To make sure something is well-cushioned and packaged, just shake it, the postal service suggests.

Island post offices offer an assortment of decorative shipping supplies, boxes, padded envelopes, and packaging supplies. Mr. Massua said the USPS also offers gift items such as commemorative stamp and print sets, and cards.

FedEx

FedEx forecasts more than 260 million shipments will move through its worldwide shipping networks between Thanksgiving and Christmas, according to a press release. The 12 percent increase in shipping that FedEx expects for this holiday season is attributed to more online business and shopping.

According to the FedEx website, customers shipping packages in the U.S. will have until December 16 to ship via FedEx Ground or FedEx Home Delivery to residential locations for delivery before Christmas. December 14 is the cut-off for packages shipped to or from Alaska or Hawaii. FedEx Express will deliver on Saturday, December 24.

Sandy Fisher operates a full-service FedEx store at 15 North Line Road in the Airport Business Park. Store hours are 11 am-5 pm, Monday through Friday. The store is closed between 2 to 3 pm.

Self-service drop-off boxes are available at the Merchants Mart on State Road in Tisbury, the Martha’s Vineyard Airport, the whale building on Beach Road in Vineyard Haven, the Dukes County Courthouse in Edgartown, and Our Market in Oak Bluffs. FedEx packages may also be left at the Mail Room in Triangle Plaza in Edgartown.

Ms. Fisher, who has worked for FedEx for 27 years, said she has a group of “early bird” customers who have made it a tradition to send their packages early, year after year.

“Telling everyone the earlier the better is not because of service; it’s really because of the weather,” she said. “It’s so unpredictable. Even if there is a snowstorm in the middle of the country, that impacts the shipping lanes and service elsewhere.”

The UPS Store

UPS is also geared up for a big holiday season and expects to deliver more than 120 million packages around the world in just the last week before Christmas, according to a press release.

The UPS Store is located in Woodland Plaza at 55 State Road in Tisbury. Mr. Sawyer said it offers UPS retail rates, with no added surcharge, as bound by the terms of a franchise agreement with owner Mike Boylan, who also owns and operates a UPS store on Nantucket.

The Tisbury UPS Store is open 9 am to 5 pm, Monday through Friday, and from 9 am to 2 pm on Saturday. Mr. Sawyer said hours might be extended as the holiday approaches.

When asked about shipping dates to ensure Christmas delivery, he said, “I would recommend December 13 or 14 if you’re shipping packages by ground to anywhere on the West Coast or mountain states.

Mr. Sawyer suggested shipping packages by ground to central states and Florida by December 16, midwestern states by December 19, mid-Atlantic states by December 20, and New England states by December 21.

Christmas delivery is trickier this year since the holiday falls on a Sunday, he explained, because many remote areas, including Martha’s Vineyard, do not receive Saturday deliveries.

“You can always ship something by air, even if it’s going a far distance, if necessary to get it there by Christmas,” he said. “But the downside is that it’s more expensive and the price is driven by the box size, weight, and distance.”

The UPS Store sells packing materials and also offers packing services for a fee, based on box size and whether an item is fragile or not. Glass and china items are double-boxed.

“You can come in and buy the materials, and pack it yourself, but if you add up the cost of that, you don’t save a heck of a lot of money or the cost of your time,” Mr. Sawyer said. “It’s better to have us pack it.”

The UPS store also offers high-quality color printing for posters, banners, and artwork reproduction, complete with lamination for large-scale work and foam-core mounts.

The Mailroom

Located at the Triangle Plaza in Edgartown at 243 Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road, the Mailroom offers packing, shipping, and business services, including copies, faxes, and post office boxes. Shipping by UPS and FedEx is available.

The store is open seven days a week. The hours are 8 am-6 pm, Monday through Friday, 8 am-4 pm on Saturday, and noon-4 pm on Sunday.

Ms. Ross said she has not encountered any packaging nightmares brought in by customers. “We have a nice, easy-breezy system here, and we take care of it for them,” she said.