After 30 years of delivering mail on the same route in Hopewell Borough, Craig Brown strode down the sidewalks for one final time on a cool morning in February, balancing the familiar weight of his blue carrier bag stuffed with mail and packages.
For the last time, he filled and emptied the mailboxes of the tall Victorians and craftsman houses whose lawns were dotted with shrinking patches of snow from a recent snowstorm. It was Wednesday, Feb. 15, Brown’s last day walking the streets.
“Doing the same route for 30 years is unique. Probably only a handful of people can say that they had the same route for their entire career,” said Sandy Conte, a fellow postal carrier in the Hopewell Borough, that morning at the Pennington Post Office, where Hopewell Borough’s mail is received and sorted.
Brown, a native of New Jersey, plans to stay in the Garden State after his retirement. He is a graduate of Montgomery High School, currently residing in Ewing. He said that eventually he and his wife plan to relocate to the Jersey shore.
“He just makes it look easy. This is not an easy job. Craig never complains. No matter how icy, snowy, or rainy it is, he never complains,” Conte said.
As Brown and his colleagues prepared to deliver the mail, laughter buzzed out over the hum of giant orange carts rolling busily across the tile floor. A sense of warm feelings filled the large open space as one by one, carriers departed to begin their routes. Brown’s departure was the reason for the camaraderie.
Charlie McLaughlin has delivered mail with Brown for 17 years. “We’re both big sports fans. He roots for the Philly teams and I root for New York. We kid each other, depending on how our teams do,” McLaughlin said.
McLaughlin said that the carriers in the borough have always looked out for each other. For example, he said that they once had a carrier who was being treated for cancer, and when he returned to work, they all pitched in to help him complete his route as he recovered.
“If you needed something, Craig was always there. We’re going to miss him,” McLaughlin said.
Brown’s co-workers had set up a couple tables of foods and desserts to celebrate the retirement. Congratulatory mylar balloons floated from a white bin marked United States Post Service.
“His customers love him. His co-workers love him. It’s his dedication that keeps the post office working. He sets the standard for the younger employees,” said Carla Carter-Schultz, postmistress in Pennington.
Brown said it takes about six hours to deliver mail to the 400 households on his route, which he completed mostly on foot. “It’s nonstop walking. I had two knee surgeries about two years ago, which slowed me down a bit. After that, I knew that I wanted to retire.”
Brown said the job was not without the customary risks and unpleasantries. Through the years, he has had to deliver mail in downpours and snowstorms, and despite rubber boots and ponchos, he said it was impossible to keep from getting wet sometimes.
“The worst is when there is a snowstorm and it’s not been plowed out completely. (When) people haven’t had time to get out and shovel yet,” Brown said.
Brown said that in Hopewell, people are great about keeping dogs leashed or in the house, but he was bitten on two separate occasions.
“A dog got me by the ankle and got his teeth in there, and I had to go get that taken care of,” Brown said.
Conte said Brown misses work so seldom that customers call to check on him when they see someone else subbing on his route.
“It’s a nice town. The people are so nice. It’s been nice to work for them,” Brown said of his route in the borough.
While delivering mail to Mr. Haircut, a nostalgic barbershop and the second oldest business in the Hopewell, owner Robert Witkowski said of his longtime mail carrier, “He has to do what he has to do, but I told him, he still has to come back to Hopewell every week.”
Brown heard that kind of sentiment from many of the people he encountered on his final day.
“I’m sure that I’ll come into town,” Brown said.