If the U.S. Postal Service tries to close island post offices in Maine, it better brace itself. “I’ll tell you, the people here are very vocal,” said Barbara Hoppin, the school principal on Peaks Island. “It’s important to our school, and important to our community.”

If Peaks islanders had to take the ferry into Portland’s main post office to transact business, it would add traffic and longer lines, and might be less efficient than the small branch office on island.

Besides the business side, island post offices offer a meeting place for residents, and are a source of information for visitors. “It is a place where people gather. Everyone knows Bob [Swett, the postmaster],” Hoppin said.

The Postal Service won’t say whether it plans to close and consolidate small post offices in Maine, but a presidential commission is expected to recommend that the federal mail service be run like a corporation, where the bottom line rules policy.

Regional postal service official Christine Dugas said she has no knowledge of any proposed closures, “no list, no plan.” Postmasters Anna Dyer of Cliff Island and Theresa Burrows of North Haven were reluctant to discuss possible closings or consolidation, but said they had heard nothing about the future of their own post offices. The commission’s recommendations are expected soon.

Peaks postmaster Bob Swett said he hasn’t heard a word about closure, but he isn’t worried about it. He doubts the postal service could make a case for closing his office when the summer round-trip ferry fare to Portland is $65, “and there’s a lot of elderly and disabled people out here who couldn’t make the trip.”

Swett said that if islanders learn their post office is on a closure list, “they’ll go ballistic.” Swett, who’s nearing retirement himself, said he likes working in a place where he can leave a note on the door and go next door to Hannigan’s Island Market for coffee, and he can let a customer in during his lunch break even though the office is closed.

Islanders depend on their local postmasters, even if the office is just a shack. Whether it’s Cliff Island in Casco Bay or Maine’s outermost year-round island, Matinicus, residents count on local service. It’s personal and it’s sociable. Post-masters and their patrons agree that little post offices are a big part of island life, and closing any of them would destroy some of that vitality.

Wanda Philbrook, postmaster on Matinicus, said closing her office “would really hurt this island a lot. People have computers and phone cards, but I don’t think there is anything like the post office. People come in just to socialize for half an hour.” Matinicus no longer has a store, and the post office is a place to be neighborly, especially during long winter months when the island population shrinks. The 9 a.m. mail comes by plane from Owls Head, but not if it’s foggy. In that case, you either wait till it clears, or see if a fisherman is going inshore and could bring the mail sack out to the island.

Besides handling island letters and packages five days a week, Philbrook does a strong stamps-by-mail business, where customers around the country buy stamps through her office, mailed to them at no extra cost. The postmaster has made some pen pals this way, since customers often include a friendly note.

From January to April, Matinicus is served by one ferry trip per month, and that’s subject to cancellation. Philbrook can’t imagine closing the post office. “This is what’s keeping the community together.”

For further information about purchasing Stamps-by-Mail to help island post offices, see the Island Institute’s website at www.islandinstitute.org/stamps.