I recently talked with Kalish about why he’s doing this, what his friends think, and how he can devote so much of his time to his quest. (This interview had been edited and condensed.)
Can you talk about why you decided to visit every post office?
It started back in 2008. I’d just finished college, and I decided to explore the country and take photographs. I spent three months on the road. I found that a great way to document the places I’d been would be to go the post office, take a picture of the building, because it has a sign that tells you the name of the place, and also get a postmark. And if you get an item postmarked, that’s proof. It’s a physical souvenir of exactly where you’ve been and when you were there. I thought, “Boy, this is lots of fun.” And I’ve been doing it ever since.
So how many have you gone to so far?
Let me look at my official count. Actually, I have spreadsheets of this. I have been to 5,758 post offices.
So you still have a way to go?
It really depends what you choose to include. There are regular post offices staffed by postal employees. They are down to around 32,000. Then there are “contract postal units” in stores that are run privately. I think there 3,500 of those.
Where do you draw the line? Do you include the privately run ones that the Postal Service is opening now in Staples?
Yeah, I include all those. I’ve been to every single standard postal operation, contract unit, carrier facility, and mail processing facility in the New York metropolitan area. Everything in New York City, Long Island, and most of northern New Jersey. I’ve got a complete line of operations that I visited, all the way from Boston to Baltimore. And nearly all of them throughout Ohio.
So how much time does it take?
I could use my spreadsheets to figure out the average number of offices I’ve visited per day. I’m good with data analytics, as you might be able to tell. But I’ve spent more time than I’m willing to admit. How about that?
What’s your favorite one so far?
I’m very interested in federally funded projects and facilities that were built during the Great Depression. So architecturally speaking, the post offices built during the New Deal and even prior are my favorites. It was the symbol of the federal government’s commitment to a community. It was grand. It was stately. It was often the biggest thing in the town. And many of them have federally funded artwork inside. That’s how they put artists to work during the Depression. It’s almost like the Postal Service as a whole was almost a giant museun.
In 2011, the USPS threatened to close 3,700 post offices to save money. It has backed off since then, but it’s still putting a lot of them on the market. Do ever feel like you’re in a race to see some of these places while they are still functioning post offices?
Yeah, back in 2011, I had a map of the state of Pennsylvania with about 200 circles of endangered post offices that might have been closed within the coming months. I would take my car out any weekend and visit as many of these clusters as I could. I still somewhat consider it a race, because the Postal Service is selling many of its historic properties.
Do you still send letters yourself?
I communicate via e-mail as well as everyone, but letters still have a place in modern society, and I still send them on a very frequent basis and receive them on a very frequent basis.
Hey, what does your girlfriend think of this project?
I don’t have one at the moment.
What do your friends think?
Many of my friends still continue to think, “This guy’s just crazy for doing this.” That said, a lot of them have taken an interest. In fact, they make efforts to send me postcards and letters and holiday cards themselves, even if they don’t generally do it for other friends.
What do you do to support yourself?
I’ve tutored for a long time. I enjoy it. I am looking for something more substantial.
Anything I forgot to ask?
Well, let me just say, I’m not the only one who does this. There are others like me. In fact, I get asked the question, “Are you going for the Guinness Book of Records?” And I say, I don’t have a chance because I know a gentleman—and we’re friends—who has been to 25,000 U.S. post offices over the course of more than 40 years.
Exactly. He used to work for the government. He’s retired. I have a couple of other friends who have been to more than 10,000. Sometimes we will team up. One time, we said, “Hey, let’s go up to Maine and see if we can take ferries to the different islands so we can get to all the different post offices on them.”
Sounds like a great time.
Yeah, and I was a lightweight.