By Charles Erickson
For The Leader-Herald
VAIL MILLS — Six days a week, as Melissa Dawson sits inside her pack-and-ship store — Mel’s Mail & More — in the small retail plaza at 356 County Highway 155, she frequently has time to tidy up and ponder business conditions.
“Sometimes, it’s dead. Nobody comes in,” Dawson said late on a recent Tuesday morning inside Suite C, next to M-N Cheap Self Storage and just down from the F & L Bottle & Can Return Center. She is the sole employee at the store she opened on Sept. 1.
Her entry into the packing and shipping business was unplanned. Dawson, 49, spent a decade working for Kohl’s in Amsterdam. She was a supervisor in the department store.
“Customer service was my niche there,” she said. “Customers always said that any time they came over, even when it wasn’t my department, I took care of them.”
It was the death of her mother that prompted her to step away from chain retailing and look for a different way of making a living. She said she needed a mental break from staffing a big store, and answered an ad for a manager at a pack-and-ship outlet.
For six months, Dawson recalled, she worked for the owner’s busy stores in Ballston Spa and Clifton Park. She learned the trade, and thought it could be replicated in the area where she grew up and continued to live.
“I realized we didn’t have one in the Broadalbin area,” Dawson said. “I decided that we needed one.”
A cousin, the owner of the bottle return center, told Dawson of an empty storefront in the little commercial plaza near where County Highway 155 intersects with busy State Route 29.
“You would think that the area that we’re in would be the perfect spot,” Dawson said. “But it’s almost like they forget that this building is even here.”
Dawson, a notary public, will duly affix her stamp to documents, pack items in corrugated boxes or padded envelopes, add bubble wrap or packing peanuts, when necessary, then dispatch the parcels, packets and envelopes via the U.S. Postal Service, United Parcel Service or FedEx.
The store also offers printing, photocopying, faxing and emailing services, and the owner said this side of the business has been the more successful segment so far. Even with the demand for shipping services and supplies below her expectations, Dawson said she has no plans to pack it in. She will give Mel’s Mail & More a chance to establish a clientele.
“I know that sometimes it takes blood, sweat and tears to do what you need to make a store work out,” she said.
When asked about the added value of someone bringing a package to her shop versus tendering it directly to one of the service providers, Dawson spoke about her personal touch.
“The post office is not going to pack it for them,” Dawson said. “FedEx is not going to pack it for them. And if I pack it and it breaks, I do all the legwork to get you the value of what you had in that box.”
Patrons are charged for the supplies Dawson uses in her packaging efforts. Boxes of more than a dozen shapes and sizes are displayed near the front window, and are priced from 99 cents to $4.99. The store also carries a small selection of new gifts, used paperback novels and a rack of clothing — items seemingly out of place in a pack-and-ship center. Dawson laughed at the disjointedness of some of her stock.
“I just decided it’s a place to have it out for people to look at if they’re interested,” she said.
That Tuesday morning, the store’s telephone rang. Dawson answered, listened for a few moments and got on the computer behind the sales counter. She punched in a website and then told the caller she would call him back with an estimate.
After hanging up, Dawson explained the man was a resident in the nearby Petoff Garden Apartments. It’s a senior housing complex, and some of the residents have become steady customers. They don’t have the ability to print hard copies or email documents, she said, and helping them out adds a few dollars to the store’s till. It also reminds her of when she had made a name for herself by delivering superior customer service.
“I’ll call him back later and tell him the page count,” Dawson said. “He’ll tell me how many copies to print out. And because they’re so close, at the end of the day, when I get ready to close up, I’ll just deliver it up to the apartments.”