Ship now or get ready to write "belated"

Last-minute shippers will have plenty of company in the next couple of days.

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Sheila Proefrock pulls another package off a stack awaiting shipment Friday at the Postal Annex store in Plaza Way shopping center. The days leading up to Christmas are one of the busiest times of the year for shippers like Proefrock.

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Sheila Proefrock gift-wraps a package for a customer at the Postal Annex during a busy Friday afternoon in the store. The days leading up to Christmas are one of the busiest times of the years for shippers like Proefrock.

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With a pile of packages to one side, Dee Dee Marcum tapes a box during a busy afternoon Friday at the Postal Annex in the Plaza Way shopping center. The days leading up to Christmas are one of the busiest times of the year for shippers.

As customers prepare to send last-minute packages for the holidays, PostalAnnex+ owner Sheila Proefrock is geared up to enter what she refers to as "Guilt Week."

Time is running out for packages to arrive at their destinations by Christmas, she said. And as the clock ticks, the shipping rates rise. Hence Proefrock's pet name for this time of year.

Those in the business of mail and shipping are in for a busy week. In the case of the U.S. Postal Service, today is especially bustling.

More than 800 million pieces of mail will enter the Postal Service system today for what's expected to be the busiest day of the year for the enterprise. Packages brought to the Postal Service by Tuesday are expected to be delivered by Christmas, according to the agency.

Last-minute shoppers and procrastinators can still get their items delivered by the holiday if they ship it Wednesday through the U.S. Postal Service, but they'll have to pay Express Mail prices.

Shipping operation FedEx Corp. had what was expected as its busiest day in company history last Monday, when nearly 16 million shipments were expected to be moved around the world. The company is predicting a total volume increase of 11 percent over last year. FedEx expects more than 223.3 million shipments will be processed through its global network between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Last-minute shoppers will be able to ship items through the service Thursday via FedEx Express.

At Proefrock's PostalAnnex+ off Plaza Way, most customers have come in with their items boxed and ready to go. But a few don't yet have their gifts wrapped, which means picking out boxes and paper and packing them -- all services offered at the retail shop, in addition to the actual shipping.

Proefrock said she starts planning for the onslaught of last-minute holiday packages as early as October.

"We start looking at our box supply, our packing supplies. We try to make sure we have tape and boxes and packing peanuts," she said. "Clear back into the spring and summer the greeting card companies are calling us to think about it."

Planning for the winter shipping madness even includes being on top of the hot gifts of the season. That way, Proefrock and her crew - including her daughter and mother - will have enough properly sized boxes on hand.

For items that don't seem to fit well in a particular box, they're also accustomed to cutting the cardboard and fashioning their own.

"It's fun to meet the challenge," Proefrock said.

Other preparations this time of year: Proefrock makes sure lunches for employees are delivered to the business rather than traditional breaks. She also keeps bananas on hand for potassium since workers spend a lot of time on their feet. With as many as 12 people -- all armed with two or three boxes apiece -- packing into the business at any given moment of the busy season, the operation relies on the smooth experience of a staff that's worked together through many a Christmas holiday, she said.

"It feels like a well-oiled machine."

Vicki Hillhouse can be reached at vickihillhouse@wwub.com or 526-8321.

Where to ship in WW

  • U.S. Postal Service, 128 N. Second Ave.; also located at Walla Walla's Harvest Foods, 905 S. Second Ave.
  • The UPS Store, 1934 Isaacs Ave.
  • Pak 'N' Ship, 123 E. Main St.
  • PostalAnnex+, 1644 Plaza Way

Packing and Shipping Tips:

  • Have the right materials: UPS and FedEx recommend at least 2-inch clearance around any edge of a box for insurance purposes. Use cushioning, such as foam peanuts or bubble wrap, to fill empty space so contents don't shift in transit. Use a correctly sized box to save unnecessary shipping charges.
  • Cover old shipping labels: If you're using a previously used box for shipping, make sure old labels and barcodes are covered.
  • Ship sooner rather than later: Though UPS and FedEx offer pickup on Thursday for next-day delivery on Christmas Eve, it will cost up to three times more than shipping via ground. Shipping as early as possible also means weather delays won't affect transit time.
  • Think twice about string, duct tape and brown wrapping paper: The string can get caught in sorting machinery. The paper can come off if it's not properly sealed. With it goes the delivery address, leaving he package anonymous. Duct tape doesn't adhere as well as packaging tape in cold weather.
  • Have a copy of the delivery address inside the package: If the shipping label or address detaches from the surface, you'll be happy you left a copy inside the box for a carrier's service rep to find.
  • Consider gift cards with tracking: Gift cards sent via UPS or FedEx can be tracked. Proof of delivery and $100 declared value coverage for the cost of replacing the old card can also be provided.
Information provided by PostalAnnex+

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