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For newcomers in town needing mail addresses, private firms fill need

Remembering the general-delivery window where you could pick up your vacation mail or where they'd hold it for you if you were new in town? Well, it's still around. Only now most ZIP-coded substation post offices won't accept any mail addressed to general delivery. This kind of mail must be sent to one central general delivery location, usually the main post office in bigger cities. And although forwarding of mail to a regular new address is done by the US Postal Service for as long as one year, requests to hold mail in general delivery must be renewed by recipients every 30 days.

So what can a person do for a safe and more permanent mail address?

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For many people, the answer has been to get a post office box, a solution that is becoming increasingly difficult.

In most metropolitan US cities Postal Service boxes have been in sharp demand for a good long time. A recent check indicated that there are months-long waiting lists in many parts of the country. Letter-size US Postal Service boxes rent for $10 for six months. Approval by the Postal Service on applications for these takes about a week's investigation time -- mostly to see if you live where you say you do. Among other things, it must be stipulated that the box will not be used for illegal purposes -- no drugs, no pornographic material, no firearms.

But with the scarcity of USPS boxes against very high demand, what's the next best bet? It's to do what more and more temporary residents and newcomers to big cities are doing: rent a private postbox.

In response to the ever-increasing need for this kind of address, a rash of private mail-receiving companies have gone into business across the United States. They have proliferated especially in high-turnover cities like San Francisco. Directory pages there list companies offering this kind of service in almost every part of the city.

Private postbox companies require proper identification from applicants. And they also use regulation Postal Service forms for recording user information. Some advertise as being official-numbered contract stations for the Postal Service.

Charges for private-and-personal boxes run about four times those of the Postal Service: about $60 to $80 a year, plus key deposit. Many of these private companies have prospered, not only because they are able to make boxes available immediately, but also because they offer prestigious advantages. These include locations handy to business areas; choice of a suite or a street address (instead of just a box number); no-problem and accurate forwarding if needed; pickup any time day or night; call-in rechecking; and the secure holding of packages.

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