Attention holiday shoppers: The USPS Sorting Facility in Bell Gardens puts the snail back in snail mail. Lost and undelivered packages have inspired frustrated customers to deem it "The Black Hole of Bell" on Yelp and other review sites.
By all means avoid letting your mail be sorted at the sprawling Bell Gardens USPS facility this Christmas season. The time you spend at a long line at your local post office, and the unbelievable patience you display when a child there launches a temper tantrum, could all be for naught if your gift gets sorted in Bell Gardens.
Take Glendale resident Vincent Krimmel, whose heartfelt letter to his mom never reached her hands:
After Krimmel's mother visited him from Missouri, he sent her a lovely care package with items of sentimental value: religious DVDs and CDs his mother would enjoy, as well as olive oil soaps "impossible to find in the Midwest," Krimmel says.
Most notable was his long letter thanking his mother for giving Krimmel the freedom to explore different spiritual paths.
"The letter related to my mom and our spiritual upbringing. She let us become our own people," he tells LA Weekly.
Now the disgruntled Glendale man who "doesn't send stuff like that very often" has turned his attention to a bigger issue: the widely hated Bell Gardens USPS Sorting Facility.
Mailed in Glendale Nov. 4, his package was handled in Bell Gardens before supposedly being shipped to St. Charles, Missouri. According to the shipment tracking system, his mother's combined birthday and Christmas present arrived in Bell Gardens the next day.
After being processed on Nov. 6, the package should have left the site and been in Missouri by Nov. 12.
Krimmel gave word to his mother to watch her mail, never dreaming she'd be waiting for weeks. She's still waiting, five weeks later.
Then Krimmel found many others who got burned by Bell Gardens.
A San Diego man, Sam N., took to Yelp, saying that his local post office is aware of the alleged Bell Gardens black hole. Apparently it has been holding his watch hostage for many days:
Consistent one-star reviewers on Yelp and reviewers on Google say their packages or letters got handled in Bell Gardens, never to be seen again -- and they got no help from the postmaster to retrieve them.
"Now I don't even care about the package," Krimmel says. But he began feeling terrible about the mailroom disasters described on Yelp and Google: "Over time, I became sentimental for the people who lost $2,000 in laptops."
Richard Maher, Los Angeles County spokesman for the USPS, says that when an item is lost or stolen the "shipper" should file a claim with the PO -- and a complaint with the U.S. Postal Inspection Service. That will prompt an investigation.
At first, Krimmel spent a long time on hold at the post office's 1-800-ASK-USPS. (Nobody slamming Bell Gardens in reviews can find a direct line to call them.)
Krimmel was reluctant to file a complaint, nervous about reporting his package lost since he told a white lie to get a cheaper shipping rate. A lady at the Glendale Post Office had asked if he wanted to send it "media mail" --books, CDs and DVDs get a price break from USPS. Krimmel had CDs, DVDs -- and bars of soap -- in his box. He told the lady it was all media.
When his package disappeared, Krimmel thought he was in trouble with the feds. But Maher says that Krimmel would have been notified by now if he owed more postage.
"Media mail can be opened," Maher explains, "if the contents is rattling or shifts. If we find out, we can charge the difference."
Instead Krimmel's package appears to be lost in limbo. But perhaps there is hope. A female representative with the USPS inspection service was assigned Krimmel's case. Last week she told Krimmel she would check with the "mail recovery center," or as Krimmel calls it, "The Island of Lost Packages."
Perhaps Chicago Yelp reviewer Jen A.'s package is swimming there as well. In June, she posted that her package from Hawaii spent two weeks at the facility and left Bell Gardens the day it was scheduled to arrive on her doorstep. It never did arrive. A subsequent investigation was useless -- it was never found.
As for Krimmel, when he didn't hear back from his own USPS representative, he called her (he had scored a direct number!) But he got a not-so-friendly service representative who informed him that if the inspection service couldn't find his package, the pursuit was over.
His original representative later said they were still searching. She told him he could file a complaint against the incompetent feds with the state of California Department of Consumer Affairs (if, of course, those people answer their phones).
Krimmel fears some kind of criminal activity is underway, and worries that the management at Bell Gardens is covering it up. He called the police to report his loss and says they brushed it off, saying he was crazy.
"It's typical of police to be the least inquisitive of these things," Krimmel says.
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On the packaging and shipping discussion board about Bell Gardens at eBay.com, a user called firstmaincomp says she sent a valuable laptop from Richmond, Virginia to Georgia. But hopelessly confused USPS sent it to Richmond, California and, naturally, on to Bell Gardens.
After reading other peoples' experiences with Bell Gardens, firstmaincomp felt her package was gone forever.
But she does wonder: How did a pricey laptop meant to remain on the East Coast vanish in far-off California?