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A mail store on W. 57th Street closed without warning, leaving customers' packages stranded

Businesses come and go in the city with such regularity that usually few people even take notice.

But the recent closure of the UPS Store at 331 W.57th Street has not only been noticed by its former customers, it has spawned a grassroots type of activism to help themselves and others who maintain private rental mailboxes throughout the city.

The store, a franchise, was reportedly closed towards the end of last month due to an unspecified legal dispute between the franchisee/owner and the parent company, UPS Store.

The store's closing has created something of a firestorm amongst its 40-plus former customers, many of whom have been trading stories, news updates, and advice online at the blog, which covers life in Hell's Kitchen.

Among some of the numerous issues customers railed about online included a lack of any notice about the store's closing along with the inability to collect important mail and packages that were essentially locked inside the shuttered store for several days.

Shortly after the store's closure, several signs were posted on the window, including this one:

"The UPS Store, Inc. has forced the owners of this location to close the store and cease operating as a The UPS Store. The owners are currently in litigation with the area franchisee from The UPS Store in connection with this matter and are taking all available actions to reopen this store as soon as possible."

The sign, reportedly from the store's owners, directed customers to an email address and also to UPS Store customer service for help retrieving mail and packages.

That was little consolation for many customers who relied upon their mailboxes for years to provide not only mail and package services but as a stable and reliable street address, important for many professionals.

Julie, an artist who lives on the West Side, said she had her private mailbox for more than 20 years, calling the box her "first real commitment in NYC." She wrote on the hellskitsch blog that she went to the store on March 1st and discovered it was shuttered, with all kinds of signs taped to the doors and windows.

"I was confused to see this ... Whaaat ... out of business ... but my mail is in there being held hostage," she wrote in response to a reporter's questions. "I've checks, business proposals, packages, meds and bills inside waiting for me. I was crushed and starting to get mad ... I've been a rent paying box owner for 20 years."

Julie and other former UPS Store customers have been scrambling for more than a week now to try and find a way to get their mail and packages from inside the locked store.

At first, several people reported that UPS was claiming they weren't responsible for the store any longer, since it was officially no longer operating as a UPS Store franchise.

However, although UPS' Corporate would not elaborate on exactly why the store closed or the nature of the legal dispute, they did relent and agree to help former customers get their mail, packages re-routed to another location for pickup.

"I talked to our legal group and unfortunately at this point I'm not able to provide an official comment on the store closure," Lee said, via email.

"What I can tell you is that The UPS Store values our relationships with the customers of the former UPS Store location on 57th Street and we're doing our best to help them through this transition."

Lee said that all mail and packages that were in the 57th Street store would be available for pickup at an alternate location on Eighth Ave. Some customers reported they were able to get some of their mail and packages on Saturday, March 8th.

Lee also said that UPS would continue working with the U.S. Postal Service to redirect incoming mail and packages to that same location.

Robert Hagan, who is listed in court documents as the owner of the now-shuttered UPS Store location on 57th Street, did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Court records revealed that the UPS Store is suing Hagan in U.S. District Court for trademark infringement.

Moreover, several online articles detailed the ongoing friction between the UPS Store and franchise operators. Much of the friction stemmed from franchise owners claiming they were not making adequate profits due to several types of charges that franchisees said were unfair.

Another hellskitsch commenter, who also was a customer of the closed store, shared her feelings about the situation.

"Each one of us has had to drop everything in our lives this week, scramble to make other arrangements and have our lives put on hold," wrote Karen10019, also an artist who lives on the West Side.

"This was a horrible emotional experience. Livelihoods, personal items, electronics, checks, new IDs, taxes, bills, timely gifts and deliveries...Everything! ?The private mailbox service is not just a convenience, it is a sense of security?We were paying $700 per year for convenience and security, not just paper and packages."

On Sunday, former store customer MN Powell said that even though they are slowly getting their mail and packages back, this is not the end of the story.

"The victims are organizing and are planning to pursue legal action. We are in the process of putting together our own blog site (57th Street UPS STORE VICTIMS UNITED FOR JUSTICE) devoted to sharing information about planning our strategy to pursue damages against either the UPS Store Corporation or Mr. Hagan," wrote Powell.

He also added that he has already contacted several local members of the City Council as well as the public advocate to demand a "private mailbox renters' bill of rights," to ensure that this doesn't happen again.

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