Walla Walla’s Harvest Foods will close its walk-up bill paying station after 26 years of service.

The in-store spot where customers could make payments for free on their power, gas and telephone services, plus another 70-plus companies for a small fee, will shutter next Friday, the business announced.

The change comes four months after the closure of the in-store post office.

Nolan Lockwood, co-owner of the Southgate market, said the ability to pay online from home or on a device has likely contributed to the significant decline in use of the service that was noticed even before the closure of the postal service.

He said it’s part of an unfortunate but “continuing erosion of relationship services.

“Service is what we and others have built their businesses on in the past. Partnering with people, face-to-face interaction, solving problems together and accommodating each other’s needs.”

He said such services must be balanced with economics. When usage is not even with expenses, operations must be re-evaluated, he said. This is apparent in the use of self-checkouts at more grocery stores and the prevalence of some “cashless” stores.

Lockwood said changes by legislators and voters have caused many adjustments and re-evaluations in services. Climbing labor costs associated with wages, health insurance and sick leave were also part of the rising rates that ultimately made what was an otherwise break-even service a cost to the store.

The location has been a convenient alternative for those coupling their grocery shopping with their bill-paying errands.

Lockwood said the store employees who have operated the service will be reassigned to other duties.

Vicki Hillhouse can be reached at 509-526-8321, vickihillhouse@wwub.com or on Twitter at https://twitter.com/VickiHillhouse.

Vicki covers business and economic development, including tourism, the Port of Walla Walla and the Strictly Business column, as well as features. She has been reporting for the Union-Bulletin since late 2001.

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