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Making it in Big Sky: Big Sky Post Office

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Al Malinowski of Gallatin Partners has been the contract manager of the Big Sky Post Office for nearly 19 years. PHOTO BY BRANDON WALKER

Q&A with Al Malinowski

By Brandon Walker EBS STAFF

The outside the Big Sky Post Office resembles nearly every other U.S. postal location across the country, but there’s more to it than meets the eye.

Al Malinowski is the contract manager of the post office for Gallatin Partners. Operating on a contractual basis, the Big Sky post office receives roughly 80 percent of its funding federally, while the remaining 20 percent of operating costs is covered by Big Sky Resort Area District tax funds.

Per the contract, Malinowski said the post office operates under the same regulations as any other federally run establishment, and he hopes it will become a federally run operation in the future. Meanwhile, unlike many post offices throughout the U.S., mail is only picked up and dropped off one time each day.

Gallatin Partners and Malinowski, a native of Detroit, Michigan, entered the scene nearly 18 years ago when the Big Sky Owners Association announced it was relinquishing its contract with the U.S. Postal Service. At that time, the Big Sky post office operated where BSOA sits today, only relocating after GP was granted the post office contract and completed construction of the new building in 2002.

Malinowski, a graduate of Michigan State University where he earned a degree in accounting, first experienced Big Sky when he came to work seasonally in December of 1994. He continued to work on and off in Big Sky, working occasionally at a summer camp in Massachusetts before relocating to Big Sky permanently in 2001. Before Gallatin Partners, he held the role of financial controller for Big Sky Resort for about two years.

An avid sports fan, Malinowski vividly remembers hearing that Gallatin Partners had been granted the post office contract while preparing to attend an NCAA final four men’s basketball game in 2001. He’s quick to praise the employees who work at the counter and sort through the daily mail, and recently sat down with EBS to discuss his role and how the sausage gets made at the Big Sky Post Office.

Explore Big Sky: How long have you been involved with the postal service?

Al Malinowski: We took over operations before we moved into this space, so I believe it was Sept. 1 of 2001. But this facility wasn’t complete, and you know part of it was some construction delays, but the other part of it was we weren’t going to take the risk of building a post office and then find out we didn’t get the contract. So we couldn’t really put a shovel in the ground until we were awarded the contract.

EBS: What steered you down this career path?

A.M.: Overseeing the post office operations is just a small fraction of my regular day. When it’s running smoothly, it’s probably a smaller fraction of my day. When it’s not, when we’re going through transitions it becomes a bigger portion. Mostly what we [Gallatin Partners] do is real estate development.

EBS: What’s the reasoning behind general delivery instead of mail delivered door to door in Big Sky?

A.M.: When BSOA decided to give it up, the post office [polled] the community and the community really liked the idea of having a post office somewhere. Not switching, even to delivery, because they kind of liked the small town feel of a place that you go to and get your mail and maybe a little gossip in the lobby or just knowing what’s going on and people knowing you.

EBS: What difference does it make, if any, that Big Sky is unincorporated?

A.M.: I don’t believe it does. I think those get linked but I think you can have a federal post office without incorporation. Maybe having incorporation would create a body that could put more pressure on it to happen, but I don’t think you have to have incorporation to get the other.

EBS: What’s the biggest obstacle that you face as a business in a Montana ski town?

A.M.: I think one of our struggles that we’re consistent with everyone is [that] we have some incredibly loyal employees, but when we have transitions, finding a new person [is hard]. The people that we have are awesome. They’re loyal, they’re smart, they’re patient …We’re looking for people that are committed, that enjoy working with customers [and] working with the general public. It has a lot of fun aspects to it but it can get stressful at times too. Finding those key people is one of our biggest challenges.

EBS: What’s the best business advice you’ve ever received?

A.M.: I think that having the same business standards, or morals, that you have personally. That there’s not one set of rules on how you behave when it comes to your personal life and a different set of ‘Oh, that’s just business.’ I don’t subscribe to that. I was told that a long time ago and I try to live by that. I think it’s good advice because then even though you’re going to run into conflicts, even though you’re going to have times where things don’t go as smoothly as you’d hoped. You’re going to make mistakes [but] at least you tried to make the right decision.

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