For 21 years, LJ Hopkins had hauled mail and essential supplies to Swan's Island. What caused him to stop?
Hopkins transports just about anything to Swan’s Island. A 700-pound log splitter? Throw it in the back of the van. “You name, he brings it,” marvels general-store owner Brian Krafjack.
LJ Hopkins versus the U.S. Postal Service
By Will Grunewald Photographed by Michael D. Wilson
For 21 years, LJ Hopkins has hauled mail and essential supplies to Swan’s Island. Come wind, rain, waves, or snow, he loads his cargo van six days a week and takes the ferry from Bass Harbor with everything from milk to produce to insulin to hydraulic oil to lobster buoys. Islanders all have his phone number, to call or text when they place an order for pickup at a mainland store; Meals on Wheels knows to leave food donations with him; the Southwest Harbor pharmacist always has prescriptions ready for him to grab. The supply network sustaining the remote island is a complex ecosystem, and Hopkins is its linchpin.
Hopkins inherited the job from his mom; the family has delivered mail and freight uninterrupted for six decades. Uninterrupted, that is, until earlier this year, when the local postmaster, citing concerns for the mail’s “safety and security,” decided Hopkins could carry letters only if he stopped transporting freight. Instead, Hopkins decided to forgo his lucrative Postal Service contract. If he quit running freight, he reasoned, residents would have to absorb the time and expense of a ferry trip ($49.50) for every basic need. “I can’t turn my back on these people,” he says. “They’re like family, and that’s the truth of it.”
Residents have reciprocated the loyalty. They sport “SUPPORT LJ” stickers on their cars, and since another fellow took over mail, one summer person confides, “the islanders want to put nails in his tires.”
On a recent morning, Hopkins makes a few drops (newspapers, truck radiator, fresh corn), then heads to the Island Market & Supply to meet owner Brian Krafjack and summer resident Keith Harriton. Harriton, a litigator from Connecticut, has helped Hopkins fight the postmaster’s decision.
Without income from the mail contract, Harriton says, Hopkins can’t sustain his freight business long-term. And without freight delivery, the logistics of island life become increasingly difficult. “The Maine islands have a unique culture, and if you don’t look out, it’ll disappear,” Harriton says. “That’s the larger picture of what LJ does.”
People on Frenchboro, even farther from the mainland, rely on Hopkins too. He brings their cargo to Swan’s and has Krafjack move it the rest of the way via lobsterboat. Among today’s stash: Frosted Mini-Wheats, spools of rope, and a sausage pizza from Krafjack’s store, stowed by the engine to keep warm. On Frenchboro, lobsterman Zac Ransom and his wife, Brianna, wait at the wharf. When Zac’s boat engine died mid-season a few years back, he called Hopkins — and was shocked when a replacement part arrived the next day.
“Living out here is a nice, simpler life,” Brianna says — what with only 60 year-round residents, one seasonal lobster shack, and no retail stores — “but without LJ, we’d be lost.”
“It’s a distinct way of life,” Zac adds, nodding. “It really shouldn’t be messed with.”
Note: Since this story was originally written, the Postal Service has backtracked, and Hopkins is once again delivering mail, freight, and essentials to Swan’s Island.