LAKEVIEW — Don Levey was thrilled when his one-of-a-kind brass camera lens found a new home.
He tenderly packaged up the 1850s Parisian antique and mailed it off to a buyer in San Diego, Calif., who paid $575 for it on eBay.
But somehow it got delivered instead to West Palm Beach, Fla., its tracking sticker lost in the process.
While Levey can't say for sure which office of the U.S. Postal Service made the mistake, he isn't the only Lakeview resident to recently complain about lost packages, mail haphazardly tossed in apartment lobbies and mail returned despite having the correct address.
"From now on, I'm going to be mailing anything with any value at all through UPS," he pledged.
But the Postal Service said it's been business as usual in Lakeview and nearby Uptown.
"The post office is not aware of any increase in complaints," in regard to mail delivery in the 60613, 60614 and 60657 ZIP codes, said Tim Norman, spokesman for the Chicago district of the Postal Service.
When a customer calls 1-800-ASK-USPS, files a complaint at a local branch or submits one online, the post office's delivery mitigation team investigates what went wrong and, ideally, locates the package, Norman said.
In Chicago, stolen packages also are "unfortunately" a frequent issue, he added.
One neighbor, however, suspects that's an excuse for packages that are, in reality, just delivered to the wrong address.
So far this year, more than a dozen packages have been mistakenly delivered to the lobby of David Dalka's building in the 1000 block of West Roscoe Street near Sheffield and Clark. The packages have been from UPS, but also the post office and other companies.
"Having this happen once is too many, but why is it happening so many times?" Dalka asked. "I look at this, and I say, 'Could it just be the ineptitude of these companies that is creating the misconception of a higher rate of stolen packages?'"
In the first seven months of the last five years, the number of thefts from porches or lobbies in Lakeview has hovered steadily at an average of eight per month, with 53 reported this year as of July 26, according to police data.
But not every package that goes missing is reported to police as stolen, nor are all missing packages necessarily the result of a theft, Dalka noted.
Some packages delivered to Dalka's building were meant for homes more than a mile away, which he framed as "just a bizarre thing" compared with a more understandable error of being one or two houses off.
Even worse, "If police resources are being diverted toward this package-theft epidemic when it's really just misdelivery, that's a Greek tragedy," Dalka said. "To just blanket the blame on crime every time a package is missing is a cop-out, or operational ineptitude."
Others said mail routes in Lakeview have changed recently, leading to temporary carriers who aren't as familiar with the neighborhood or less devoted to its residents.
Norman did not immediately respond to a request for comment on route changes Thursday afternoon.
One neighbor, who asked not to be named, shared a video of a postal worker dropping a "sorry we missed you" slip in his mailbox, seemingly without ringing the doorbell or trying to notify the homeowner:
The issue is bad for businesses as well as neighbors. In neighborhood Facebook pages, business owners and residents alike have been sharing their post office horror stories over the last two weeks.
"It's rough on a small business," wrote Mike Salvatore, who owns Heritage Bicycles, 2959 N. Lincoln Ave. "We have $10,000 in payments made out to us being returned. Had to have a customer hand deliver their check today. It's pretty bad."
Vendors have called Building Blocks Toy Store, 3306 N. Lincoln Ave., asking if the shop has gone out of business after invoices are returned unopened, said store owner Katherine Nguyen McHenry. Other times, packages sent to customers have disappeared without a trace.
"We have told our vendors to stop using [the post office] to send anything to us," Nguyen McHenry said. In one situation, the toy store missed out on a $3,000 shipment of the wildly popular fidget spinners during the peak craze a few months back.
Nguyen McHenry said a mail carrier kept posting stickers on the back door of Building Blocks, claiming the business was closed at the time of attempted delivery. But, she said, that wasn't the case.
"It did really sting," the longtime business owner said.
One neighbor proposed a possible solution: The post office's new "informed delivery" service, which is a free option to receive scanned images of incoming mail, so customers know what to expect.
But that won't solve problems like one neighbor's Christmas card that took seven months to be returned to her after it wasn't delivered last year. Or the one in five wedding RSVPs that another neighbor said are getting sent back to guests, threatening their ability to attend a loved one's event.
Heather Johnson, meanwhile, was surprised to read online that her Amazon package had been delivered and "left in customer mail box." Not only was the package missing, but it would have been hard to stuff the 15-pound bag of dog food she was expecting into just about any mailbox, Johnson said.
Turns out, like others, her package was delivered to the wrong address down the street.
"Thankfully, a good Samaritan left me a note with his contact info so I could get it," she said.
As for Levey, he's spent the better part of a year now filing appeals, emailing the post office and fighting to get his money back now that his one-of-a-kind lens appears to be lost for good.
"They're ignoring this, and they think I'm going to go away," Levey said. "But this is still fresh on my mind. It's a big sham."