Monday, July 23, 2007

On East Side, Addresses Lose Panache

Published: July 24, 2007

As far as we know, neighbor has not set upon neighbor in a jealous rage. No one has organized a torchlight protest. The peasants haven’t picked up pitchforks and stormed the barricades.

Not that there are many peasants on the Upper East Side, or pitchforks, except maybe a few that are destined for country estates. But there are unhappy people in that part of town.

Three weeks ago, they lost their ZIP code.

For some, this was no small loss. They felt a magic in that number: 10021. It speaks of wealth and status, announcing that those within its walls dwell in a state of grace. And in a cruelty of fate, thousands on the East Side have had it snatched away.

On July 1, they found themselves cast out of Eden and into new ZIP codes decidedly lacking in cachet. The 10021 code, which had covered East 61st Street to East 80th, between Fifth Avenue and the East River, was divided into three parts. Just as Iraq might be some day, come to think of it. Hardly an encouraging thought, is it?

The 10021 zone still exists but it is shriveled, stretching only from East 69th to 76th Street. The southern section of the old zone is now 10065, the northern part 10075.

When the change kicked in, some East Siders were distressed, dismayed, distraught and all other disses imaginable.

“Some people were a little hot about it,” said Pat McGovern, a spokeswoman for the United States Postal Service. Quite, said Betty Cooper Wallerstein, president of the East 79th Street Neighborhood Association. “Some people said it was a great ZIP code,” she said. “They were very proud of it.” A senior aide to an elected official on the East Side, trading candor for anonymity, summed up the situation this way: “It’s a classic example of the foibles of the bourgeoisie.”

“There was a hue and cry,” the aide said. “But it’s died down.”

That it has, Ms. McGovern and Mrs. Wallerstein agreed, as did Jessica Lappin, an East Side city councilwoman. “There are some people who feel very passionately about this and others who say, ‘What’s the big deal?’ ” Ms. Lappin said.

“Some people are refusing to accept the change” and vow “to continue to use 10021 forever,” she said. Nonetheless, “what’s the big deal” seems to be the prevailing sentiment.

That New Yorkers can summon the strength to soldier on, defying adversity, comes as no surprise.

Remember how upset many once were when the 718 area code was carved out of the 212 code, like Eve from Adam’s rib? At first, those living in the new 718 — the four boroughs beyond Manhattan — felt relegated formally to second-class status. New York meant 212. But they got over it. If anything, 718 is ascendant these days, equivalent to the cool kids’ table in a high school lunchroom.

The Postal Service says it did not Balkanize 10021 to make a social statement. Pragmatism ruled. “We had such an expansion of addresses in that area that we really needed to add on these other ZIPs,” Ms. McGovern said.

Similarly, Mrs. Wallerstein said that pragmatism guided the objections. Some East Siders hurled into the new ZIP codes report magazines arriving late and mail being returned to the senders as undeliverable. No one, understandably, is thrilled about having to order new stationery.

Then, too, some wonder if they might have retained their beloved 10021 with a few letters tagged on to make mail sorting and delivery more efficient, much the way that the “ZIP + 4” system adds extra digits to the basic code.

Letters are not unheard of. Saks Fifth Avenue (ZIP code 10022) is about to open a new shoe department called 10022-SHOE. “Our new shoe floor is so big that it deserves a ZIP code of its own,” said a Saks spokeswoman, Lesley Langsam Kennedy.

The Postal Service has played along, permitting the store to use 10022-SHOE in its mailings. This was done solely to be nice to a major customer, and without Saks paying extra for the privilege, Ms. McGovern said. As a practical matter, post office machines are unable to read SHOE.

But who’s to say that such letters will not become the real deal some day? Think of the possibilities.

St. Patrick’s Cathedral is right next to Saks. Why not 10022-HOLY for its mail? How about 10036-PLAY for the theater district? Clubgoers could head downtown to 10014-LOUD.

As for those East Siders unable to shake the blues over losing their ZIP, the choice is all too obvious: 10021-ENVY.