| Mr. Zip In The Land Of
| Part 6 In The
| For More Accurate
|By JEREMY OLSHAN
When it comes to Queens zip codes, there is a fine
line between five-digit numbers and four-letter words.
After reading a series in the Tribune in which residents and elected officials
criticized the disappearance of Queens neighborhood names from our mail, Flushing
Postmaster Bill Rogers said he was going to "punish" the paper.
Rogers told two Tribune sales representatives that if "Jerome"
continues to write those stories, he would pull all of the Postal Services
advertisements from the paper. "Why should we advertise in a paper that has
unfavorable things to say about us?" Rogers said.
Rogers added that "We are not going to change our policy. What you are advocating
would slow our mail processing into a state of chaos."
Despite Mr. Rogers insistence that Queens neighborhoods be relegated to the land
of make-believe, a group of residents and elected officials have joined in the fight to
preserve the boroughs heritage.
"The Post Office has stripped us of our communities," said Assemblyman Mark
Weprin. "We are very pleased with all the support we have received, but all the
support in the world isnt worth anything if we cant get the Post Office to change
Background: Meet Mr. Zip
The postal boundary lines, which were drawn as part of the U.S. Postal Services
1963 Zoning Improvement Plan (ZIP), divided us into numbered districts. With zip codes
came the promise of the more rapid completion of carriers appointed rounds. However,
there was also a strange by-product numeric nationalism. In the same way that we
were attached to our telephone exchanges, and later our area codes, zip codes became part
of our collective identities, from "Beverly Hills 90210" to "Bayside
In Queens, zip codes are the last remnants of our past. Created out of a group of
distinct villages, Queens was a collection of separate towns and villages until 1898, when
the borough was consolidated into Greater New York City.
It is for this reason, that unlike the other four boroughs, we do not think of
ourselves as residents of "Queens, NY" but rather Woodside or Forest Hills or
Jamaica or Astoria. Zip codes provided the license to do this; the Postal Service
maintained the boundaries that city government would and could not. For nearly three
decades, our mail arrived at our doorsteps properly addressed.
Then, with the advent of mainframes, mass mailing, and the U.S. Postal Services
National Zip Code database, Mr. Zip and the neighborhoods of Queens were betrayed.
As a result, all neighborhoods with a 113- zip code are now called
"Flushing," all neighborhoods with a 114- zip code are called
"Jamaica," and all neighborhoods with a 111- zip code are called "Long
While this does not affect personal correspondence between friends and relatives, the
mislabeling has spread from magazines, to credit card bills, and to junk mail.
"I dont live in
This policy has been irritating Queens residents for over a decade, but with the coming
of the information age, and as the use of the Postal Services database increases,
the automatic mislabeling of our mail has become more widespread.
"All my life I have lived in Woodside" said Dorothea Osborne. "Now I am
constantly telling people on the phone that I am not a Flushingite."
Ms. Osborne is not alone. When the Tribune began its crusade for more accurate
addresses, dozens of residents wrote in with similar stories. Many residents are overcome
with frustration when they receive free mailing labels from charities like Amnesty
International, only to discover that the address is incorrect.
"We have all agreed any advertisements written to Bayside residents under
Flushing, NY will be ignored," said Thomas Natoli, of the Concerned
Citizens for a Better Bayside. "All name and address stickers using Flushing instead
of Bayside will be destroyed, and any organization sending them with requests for
donations will have their requests ignored."
Ten minutes of taxpayer-time
To find the cause behind Queens postal purgatory, one must travel to the
headquarters of the U.S. Postal Service in Memphis, Tennessee. Enshrined in the Office of
Address Management is the national zip code database, or in postal lingo, "The City
State File Address Information Systems product file."
For every zip code in the nation the Post Office has both a preferred and an acceptable
community name. For example, for 11375, the "preferred" name is Flushing, while
Forest Hills is just "acceptable." Since mass mailers automatically use the
preferred listing for every zip code, Forest Hills residents are effectively an annex of
While it would probably take about 10 minutes to switch the preferred and acceptable
community names, this, according to the Postal Service, is not the problem. And as one
postal employee put it, "You are dealing with the Federal government. Nothing takes
No Operational Benefits
Washington officials for the U.S. Postal Service would not comment on the actions of
Flushing Postmaster Bill Rogers, nor would they address the request of residents.
In fact, when Assemblyman Mark Weprin wrote to Washington, the response was both curt
and rude. When he wrote to President Bill Clinton, the letter was forwarded back to the
"What it comes down to," said Postal Service spokesman Tom Gaynor, "is
that there is no operational benefit in eliminating something that is already successful.
We are mandated with efficiently delivering the mail. And to change this would not only
force the Postal Service into a massive reprogramming of millions of addresses, it
triggers a need for a revision of our bulk postal rate."
This explanation was not enough to convince Congressman Gary Ackerman. "We are
still having meetings and discussions on the issue in both New York and Washington,"
Stamping Out Censorship
Flushing Postmaster Bill Rogers maintains that choosing what and where to advertise is
"This is a business," he said. "I am not looking to censor you in any
means, but any other business would do just the same. Besides, this decision is really now
entirely in the hands of Washington."
Until then, the Bayside Historical Society, the Lemon Ice King of Corona, the Forest
Hills Jewish Center, and the Jackson Heights International Foot Center can all be found in