After graduating from business school, I found an apartment on New York City’s Upper East Side.  Two main factors drove my choice: (1) It was one of the few in the big, bad city with which my mother was comfortable, and (2) It was maybe the best value for the dollar.

At the time, I was completely unaware that Reason #2 was not exactly what my beloved neighborhood was known for.  In fact, it’s quite the opposite.

My zip code for over 15 years – 10021– surpasses all others in New York City for the number of wealthy households.  Founded by John Jacob Astor over 150 years ago, the zip is home to more than 1,300 households with more than $2 million in income-producing assets.  Sure, the zip has its wanna-be’s – 10023 and 10024 aspire to the throne with 826 HH (2.07%) and 689 HH (2.1%) who meet this criteria, respectively – but 10021 is the king.  Do 10023 and 10024 have blogs dedicated to them, like 10021 NY Socialites?  I think not.

It would be terribly uncouth of you to doubt me but, just in case, here is incontrovertible proof:  The CW’s Gossip Girl takes place in 10021!  And ABC has decided that the zip is posh enough to merit its very own show called – what else? – 10021.  Evening-soap-opera TV has spoken.

So while I was a bit sad and nostalgic when the U.S. Postal Service split 10021 into three, smaller zips,  some of my richer neighbors were downright apoplectic – and in major denial.

Real estate agents have clients specify the now-smaller 10021 zip and refuse to see anything else.  “I spent my whole life wanting to get into that zip,” said one home-seeker.  And stationers catering to the hoi polloi have displaced clients who still insist that their notecards and matching envelopes say 10021: even though their addresses now reside in the new and unknown 10065 or 10075.

So while Shakespeare asked, “What’s in a name?” shall we now ask, “What’s in a zip?”  Apparently so.  For many of the wealthy who either grew up in 10021 or who were able to move there based on their net worth, those now stripped of those 5 little numbers feel exiled.  And for others whose assets are nowhere near $2 million in investable assets, the zip code was a silent endorsement:  while we may not be afford Birkin bags, we certainly did not have to correct outsiders who drew their own lofty conclusions based on our zip code.

So once again we see that the definition of product differently from that of brand.  The product is 5 digits like any other.  But the 10021 “brand?”  How it makes people feel and the conclusions drawn by the rest of the world based on a 10021 address?  That’s another thing entirely.

Me?  It’s strange, but I am getting used to 10075.  Then again, I never derived any part of my sense of self-worth from my zip code.  But try to take away my 212 home area code or my 917 cell area code??  Let’s not even think about it.

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