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New area code gets a ‘meh’ from some New Yorkers

Janet Babin Dec 3, 2015

New area code gets a ‘meh’ from some New Yorkers

Janet Babin Dec 3, 2015

New York’s Public Service Commission is assigning another new area code to Manhattan, citing increasing demand for residential and business numbers. But a lot of New Yorkers are far from thrilled with the new digits.

It may be irrational, but many carry an emotional connection to their area code.  In a city of transients, it affords a certain identity. Even kids can buy into this kind of regional pride.

“When we lost our area code…it felt like we were being banished to a separate island,” said political strategist and columnist Alexis Grenell, who was 11 when she lost her prized area code. She’s grown up now, living in Brooklyn. But even now, don’t try to pry her old school cell phone area code from her hands. 

“Having my 917 area code is tangible proof that I got here first, that I’ve been here,” Grenell said.

Brandishing your area code as a sign of regional pride might have started in California, another big place where it can be hard to set yourself apart from your peers. 

“People can ask me, like, where am I from and I’m like, ‘Oh yeah, I’m from the 909,’” said writer Michael Peckerar with Rant Now. He wrote a story about his attachment to his 909 area code. The code became a mark of  pride back in the 1990s.

“Each area has its own personality, so if you’re from the Valley, it’s not like being from Monrovia or St. Gabriel. So to say, yes, I’m 818, that distinguishes you,” Peckerar said.

Area codes appear to matter most when people make emotional decisions. Real estate brokers say a local area code is reassuring. Sources are more likely to call back a reporter with a local number.

And they can help a brand stand out.

“When I was opening my restaurant in 1999, the phone company tried in vain to issue the business a 646 area code,” said former Manhattan restaurant owner Steven Winslow. He insisted on 212. “The 646 just didn’t speak to our NYC roots and the brand image needed for the restaurant.”

Area codes matter in politics, too. Especially for operatives who organize strangers to call voters to ask for money or other support. 

“Voters were more likely to pick up if they knew the area code from which the voter was being called. In other words, if it came from something that they recognized,” said software developer David Caldwell, who used to do  field organizing for candidates in Ohio.

The Ohio voters were more like to stay on the line if they perceived the caller as local, according to Caldwell. 

We would arrange for staffers from out of state to get a local area code so they would be perceived as local,” Caldwell said 

It may upend business, campaigns and identities, but New York’s Public Service Commission said it’s needed.  Like it or not, Manhattan’s new 332 code will start getting assigned in 2017.  Newcomers, beware.


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