Last month we posed the question, “Is 212 Fifth Avenue the ultimate Manhattan address?” Developers of a new condo at the location are hoping that the prestige of Fifth Avenue coupled with the synonymy of 212 with Manhattan (it served as the borough’s sole area code for 45 years) will make their new residence the New York-iest address in town. But the 212 fanfare goes far deeper than a real estate marketing tactic.
Just as “Seinfeld”‘s Elaine stole her dead neighbor’s 212 phone number after hers got changed to a 646 area code, real New Yorkers are going to great lengths to secure a phone number beginning with those three coveted digits. Today, the New York Times delves into the hype surrounding the 212 area code, looking at those who buy the phone numbers from “brokers” who sell them for upwards of $1,000, as well as the mathematics behind the area code system.
Even though many New Yorkers are abandoning their landlines–all of which once had 212 codes–and keeping only a cell phone, the chance of winding up with a 212 area code is slim. When area codes were first introduced, all of New York City fell under the 212. But as more people got telephones, 718 was created for the outer boroughs, and by 1992, 212 was specific to Manhattan. For cellphones, 917 was created. After 45 years, in 1995, there were hardly any 212 numbers remaining, so 646 was introduced as a secondary Manhattan area code. Twenty years later, we’re running out of 646 lines, too, a fast turnaround considering there are about 7.9 million unique phone numbers available per area code. By 2017, Neustar, the company that oversees the national phone-numbering system, expects Manhattan will need yet another area code.
So how does one go about obtaining the rare 212 area code? Use the services of a phone number brokerage like 212areacode.com, which will sell you the number for anywhere from $75 to more than $1,000. You can also get lucky. Time Warner has a few dozen 212 numbers available each month from businesses shutting down or people moving.
Why jump through all these hoops? On a practical level, people applying for jobs or making business calls feel that having a 212 area code pop up on the caller ID makes them appear to be well-established locals. Others however, merely enjoy their phone number serving as a conversation piece and source of envy (we’ve heard of apartment envy, but this is a new one). The Times even mentions a husband giving his wife the area code as a gift–who said romance is dead in New York?
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