Thursday, September 06, 2007

Towers Gone; ZIP Code Carries On

The New York Times
September 7, 2007

It’s pretty amazing, when you think about it. That was the feeling of a clerk at the Church Street Station, the majestic post office a few steps north of the World Trade Center site. He got no argument from us.

Six years have passed since that monstrous day when death filled the sky. It is time enough to get a simple detail straight, the clerk felt. “You would think they’d learn the new address,” he said the other day.

You would think. But for some reason, probably mundane, a fair number of companies and organizations keep sending mail to the twin towers, phantoms since that day in 2001.

At the post office at 90 Church Street, that mail arrives now in a trickle. “It’s down to maybe 200 pieces a day,” said Pat McGovern, a spokeswoman for the United States Postal Service.

That is piddling compared with the 85,000 pieces that poured in on a typical business day before 9/11. The number has steadily shrunk. There were roughly 7,000 pieces a day in early 2003. By the end of that year, there were 3,600. A year ago the figure was 300. Now it’s down to 200.

Still, you would think. Did some people not hear the news about the trade center?

More likely, Ms. McGovern said, “companies haven’t updated their mailing lists.”

Citing privacy concerns, she did not identify the companies that send letters and packages to the towers’ exclusive ZIP code, 10048, or the recipients. Postal Service higher-ups were also not interested in our request to talk with workers who sort the 10048 mail.

But generally speaking, “this mail is bundled up, and then the carriers send it back,” Ms. McGovern said. “We do have some caller service, where some companies come and pick it up,” even though it was sent to their old, ghostly address. For this service, they pay a fee. “It’s like having a post office box,” she said.

The sorting is done at the Church Street Station, home of the 10007 ZIP code. It is a survivor, somewhat akin to the World Trade Center companies that picked themselves up and moved elsewhere.

The terrorist attack damaged the station and left it contaminated by asbestos and other pollutants. But it bounced back to life three summers ago in all its marble and Art Deco splendor. On a wall near the entrance, neatly folded and packed in a triangular glass case, is the American flag that flew at the station on Sept. 11, 2001.

IN its time, 10048 was special for a bunch of reasons. Not the least of them was that in terms of income per worker, no other ZIP code in the city performed better.

After the attack, Andrew A. Beveridge, a Queens College sociologist and demographer, analyzed census data from 2000, the trade center’s last full year. He learned that 31,149 people worked in 10048, that they were paid an average of $101,006 (compared with a citywide average of $59,448) and that the $3.15 billion earned by trade center employees amounted to more than 1 percent of the New York metropolitan area’s entire payroll.

Some people, however, didn’t want to hear any of that.

They didn’t want to be reminded that the place was called the World Trade Center and that its spirit was commerce and finance. Four years ago, we quoted Professor Beveridge about the twin towers as a money machine. That led to some angry letters and e-mail messages, he recalled the other day. One woman who had lost a close relative was especially upset.

“I guess she felt it was demeaning to say that someone was trying to make a lot of money,” he said. He found the reaction to be “a little peculiar.” Reality is what it is.

And perhaps will be again. Final designs for new towers at ground zero were unveiled yesterday. Financial companies may yet flourish anew at the site.

If so, a tried-and-true ZIP code awaits them. At the Postal Service, 10048 remains very much alive. “There are no immediate plans for retiring it,” Ms. McGovern said.


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