Thursday, May 02, 2002


The day OTR ceases to exist

        Over-the-Rhine is going to disappear.

        On July 1 — the same day a first-class postage stamp zooms to 37 cents — the bulk of Over-the-Rhine will lose its ZIP code.

        45210 is going to get zapped. It will be swallowed by downtown's massive 45202. The ZIP code that ate Over-the-Rhine will have taken another bit of identity from one of the city's most storied and beleaguered neighborhoods.

        But the Postal Service will save a bundle.

        Over-the-Rhine businesses and residents will soon get a letter in the mail informing them of the change. It's a good news/bad news letter.

        Bad news: 45210 is toast.

        Good news: Over-the-Rhiners will have two years to buy new stationery, change their rubber stamps, get new address labels. In the meantime, the post office will continue to deliver anything marked 45210.

        More good news: While the ZIP code may change, expect no cuts in service.

        John Mulkay, Cincinnati's postmaster, has 250,000 reasons for making the change.

        “In the first year, we'll save $250,000,” said the native of Boston's Southie community (ZIP code 02125). The savings come from automation. Combining the two ZIP codes allows all of the area's mail to be sorted by machine. Carriers now sort Over- the-Rhine's mail by hand.

Next, please

        The postmaster doesn't expect the news to please everyone.

        The 2001 riots ran through this blighted section of town. Tensions remain high. The change could be seen as one more slight in a long list of real and imagined insults dogging a cursed neighborhood.

        Feelings of being ignored and left for dead by countless governmental and quasi-governmental agencies did not just materialize after the impoverished neighborhood of 7,600 turned poor and became racially mixed.

        This identity crisis dates to the 19th century, when Over-the-Rhine was the city's put-upon German enclave.

        “That ZIP code doesn't say Over-the-Rhine,” the postmaster protested. “It's just a number.”

        Try telling that to someone living or selling real estate in Beverly Hills' 90210. Or Hyde Park's 45208. Or Over-the-Rhine's 45210.

        The change is not based on prestige, poverty or politics.

        “It's strictly an economic decision,” said the postmaster, who lives in Loveland, ZIP code 45140.

        “This is a done deal,” he added. “But, anyone can call me. I will be glad to explain it to them.”


        When he first heard about the ZIP-code change, Councilman Jim Tarbell, a resident of 45210, felt the postmaster was going to be inundated with calls.

        “I thought: "He's going to take some heat,'” he told me.

        Now, he's not so sure. The councilman took a straw poll of his neighbors. So did I. No one's too upset. So far.

        “I don't feel good about it. But you go with the flow,” said Carrie Johnson, president of the Over-the-Rhine Community Council.

        “I find it hard to believe people would hang on to two digits,” said Chris Frutkin, president of the Over-the-Rhine Chamber of Commerce. “We'll have the same service and the post office will save a bunch of money.”

        The postmaster hopes everyone shares those feelings.

        “I have to be as efficient as possible,” he said. “This is a business. I'm tired of hearing about rate hikes. I have to cut costs. But not service. We have to do this to survive.”

        He's between a rock and a hard place. The people of Over-the-Rhine know where that is. They live there.

       Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; e-mail


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