Birmingham Zip Codes: Snob or Shame?

Did a realtor design these towels?

The second interesting factor in each year’s Christmas card bonanza – after all the photos of kids – is the return address label. It’s fascinating to see the return addresses that list the city as ”Birmingham” versus those that list Mountain Brook, Homewood, Vestavia Hills, Hoover, etc.  

I started noticing this phenomenon when the large mail department at a former employer instructed all employees that mail with any zip code beginning with ”352” should list Birmingham as the city. I have always received “352XX” cards that list over a dozen completely different city names.  What gives?

These distinctions don’t matter to anyone outside Birmingham. If any of us are asked where we’re from when we’re on vacation, we won’t hesitate to answer “Birmingham.” But if we discover a fellow traveler is also from Birmingham, our immediate follow-up question is, “What part?”

Cynicaly, I have mused that an acquaintance must be mighty proud of her new house in a tony neighborhood, hence the prominent non-Birmingham-yet-Birmingham city listing. I have also wondered if “Birmingham” was just too embarassing to list (not that I could blame anyone these days given city’s bankruptcy, legal woes, etc.).

A visit to USPS.gov to look up a city by zip code gives the response, “The actual city in 35243 is Birmingham. Other acceptable cities are CAHABA HEIGHTS, CAHABA HTS, MOUNTAIN BRK, VESTAVIA. While it’s not correct, some mailers mistakenly use this zip code for MTN BRK.” I have to admit, it is sort of entertaining to try to guess all the possibilities.

Apparently Hoover is the only municipality likely to give Birmingham a run for top billing as its population now rivals the city proper. Like most larger cities, run-down neighborhoods are cheek-by-jowl to gentrified ones, and in our case the city center is literally a mountain away from the suburbs. It’s part of what gives each community its unique flavor and how we choose our little corner of the world.

But secretly, do youever wonder if Christmas really is always merrier just one digit over? Nah. You’ve got years of address labels to use before you can indulge that question.