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How Much Would You Pay for a 212 Area Code?

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I signed up for Google Voice the moment it went public. Besides rendering the $2.99 I was paying for Verizon's visual voicemail completely moot, features like call forwarding, voicemail transcriptions, and "one number for life" sounded like pretty nifty perks for a free service.

But during the registration procedure, I hit upon a snag: Google wouldn't allow me to register a number with a 212 area code. The number isn't available to anyone at all.

What a letdown. I identify with 212. I've lived in the New York metro area all my life -- not including a short stint in Bolivia. Hell, even my birthday is February 12. But I had to accept my fate and settle on 646.

A few months later, I discovered I wasn't alone. 212 is a highly coveted number among residents and businesses of the five boroughs. Yes, even Jersey. To many folks, it represents established, trust-worthy brands and an old New York vibe. Media and marketing theorist Allison Mooney spoke with Caroline Waxler at the Wall Street Journal about the phenomenon.

"A 212 can also make it seem like you are an early adopter -- like you had a cell before they even devoted area codes to them. They are a conversation piece." She added, "Since your phone number is quite literally your calling card, those numbers can say a lot about you and connote a certain savvy."

So it stands to reason that selling 212 area codes on eBay is a very lucrative business. One site named also hawks the old Manhattan identifier starting at $45 a pop if you don't mind an uncatchy number. Something that ends in two or more zeroes, however, can range from $500 to $1,200 and up.

And anyone who tries to subvert the middle man and speak with a phone provider directly won't find much luck. AT&T spokesperson Mark Siegel told the Journal, "Currently we have no available numbers in the 212 area code." Many people who've landed a 212 number won't divulge their secret. After registering one that ends in all fours, one catty developer at told Waxler, "I don't tell anyone how I did it. I'm just like 'I'm special, deal with it.' "

Actually, he sounds more 818 than 212.

But in an age of Facebook and Twitter, not everyone is swayed by the 212. After all, who really remembers their friend's number when contacts boil down to a swipe and a click on an iPhone? And true New Yorkers know 212 was always for land lines and a 212 cell phone is a rarity. Web content strategist Peter Feld described them as "fake vintage T-shirts."

Still, that would fit right in at a Lower East Side bar.
POSITION:  No positions in stocks mentioned.