For South Jersey township, 7 zip codes add up to 1 identity crisis

For those who don’t live in Gloucester Township, navigating the sprawling Camden County community can be confusing.

Whether putting an address in the GPS or mailing a letter, Gloucester Township is identified mostly by the seven zip codes for the post offices that serve its distinct hamlets, spread out over 24 square miles, rather than by where people actually live.

The township’s municipal complex has an out-of-town postal address — in nearby Laurel Springs. To avoid confusion with Laurel Springs’ municipal building, Gloucester Township’s municipal mail is directed to a Blackwood post office box, and an employee goes there four days a week to pick it up.

“People don’t know who we are,” laments Mayor David Mayer, noting that Gloucester Township is the 19th-largest community in the state and, with nearly 70,000 residents, among the fastest growing in South Jersey. He believes there is potential to lure more home buyers and businesses if he can just get Gloucester Township clearly on the map.

Mayer calls it an identity crisis, a strange phenomenon for a colonial-era town that traces its roots to the 1600s and has a rich history and distinct neighborhoods that include Blackwood, Blenheim, Hilltop, and Erial. It was one of the first towns in New Jersey to incorporate, in 1695.

When asked where she lives, longtime resident Alexis Arena initially responded, “Somerdale.”  But then explained that that is her mailing address.

“I’m very happy with where we live,” said Arena, 34, while playing with her twin sons Thursday afternoon in a park near the municipal building. She lives in the township’s Broadmoor section, but “if you say you’re from Gloucester Township, people are like, ‘Where in Gloucester Township?’ ”

Gloucester Township is not alone. New Jersey, which has 565 municipalities, has many towns with a similar predicament, such as Monroe Township and Franklin Township in Gloucester County. They wrestle with the “What’s in a name?” battle because they are served by multiple zip codes. Then there are towns with identical names, such as Washington Township. There are six of those in New Jersey and two in Pennsylvania, distinguished by their zip codes.

Washington Township, Gloucester County, undertook a rebranding of its own in recent years. Residents there now simply know it as “Township.”

“Besides some confusion among residents and visitors, and even mortgage processors, there are also times when people think many ‘towns’ have been combined into one municipality because areas with a special identity as a neighborhood or region are known to be part of a municipality,” said Michael J. Darcy, executive director of the New Jersey State League of Municipalities.

Blame the mail mix-ups and delivery snafus on the post office and the sprawl that has turned quiet farming communities into suburban tracts and retail centers, such as Gloucester Township. As a result, residents and businesses often identify with a  mailing address other than where they actually are located.

“If you’re not from the area, it’s very confusing,” said Mark Greco, owner of MLG Realty in Turnersville — which is in Washington Township, in Gloucester County, though Greco uses the zip code for Blackwood, which also is in Gloucester Township.

Get it?

“When I give directions to my office,” Greco says, “I have to tell them, ‘Don’t use your navigation. You won’t find me.’ ”

Adding to the identity crisis is nearby Gloucester County, which borders Gloucester Township and neighboring Gloucester City — both in Camden County.

Greco, a real estate developer who owns four commercial properties and a residential property in Gloucester Township, says it can be challenging trying to attract national tenants unless he specifically identifies the location as Gloucester Township and not one of the sections well-known to locals. Investors find the township’s demographics to be more appealing — a median household income of $72,811, with a mixture of baby-boomers, millennials, and Gen Xers.

“You can’t promote it as the little community,” Greco said. “They have no idea where it is located or any interest in finding out.”

Last year, the U.S. Postal Service rejected a request from Mayer to set up a standard mailing address for Gloucester Township, said Postal Service spokesman Ray Daiutolo. There were too many locales in the township with identical street names and addresses.

Daiutolo said postal routes are established “to ensure good service and the most economical use of resources. They do not always conform to official or traditional community boundaries and are not assigned solely to provide local community identity.”

Mayer, 50, who is seeking a third term, wants to brand Gloucester Township as a single community. The township has a colorful new logo that has been emblazoned on its police cruisers, replacing the crest that had been used for years. He has also asked businesses to use Gloucester Township in their addresses and advertisements.

Camera icon Jessica Griffin
New signs are part of a campaign to rebrand Gloucester Township.

His campaign got a boost in August 2015 when the Gloucester Premium Outlets opened in Blackwood, drawing bargain shoppers from across the region. The largest economic development in the township’s history, it has been a boon for the tax base, too.

“We have a way to go,” Mayer said. “We’re trying to put Gloucester Township on GPS, the map, and everything else.”

Rebranding could be harder than the mayor imagines.

Around the municipality, there are signs that prominently refer to the various sections: Blackwood Animal Hospital, Glendora School, Hilltop Apartments, Blenheim Fire Company.

“So we’re from Gloucester Township,” said George Cecilio, 73, skeptically. The retired chemist said he moved to the Blackwood Manor section when he got married in 1968. “We’re fragmented. What are people looking for?”

Greco has jumped on the rebranding bandwagon. He is investing about $5 million to expand the old Blackwood Plaza, a shopping strip near the outlets. It will be renamed the Shoppes at Gloucester Township.

“I want to draw in customers who may not necessarily know where Blackwood is,” he said.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Zip codes used by Gloucester Township residents:

Glendora 08029

Magnolia 08049

Blackwood 08012

Hilltop 08012

Blenheim 08012

Laurel Springs 08021

Clementon 08021

Somerdale 08083

Erial 08081

Sicklerville 08081

Sewell 08080

Source: Gloucester Township

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