11964 and 11965, where are you?

JULIE LANE PHOTO | Dan Fokine shows off his new mobile phone that could only be shipped to him via relatives in Maine. AT&T was unable to ship it to him directly on Shelter Island.

Outsiders might think some aspects of life here a bit strange. That doesn’t generally bother an Islander, in fact, some take it as a point of pride. But if they’re trying to order merchandise from a mobile phone provider or other retailers and are told their home is not, actually there, or anywhere, they might be just a bit provoked.

Contractor Dan Fokine is.

It started when he tried to order a cell phone from AT&T, but was told the company couldn’t ship it because his ZIP code didn’t exist. Well, at least not in its database. He got around that problem by having the phone delivered to his in-laws in Maine who then sent it to him on Shelter Island. They, like Shelter Island, live in an place where Post Office boxes replace home delivery, which might be important, Mr. Fokine learned. Or maybe not. An AT&T spokeswoman did tell the Reporter the problem isn’t that the phone giant didn’t recognize that Shelter Island exists, but that it can’t send phones to a post office box.

“I’ve confirmed that AT&T does not block shipping to the ZIP codes you provided,” Ellen Webner, AT&T communications specialist said. “If the addresses were P.O. Boxes maybe that’s the issue, but it’s not coming from AT&T.”

Postal officials confirmed they have heard similar complaints from residents trying to have mobile phones shipped here without a street address. That’s something some customers get around by using their street addresses and then adding the P.O. Box to the right of the street address without indicating it’s a post office box, one official explained. When the phones arrive at either post office on the Island, the staff understands and  puts the package into the appropriate box.

But Mr. Fokine’s problems were just beginning. His next attempt at ordering products on line for delivery to Shelter Island was going to the Lowe’s website. Uh-oh.The electronic message he got back was the ZIP code was “incorrect.”

Therefore, his materials couldn’t be sent.

A cell phone wasn’t so difficult, but shipping hardware and building materials to relatives in Maine to ship back here might put some stress on family well-being. And then there’s the expense. And the time.

What’s a contractor to do? “I’m still trying to figure that out,” Mr. Fokine said.

So, what gives? Folks in the Heights use the 11965 ZIP Code while other parts of the Island use 11964. Shelter Islanders regularly receive not only regular mail, but packages from many places. So why can’t Mr. Fokine get his Lowe’s stuff shipped here? At a recent Christmas party, he shared his Kafka-esque frustrations with other Islanders who, he said, told similar stories about difficulties getting merchandise delivered.

Does the mystery boil down to Shelter Island not having street deliveries, so some companies zip out Island ZIP codes, creating through-the looking-glass trips for people like Mr. Fokine? It would seem so.

But it gets murkier. With many companies sharing database information, if one company has erased the two Island ZIP codes and then subsequently sells its data base to another retailer, the mistake gets compounded for buyers of those faulty lists, Mr. Fokine speculated.

A spokeswoman from Lowe’s said she thinks the devil’s in the details, as in the demons playing with the company’s information technology. She promised to pass the information on to an IT specialist to include the Shelter Island ZIP codes in the Big Box’s data base.

Mr. Fokine is living in hope.

j.lane@sireporter.com