No more just the 314: State assigns another area code to St. Louis | Metro

ST. LOUIS — St. Louis’ monogamous run with the 314 area code is coming to an end, Missouri officials announced Tuesday. Soon, the city and suburbs that share those digits — increasingly united with regional pride and identity — will welcome another area code: 557.

The 557 will “co-exist” with the 314 area code, the state said, meaning it will be added to the region, instead of carving out its own turf. The Missouri Public Service Commission, which is working on the “overlay” plan, said the 557 could debut as soon as August.

Some, including legions of commentators online and on social media, took the news hard on Tuesday, saying the end of the 314 area code’s sole reign was an unwelcome affront to an unofficial symbol of the region — often seen on T-shirts, in marketing slogans and even in song lyrics.

“557 doesn’t have the same ring to it,” said Adam Cisroe Pearson, a St. Louis resident and self-described “diehard 314 fan.” He’d like to somehow bequeath the area code to his children, when they get phones of their own.

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St. Louis is far from the only place where people feel protective about an area code. Some carry panache as a status symbol. In New York City, for instance, people will pay $1,000 or more for one of the city’s original 212 numbers. And the problem of dwindling numbers might be particularly acute in the increasingly short list of states that are covered by a single area code — where digits, such as 406 in Montana, can double as a veritable brand.

St. Louis has had the 314 area code since 1947 — when it was one of the original US area codes.

The assignments weren’t entirely random: More populous areas got lower digits — ones that would reduce dialing time and wear on rotary phones. Cities like New York, Chicago and Los Angeles ended up with area codes made up of small numbers, like 212, 312, and 213. Cities like Detroit and St. Louis — which were then among the largest in the country — were assigned similar numbers , like 313 and 314.

Meanwhile, sparsely populated places were assigned groups of far “higher” numbers, like 802 for Vermont; states like Idaho got the same digits — 208 — just flipped around. (On a rotary phone, zero is the number that requires the dial to turn the most — making it a staple of area codes in low-population states like Montana, Wyoming and more.)

For decades, the 314 applied to the eastern half of Missouri. Newer codes have since emerged in the region, alongside the proliferation of new phone lines, pagers and cellphones.

But 314 has remained the exclusive area code of St. Louis and its surroundings, intertwining itself with the city’s identity, and getting used as a pop-culture shorthand for the region. The digits received a shout-out in Ludacris’ 2001 hit song “Area Codes.” And they have been faithfully represented by St. Louis’ own patron rapper, Nelly — appearing on jerseys in music videos for songs like “EI,” and in lyrics on tracks like “River Don’t Runnn,” in which he proudly proclaims that despite his success, “nothin’ changed, cell phone still 314.”

There are plenty of area codes running out of numbers. Central Illinois’ 217 — another original area code, dating to the 1940s — was also the target of an overlay announced in 2019, when the region assigned the final block of available prefixes.

That doesn’t necessarily mean every 10-digit number is gone immediately. Illinois officials said at the time there would “continue to be an ongoing supply of 217 numbers in most areas.”

And that may hold true in St. Louis, too.

The incoming 557 area code has been in the works a long time, Missouri officials said — and was held at bay for two decades, as the St. Louis area staved off the “exhaustion” of available phone numbers.

The state first adopted the overlay plan in 2000, but then decided to delay its rollout “to allow time to test the effectiveness of telephone number conservation efforts,” according to a statement from state officials.

“Telephone number conservation efforts were successful and as a result, implementation of an overlay relief plan for the 314 area code remained on hold for over 20 years,” PSC Chairman Ryan Silvey said in the statement.

But time and scarcity is finally catching up with the finite supply of 314 numbers. The North American Numbering Plan Administrator — essentially the area code overlord that works with state and federal regulators to assign and manage the numbers — expects that the 314 area code will reach exhaustion in the third quarter of 2022, the PSC said.

It’s a shame, St. Louisans said on Tuesday.

“People have 314 tattoos and shirts and hats and all that,” said Pearson. “I’d definitely say it’s a mark of pride.”

One source of 314 hats is Arch Apparel, a “St. Louis-inspired streetwear” company with a store in Brentwood.

“They sell out a lot,” said Cory Thomas, the assistant manager of the store. He thought the news about a new area code was “pretty cool,” but that it would also take some getting used to. And he said that customers show fierce support for 314 merchandise — something he expects to continue, even with a new area code competitor in town.

“I think people will like 314 better, because it’s so iconic,” he said. “The 314 is pretty popular.”

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