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Maddie Oleszczak moved from Bloomington to Robbinsdale a few years ago. Yet her mail still says she lives in another city: Minneapolis.

Oleszczak isn't the only one puzzled by receiving mail addressed to the wrong city. At least four readers contacted Curious Minnesota, the Star Tribune's reader-generated reporting project, wondering why this happens.

Bloomington and Robbinsdale have "always been their own cities with independent foundings. And yet everything gets relabeled as Minneapolis," Oleszczak said. "It just feels kind of arbitrary in a way to do it. We're our own cities for a reason."

Another reader, Dylan Anderson of Golden Valley, also gets mail addressed to Minneapolis. When he lived in Shoreview, it was addressed to St. Paul.

He speculated that maybe the surrounding suburbs were once part of Minneapolis or St. Paul.

"My assumption was always that at some point... the city limits or boundaries were broader than they currently are," Anderson said. (Minneapolis and St. Paul actually used to be smaller than they are today.)

Blame the ZIP code

It all comes down to how mail gets delivered.

While en route to its destination, mail is sorted at a U.S. Postal Service (USPS) processing and distribution center. At these centers, machines separate the mail by ZIP code and workers prepare it for a truck delivery.

These locations become part of the mailing address through ZIP codes. The USPS address database uses the main processing center location as the default city in each ZIP code, said USPS spokesman Desai Abdul-Razzaaq. Amazon and other shippers use that database to determine the correct mailing address for delivery.

In other words, when bills, magazines or online companies change the city name, it is because their electronic system relies on the ZIP code's USPS default city.

There are about 60 of these sortation centers in the Twin Cities metro area. The largest are in Minneapolis and St. Paul, serving all ZIP codes starting with 554 and 551.

It's different elsewhere in the metro. For example, residents of Minnetonka receive mail that says Hopkins, Lino Lakes residents get mail addressed to Hugo and so on — because that's where their mail is sorted.

This situation plays out similarly across the state. Wilton and Turtle River residents can expect mail listed as Bemidji. In northeastern Minnesota, all ZIP codes beginning with 558 have Duluth as the default city.

You can check to see the default city for your ZIP code on the USPS website.

Jack O'Connor is a University of Minnesota student reporter on assignment for Star Tribune.

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