I like to think of myself as a trusting person, who tends to err on the side of giving all people the benefit of the doubt.
Unless you tell me that something is in Williamsville. Then I have a standard response: “No it isn’t.”
It isn’t just places. I have met dozens of people who tried to tell me that they lived in Williamsville, only to be informed by me that they don’t. They then found themselves in the awkward position of having to admit to a stranger that he has a better grasp of where they live than they do.
So am I clairvoyant? I knew you were going to ask that, but no. My skill is more esoteric than extrasensory. Unlike the thousands of people who don’t understand the whimsy of municipal borders and mailing addresses, I do. And I know that if a tenth of the people and things that claim to be in Williamsville actually were in Williamsville, the 1.2 square-mile village of roughly 5,300 people would be one of the most congested and populous communities in New York.
Here is why: If you live in the village of Williamsville, you have a ZIP code of 14221. But having a 14221 ZIP code does not automatically mean you live in the village of Williamsville. (All thumbs are fingers, but not all fingers are thumbs.) Businesses and homes miles from the nearest Williamsville border have the same ZIP code, but they are not in Williamsville the village.
It leads to conversations like this:
"Let's meet at that restaurant on Transit Road in Williamsville."
"Nothing on Transit Road is in Williamsville."
"Yeah, but the restaurant has a Williamsville mailing address."
"Are we getting something to eat or am I sending you a postcard?"
This is not an issue unique to Williamsville by any means. Anyone who tells you they live in Kenmore, Akron, Youngstown, Blasdell or East Aurora is likely to be a resident of Tonawanda, Newstead, Porter, Hamburg or Aurora, respectively. So feel free to tell them they don’t live where they say they do. (I’m telling you, it’s a great ice-breaker.)
But adding to the Williamsville confusion is that it also is the name of a school district, one whose boundaries touch the Buffalo Niagara International Airport to the south all the way north to the Niagara County line. And it’s not just any school district, but one whose reputation for excellence is well-known and makes the heart of any area real estate agent skip a beat. So we should excuse the people who buy a house after having been told that they are about to be a part of a primo public school district for not knowing that they may be moving into Williamsville, but they won’t be living in Williamsville.
You know what else doesn’t help? The Williamsville School District has almost nothing to do with the village of Williamsville. The district has three high schools, North, South and East. Guess how many are in Williamsville? None. South comes close, but the eastern Williamsville border is more than a street away. In fact, of the 13 Williamsville schools, not a one is in Williamsville.
No other local community has to deal with this communal confusion. Alden, Hamburg, Lancaster and Wilson come close – they, too, are villages, towns and school districts – but in those cases, the name of the village is also the name of the town. When people say they live in Alden, Hamburg, Lancaster or Wilson, they probably do.
Compare the people who mistakenly believe or at least say they live in Williamsville with what you typically experience from city residents. Unless they’re traveling, Buffalonians rarely say they live in Buffalo; they say they live on the East Side or North Buffalo, or they will dig a little deeper and say they live in Black Rock or the Elmwood Village. And they KNOW where they live. Did you ever have a debate with someone about whether something is in South Buffalo? That’s a geography lesson you won’t soon forget.
This topic is all the more interesting in light of what happened a few years ago, when Williamsville held a public vote to determine whether it should remain a village government. Residents overwhelmingly said it should. The recurring theme of those who did not want to dissolve was that they wanted to retain Williamsville’s identity.
It’s a noble goal. It would be nice if anyone knew what it was.