EAST COUNTY — To open her business, Gigi’s Cupcakes, Jodi McGaharan, a former nurse, had to learn how to swirl frosting and accept that the desserts she would bake at her shop were better than the ones she made at home.
But for McGaharan, the most challenging aspect of entering entrepreneurial life was something more mundane.
“The hardest part of starting this business was finding out what our address was,” McGaharan said of Gigi’s Cupcakes, which opened Sept. 22 in The Shoppes at UTC on Cooper Creek Boulevard.
The challenge to find an accurate address for Gigi’s Cupcakes showcases an identity dilemma that many of the businesses along the north side of University Parkway, west of the Interstate 75, face.
Any locale along the north side of University Parkway east of Honore Avenue, as well as some areas just west of this intersection, are in Manatee County, while property on the south side of University Parkway in this area is in Sarasota County. But a move by developers to brand the University Parkway corridor as its own area has blurred the lines between what is what and who is who.
Business owners say the confusion is more amusing than harmful to their bottom line and are unaware about their fit on the map and how it came to be.
“We have this very strange identity where we’re not strong one way or another,” said McGaharan. “I feel like people in Bradenton don’t even know we’re here, even though we’re in Manatee County.”
Although Gigi’s Cupcakes is located in Manatee County, its address, like others sharing the ZIP code 34201, is considered University Park.
Yet the website of the franchise calls the University Park location “Gigi’s Cupcakes of Sarasota,” and a Google search for the business shows a Bradenton address.
McGaharan, a Sarasota resident, perceives the region as one united area — the University Parkway corridor.
Pat Neal, the prominent East County real estate developer and former state senator, was the driving force behind the “University” brand.
He says that around 1983, he processed the University Park name and postal address through Sarasota and Manatee counties, the Sectional Center Facility in Memphis, Tenn. and the Post Master General in Washington, D.C.
University Park is not a city; it’s a residential development and business area with its own ZIP code.
“My goal was to give the area a new and exciting address,” Neal said.
To further the brand, Neal later helped fund a landscaping plan for the University Parkway corridor. He paid $63,400 to a California architect to design fresh aesthetics for entranceways along the corridor, such as the one at Cooper Creek Boulevard and University Parkway.
He submitted that plan to both Manatee and Sarasota counties.
Meanwhile, everything west of Honore Avenue in Manatee County at University Parkway, including the Palm-Aire community, has a Sarasota address and 34243 ZIP code.
“It is not uncommon for ZIP codes to overlap county, municipality or community boundaries,” said Enola Rice, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Postal Service. “ZIP codes are used by the postal service to efficiently process and deliver mail. They are not intended to be used to establish community identities.”
For example, the 34243 ZIP codes stretches roughly from the western edge of University Park west to the beach and from 63rd Avenue East to Desoto Road, in Sarasota county.
While ZIP codes themselves don’t signify identity, the net effect of the address shuffling may result in a lack of recognition, in this case for Manatee County.
Business owners along the north side of the University Parkway corridor say they rarely, if ever, reference their stores as being in Manatee County.
Some identify their stores to customers using landmarks.
“I don’t know how you explain our location,” said Jodi Mailman, owner of Create Your Own candy store in The Shoppes at UTC. “Sometimes I just tell people we’re off exit 213 (Interstate 75), because everyone knows that as the University corridor. Or I just say, ‘We’re the store by Nordstrom’s.”
McGarahan is trying to capture the Bradenton market, and she recently began delivering to Manatee County businesses.
“Bradenton and Manatee County is a great place to be,” McGarahan said. “It just doesn’t have that cache, so you need to work harder to capture that business.”
Neal believes the University Parkway corridor has become a destination of its own.
“The Pasold family and I all thought the chance to create something special from a blank slate would be very special,” Neal said. “And today, I can say University Park is special. I call the corner (the north side of University Parkway by I-75) the center of the universe. It’s economically the most important crossroad in either county.”
U.S. Postal Service Zip Codes
This map depicts U.S. Postal Service zip codes along University Parkway. The 34201 ZIP code is considered University Park.
How University Parkway got its name
In 1980, Pat Neal and Rolf Pasold partnered to buy the land where the University Park neighborhood now sits.
At the time, University Parkway was named County Line Road.
Neal led an effort for the University Parkway Property Owners Association to file a petition for a name change that would provide a better identifier for a fast-growing region. With 8,000 names on the petition, County Line Road became University Parkway.
“We felt County Line Road created a dividing line between the two counties,” Neal said.
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