An Introduction to the Block

If you’re ever traveling between Forest Hills and Jamaica in Queens, you’ll often pass through a little known community sandwiched between, going by the name Kew Gardens. In this primarily residential neighborhood lies a street flourishing with both hip, new businesses as well as the old timey classic ones that have been there since — well — forever. The street is called Lefferts Boulevard and the tract of it I’m talking about lies over the neighborhood’s Long Island Railroad Station (LIRR). Having lived here all my life, I’ve crossed through this overlying bridge of businesses innumerable times, so it felt natural that I would come here to find a business’ story to tell. Over the years I have seen many businesses leave as quickly as they’ve came. Despite the fact that many businesses here have remained iconic fixtures of the neighborhood, I was determined to discover why so many businesses also seemed to be in constant flux.

Among the many small businesses on this section located between Austin Street and Grenfell Street, you’ll find an independent movie theater that relishes in nostalgia of the golden Hollywood era, a Chinese takeout restaurant that serves — let’s say takeout quality food, a simple fish market, and a rare find called “Thyme Natural Market,” or as many neighborhood residents simply refer to, “Thyme.” Thyme is an organic health food store that also serves fresh food through its deli section. The store, formerly known as “Linda’s Organic Kitchen” is run by store owner Nathalie Reid, a Canadian born, American health expert whom I had the pleasure of speaking to as soon as I walked into the store. Despite interrupting her lunch, Nathalie, in exuberant detail, more than happily began telling me everything from her history as a chef to her managing the shop.

What is Thyme? How does it manage?

Upon meeting her at the deli corner of the shop, I asked her how she came about to be the owner of this store, and she began by telling me about her experiences: she had started working about 13 years ago under the previous ownership and after going to culinary school, headed the deli kitchen. Once the owner had decided she had enough with the business, she was approached to take ownership of the store. Having been trained as a natural food chef at the Natural Gourmet Culinary Institute, she took the original menu and expanded on it using her own recipes, noting that everything she cooks is cooked to be healthy; and some of those dishes were not items you’d find in an everyday store.


Nathalie, the store owner

Noah Silversmith

“[Our signature dishes] would probably be the burgers, tofu spinach burger… we do a sweet potato black bean burger and we do an eggplant burger. We also do Tofuna which is a mock tuna salad made with tofu. We actually sell quite a bit of that,” she said. She even informed me of a substitute for chicken that she makes from pea protein.

The store seemed to have an appeal to a younger, hipster crowd and pulled in much of the middle class residents. Nathalie seemed to agree with this notion, noting that she was beginning to see young families come around through the neighborhood in addition to her older customers. Statistics seem to agree with her as well. The majority of the neighborhood reports that it is doing well with regards to the poverty level, reporting that around 60% to 80% of residents believe they are doing okay. Additionally, the median household income hovers around $60,000, indicating a middle class population. Kew Gardens has historically been a white neighborhood as well, as the result of an influx of Jewish immigrants in the early part of the twentieth century. The tracts around the store vary from a 40 – 70% white population, with a strong Asian population coming in second. These statistics suggest that the residents would be more willing to purchase products from a more expensive, hipstery oriented store like Thyme. Additionally, Kew Garden’s proximity to Forest Hills, which in itself is an affluent neighborhood, means that some residents from surrounding neighborhoods might consume goods from stores in Kew Gardens, especially ones like Thyme. Additionally, its proximity to major public transport stations, including multiple bus lines, the LIRR, and the E and F trains, make it an ideal location for people passing by. Having lived in the neighborhood my whole life, I can attest to seeing that Thyme and similar small businesses deal with local customers for the most part and develop a relationship with the community. Since Kew Gardens has the feel of a small town in a big city, it’s shops appeal to individuals who are loyal customers.

Throughout the store I had also taken note of the various items on the shelves, including stacks of vitamin bottles, natural foods, and anything organic and good. Nathalie showed pride and pleasure in the products that she offered.

Not everything she had to say was cheery, however. When she had first taken over the business, the transition period left a hole in the former customer base, prompting her to actively advertise her business at community events and through word of mouth.

“We didn’t have any email lists, we didn’t have any telephone numbers, we didn’t have anything,” she explained. It took her six to eight months before the business was back up and running. “But as time went on,” she continued, “there were a few obstacles that I felt affected our business. A Trader Joe’s opened up two miles down the road.” Customers were fleeing down to the $2.50 bus to catch prices 75 cents cheaper, she told me. It was here I began to see how hard it was for small businesses to compete with big businesses and corporations.

"We didn’t have any email lists, we didn’t have any telephone numbers, we didn’t have anything." Nathalie Reid

Nathalie competes with these corporate giants through a loyal customer base and an emphasis on getting to know these customers and her employees. She spoke of making friends with the customers and their families as well as knowing the names of all her employees and knowing their families as well. Most significantly, she stressed the quality of her products. As I came to learn, places like Trader Joe’s could be labeling products from other companies as their own and using various farms and factories from foreign manufacturers that may not deal with the healthiest or best ingredients. Nathalie, on the other hand, deals exclusively with companies that she knows produce great, healthy, organic products. She used “Jim’s” coffee grounds as an example, saying that she prefers dealing with small companies that she knows will best support her business’ health model. Nathalie is further encouraged by the neighborhood’s growing population of new families and young people, which she believes is more health-oriented and would be inclined to shop at Thyme.

The Main Struggle

She lamented that the business did and still does face some serious struggles. She spoke of the great difficulty of dealing with the building owners, who happen to be the MTA. The block which Thyme resides on is host to a number of small businesses that have to deal with the sky high rent that the MTA charges them. The businesses lie over an LIRR tunnel and station, and apparently the MTA owned the buildings that house these businesses. However, the property on which it lies is public, leading to a contentious legal situation between the businesses and the MTA. Over the years, the MTA has been driving businesses on the block out for years; stores were always moving in and out. Nathalie, at the time of beginning her business, was at a loss for what to do and found advice from friends and loyal customers, some of whom were qualified to give legal advice. Since the beginning, Nathalie has had to combat with the MTA and plans to come together with the businesses on her block to fight the MTA.

Some time ago, she told me, engineers came around and examined the building’s deterioration, suggesting that there are millions of dollars in repairs needed to fix the infrastructure. When she first started, leaks were so bad, inches of water laid waste to her floors. The damage became so severe that at one point, a broken piece of the floor in her storage room was shown to have a hole leading down to the tracks underneath, indicating a huge safety hazard. Not only was the MTA essentially robbing her of the finances to expand her business, they were not even properly maintaining the property (and continue to refuse to pay for damages).

Our ongoing problems have been mostly frozen pipes in winter... Every time a pipe bursts, we have flooding and then we also have ruined inventory. Nathalie Reid, quoted in DNAinfo


The LIRR station under Thyme

Noah Silversmith

Nathalie broadcasted her deep frustrations and utter disbelief to me about her landlord dealings. However, the LIRR employs a management company to oversee that block of businesses, Zee N Kay Management LLC, a Long Island based company. As documented by Ewa Kern-Jedrychowska in an article on from 2017, this management company is run by Zoya Kapoor whose husband oversees Thyme as a part of a clause in the lease contract. However, it was revealed that the husband was convicted in 1987 along with his brother for tax evasion,  Kern-Jedrychowska’s story corroborated with Nathalie’s. She writes, “The owners of 13 businesses, whose stores are located on the Long Island Rail Road bridge on Lefferts Boulevard, between Austin and Grenfell streets said that the property operator — Long Island-based Zee N Kay Management LLC — has been ignoring their pleas to conduct basic repairs, like fixing a roof that has been leaking for years.”

While many tenants throughout NYC can complain about landlords overcharging rent or landlords who refuse to commit to the maintenance of properties, these businesses face these challenges from a corporate giant. Tenants that are dissatisfied with their landlord’s apathy can file a complaint to Housing Services. According to the tenant’s rights and responsibilities as documented by, “If the owner still does not respond or fails to provide essential services, you may file a complaint. You can also bring a case against the property owner in Housing Court to get an order to correct the conditions… A landlord’s failure to make a repair or provide an important service may be a violation of the New York City Housing Maintenance Code or the Multiple Dwelling Law… a judge can order the landlord to correct the violations.”

Despite these laws and procedures, Nathalie still finds it difficult in dealing with the landlord that threatens to kick them out after 3 years when their lease expires. It is also why so many businesses on the block are constantly changing. Nevertheless, the battle has not ended as the fight has drawn support from local politicians, including but not limited to Queens borough president Melinda Katz who has been a supporter of the block’s effort to combat the management company.

Having heard all this, I wondered how Nathalie was able to wrestle with being a wife and mother, a store owner, and a victim of the MTA’s bureaucracy. Thanking her for her time, she gave me her card and asked that I contact her should I need any more information. I then left with the appreciation that there are still businesses that truly care about the customer, but disturbed by the way they and similar businesses have been treated.


Interview With Nathalie Reid. April 17, 2017.

(n.d.). Retrieved May 2, 2017, from

2015 Census Data. (n.d.). Retrieved April 20, 2017, from

Kern-Jedrychowska, E. (2016, September 22). Crumbling Stores on Kew Gardens LIRR Bridge Neglected by Landlord: Tenants. Retrieved May 2, 2017, from

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