Rosenblum’s of Kew Gardens has tenaciously served its close-knit community for nearly half a century. Neighborhood residents are widely grateful for the kosher grocery’s conveniences and welcomingly show their patronage. With no availability for a parking lot, the few municipal parking spaces dotted along Lefferts Boulevard have had to make do for its customer base. Over the years, the metered spaces have been the subject of varied contention, along with the Q10 bus stop just prior to Metropolitan Avenue.
With the institution of articulated buses into the regional bus fleet in Queens over the past decade, another three parking spaces were converted for use of the bus stop. A similar situation played out throughout the city along these routes, leading to further irritation for already frustrated motorists. Mr. Shaul Rafael Rosenblum, the fourth-generation proprietor of the establishment, explained, “At the time when a few spots were removed by the bendy buses, Assembly Member Michael Simanowitz a”h came down to assess the situation. Following inquiries, the NYC Department of Transportation (DOT) told us, ‘Be happy we did not take away more spaces.’” Efforts were made to solidify parking opposite the store for the commercial strip, to no avail.
The Rosenblums travel from Borough Park each day. Shaul’s father, Pinchas, and his uncle, Avraham, continue to work in the family business started by his grandfather. “My great grandfather, my namesake, worked here as well, and it is an honor to continue our family’s legacy for Kew Gardens,” said Shaul.
Towards the end of August 2020, a couple of additional parking spaces were again allotted for the bus stop. The coronavirus outbreak sent many families to Mrs. Gray’s bicycle shop also on the small Lefferts Boulevard shopping strip. “There was a line of parents and children having their bikes fixed, as cycling was an activity that even the virus could not take. Locals were disturbed by this nuisance and I was determined to get to the bottom of how this change transpired,” mentioned Rosenblum. The local Community Board was probed for information, and it was soon revealed that members were aware of the pending adjustment but opted to take no action.
Shaul then sought the intervention of local voices to lend a helping hand. Rabbi Chaim Schwartz, executive vice president of the Vaad Harabonim of Queens, and rav at Congregation Ohr Bechor HaLevi in Kew Gardens, added, “Rosenblum’s supermarket is an essential part of our community’s kosher infrastructure, and the loss of parking was distressing to many. Assembly Member Daniel Rosenthal really went to bat for the community, and the ultimate results showed when the bus stop signs were removed this past week.”
“Rosenblum’s has been a Kew Gardens staple for decades,” said Assembly Member Daniel Rosenthal. “Following the devastating effects of coronavirus on our small businesses, the removal of these spaces came as a blow to the entire community. Over several conversations with the Department of Transportation, we made it clear that a feasible alternative needed to be found so that public safety would be balanced with community needs. Thanks to my partners in government and the hundreds of residents who joined this effort, we were proud to deliver good news to the community amidst months of hardship.”
A DOT statement from Albert Silvestri, Deputy Borough Commissioner, sent to Rosenthal, detailed, “DOT and MTA switched both bus stops to the far side of the intersection. When feasible, far side stops are in most cases considered to be both safer for passengers exiting the bus and more efficient for bus operations. The southbound bus will now stop south of Metropolitan Avenue, allowing for the return of parking on the west side of Lefferts Boulevard between Abingdon Road and Metropolitan Avenue.”
For Mr. Rosenblum and his team of dedicated community leaders, discussions over the past two months passed blame between the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the DOT, and even an accusation that the New York Police Department requested the changes due to over a dozen traffic incidents. “For 15 years, I have arrived daily at the store at 7:30 a.m. and left nearly 8 p.m. each day,” Rosenblum stated to the NYPD. “I cannot recall any noteworthy accident, and I am outside quite a bit.”
Rabbi Daniel Pollack, longtime Kew Gardens resident and the Jewish liaison for Congresswoman Grace Meng’s office, took a leading role in seeing the process reach its triumphant conclusion. First, Rabbi Pollack reached out to the Commanding Officer of the 102nd NYPD precinct, Captain Antonio Fidacaro, who was instrumental in the steps that followed. The CO explained to the DOT that their traffic survey at the area in question was unsound as there was no recorded increase in vehicular accidents. Fidacaro then took the liberty of ordering a fresh survey that eventually played a key role in the new parking setup.
Recent weeks also saw DOT officials measuring the pavement and a visit from Mr. Michael Cohen from Council Member Karen Koslowitz’s office. The persistence of community members contacting elected officials and Community Board 9 certainly paid off. Rosenblum said, “I was told their offices were inundated with more calls than they could handle. My personal plea called for our commercial strip to be recognized and that the changes bordered on an attack on the Jewish neighborhood.”
James McClellan, the CB9 District Manager, became the community’s conduit to the DOT. For the better part of two months, detailed conversations amongst the DOT, local police department, Assembly Member Rosenthal, and Council Member Koslowitz jointly allowed the puzzle pieces to fall in place and the parking spaces to be restored.
The collaborative effort of the community working in unison enabled us to achieve a positive outcome – one that I am told is a rarity in dealing with the DOT,” commented Rabbi Pollack. Strong community voices like Mr. Aron Cyperstein, also of Kew Gardens, and Rabbi Pollack, played a pivotal role orchestrating the behind-the-scenes movements.
The immediate area is also home to two much-frequented synagogues, Kew Gardens Synagogue Adath Yeshurun – The Big Shul, under Rabbi Aryeh Sokoloff – and Congregation Ner Mordechai and its affiliated high school, Mesivta Tiferet Torah, under the leadership of Rabbi Nerya Aminov. The additional parking will serve all facets of Jewish life, easing the burdens on shoppers, parents, and congregants.
Rabbi Avraham Hecht, a distinguished Kew Gardens resident, remarked, “The shopping accessibility is key for a safe and a secure, cohesive community. Having all the fibers in place allows for a smooth-functioning neighborhood.”
Reinstating the parking spaces on a block face is not generally newsworthy, but for a community that has been the subject of intense scrutiny due to the recent COVID-19 uptick and following seven months of gloom, residents have had their first good news in some time. “The smiles on customer’s faces are popping up, and for us in the supermarket this is a welcomed sign,” noted Rosenblum. One customer observed, “We are taught to express thanks on the good things in life, as well as the bad. During the time of the pandemic, from bad came good – we now have ten parking spaces!”
Rosenblum concluded, “After COVID, we will have a kiddush of sorts to celebrate.”
By Shabsie Saphirstein