Woodhaven, Queens: An oasis of small businesses with a diverse community

As its name implies, Woodhaven is truly an escape in the urban jungle.

The Queens neighborhood is probably one of the few places in the city where you can get off the train, take a stroll through a forest, grab a bite to eat from a Latin restaurant and head home to a house that was built a century ago.

“It’s always been a place where people come in and bring their experiences to the community,” said Ed Wendell, a lifelong resident and the executive director of the Woodhaven Cultural & Historical Society.

Jamaica Avenue is a bustling corridor stocked with mom-and-pop stores and restaurants that reflect the diverse population in the neighborhood, according to Wendell.

“People ask how many businesses have been around for more than 100 years and there are like seven or eight,” Wendell said of the avenue. “We are proud of our history.”

Meanwhile, the one- and two-family homes south of the avenue have kept their Victorian look from the early 1900s. Most also come with backyards.

“It’s an actual community. People get to know each other and help everyone out,” noted Vickie Messina, 67, who has lived in Woodhaven with her husband in their two-story house for 40 years.

But Woodhaven is becoming less of a hidden gem, and some locals said there are concerns about overcrowding.

For example, there have been complaints about illegal conversions that pack too many tenants into basements and other spaces, Wendell said.

“If you walk around the streets of our neighborhood and you look around what you see is a two-family house that has six satellite dishes or four doorbells,” he said.

Newcomers add to the area’s diversity, however, others noted.

Judith Oquendo, 28, who moved to the area with her two daughters 10 years ago, said she is good friends with her Italian and Chinese neighbors.

“We always talk to each other and it’s great because my kids can grow up and learn from these cultures. These days, we need that,” she said recently as she picked up her kids from Sunday school services at Saint Thomas the Apostle Church on 88th Avenue.

Oquendo added that the neighborhood’s housing prices are affordable for its working-class residents.

However, according to data from StreetEasy, sales prices in Woodhaven are more expensive than some other Queens neighborhoods.

The median sales price in Woodhaven in 2016 was $510,000 as of Oct. 12, compared to $450,000 in Queens as a whole, the site found.

The rental market is a bit cooler, according to StreetEasy. The median rent in Woodhaven in 2016 as of Oct. 12 was $1,650, down from $2,200 borough-wide.

The nabe’s proximity to Manhattan — it is 20 minutes from downtown via the J and Z trains — and its access to Forest Park create competition in its sales market, experts said.

At 538 acres, Forest Park is the third-largest greenspace in Queens and has tennis courts, a golf course, a carousel and three walking trails with over five miles of tree line paths, among other amenities.

“I’ve met people who just wanted to take a walk in the park with their kids and then stumbled upon this nature reserve,” and decided to move to the neighborhood, said Alex Blenkinsopp, 33, a lifelong Woodhavenite and member of the Woodhaven Residents Block Association.