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Hell’s Kitchen activist Christine Berthet describes herself as “persistent.” Since landing in New York from France just over 40 years ago, she has fought to reclaim 9th Avenue from “the hellish Lincoln Tunnel traffic”. For the past 15 years, she has focused those efforts through CHEKPEDS (a non-profit) to stop the gridlock, improve safety for pedestrians and cyclists and demand clean air. She was a key member of the Manhattan Community Board 4 team that forced Port Authority to abandon plans to knock down blocks of the neighborhood for a new terminal. Here’s Christine’s West Side Story…
So, what’s your New York story? Born here, or just arrived?
I arrived on January 1, 1980, from Paris, to take up a job with IBM. It feels like It was yesterday.
How did you end up in Hell’s Kitchen?
We wanted to live in a loft. A friend was converting the building. We occupied the first legit loft in the area.
What’s your favorite thing about Hell’s Kitchen?
Eclectic people who are super smart and do not care to show-off. Buildings that have history — you feel grounded.
And what’s your Hell’s Kitchen pet peeve?
New Jersey tunnel traffic — please close the tunnel!
Did you stay put when the pandemic hit or did you find an escape for some of the time?
We stayed put except for two small vacations.
What did you do for work pre-COVID? What are you doing now?
I manage a jazz record label with my husband, serve at Manhattan Community Board 4 and the Hudson Yards Hell’s Kitchen BID, and run the non profit, CHEKPEDS. I never stopped doing it.
What’s the most interesting thing that you’ve learned during the pandemic?
My husband and I got along really well — which is huge. But I missed walking around and hugging my friends.
Tell us one thing that’s given you hope during the pandemic?
Time was on our side. Eventually, this thing was going to peter out.
What’s the most serendipitous (random/obscure/ insane) experience that’s happened to you in Hell’s Kitchen?
Going to work at 8am, dressed to the nines, and colliding with a half beef moving on a rack from the truck to the store…(circa 1983).
What’s your closest brush with world fame and celebrity?
Attending the Grammys at Madison Square Garden where our artists Luciana Souza and Joe Zawinul were nominated.
What’s your superpower?
What song do you sing at the top of your voice in the shower?
I cannot sing! “9 to 5” — Dolly Parton.
Which people inspire you the most?
Unsung heroes. I just discovered that a black man, Garrett Morgan invented the traffic light. WOW!
Also, as it’s Women’s History Month — Joan of Arc.
Do you love Times Square? Why, or why not?
Only at night in summertime. The lights are electrifying.
Do you love Hudson Yards? Why, or why not?
The fountains in the park are gorgeous — quiet and relaxing.
If you could bring one thing (person/place/event) back to HK that is no longer around, what would it be?
Add your shameless plug or personal profile?
Led the 9th Avenue renaissance and created crashmapper.org
Anything we missed?
Led the creation of the Canoe and helped to move Big Apple Market back on the W41st/42nd block of 9th Avenue.
HELL’S KITCHEN HAPPY PLACES
Esposito Meat Market (9th Ave & 38th Street). The personnel is super nice and knowledgeable. It gives you the sense that nothing has or will ever change — what was good remains good and is still around. The meat is really first-class. Their sausages are homemade and just the best.
West Bank Cafe (W42nd St between 9/10th Ave). The owner, Steve Olsen, is wonderful. The room is so welcoming. The food is delicious. We had a gala at the Laurie Beechman Theatre downstairs.
International Grocery (9th Avenue between W40/41st St). It is like being in the souk in Marrakech. Many spices come in bulk, the smell is divine and the quality is exceptional. Plus the owner offered me a job 40 years ago when I did not have a visa yet. That lifted my spirits for days.
Brooklyn Fare (W37th St between 9/10th Ave). It reminds me of Balducci. Lots of unusual offerings; narrow aisles like a market; the ice cream and the beer sections are unbelievable. The take-out is cooked by a three-star Michelin chef.
LaDuca Shoes (W45th St between 10/11th Ave). Where else can you find Broadway show dancing shoes?
Il Punto (9th Ave & W38th St). The room is nice, the food is excellent, the price is right.
Tavola (9th Ave between W37/38th St). They did a great job to keep the decor of Manganaro that used to be there for more than 100 years.
Domus (W44th between 9/10th Ave). A gem of a store. The owners source all the gifts by traveling abroad. And they are delightful. Very European.
“and yet she persisted” may have been expropriated for Elizabeth Warren, but we have our own tour-de-force in HK with Mme. Berthet!
Wow, what an amazing woman!!
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