BEST NEW STORE (OPENED IN LAST 12 MONTHS)
Housed in the trendiest spot that is the EpiCentre, this clothing store offers rock & roll duds for men, women and children alike. In addition to bad-ass clothing, they have a skate boutique, a piercing spa, and a music listening station. Rock on!
210 E. Trade St.
BEST CLOTHING STORE
Partners James Funderburk and Effie Loukas fuse their business savvy and keen fashion sense to present the latest trends with affordable, fashion-forward options in an unpretentious boutique setting. In addition to clothes, their Phillips Place and Dilworth locations offer an array of fun accessories and shoes.
6908-C Phillips Place Court
1247 East Blvd.
BEST SHOE STORE
Old school is in again, and you'll find the latest sporty styles for both men and women at this South End shoetique. Give your feet a retro-modern makeover with the latest offerings from footwear classics like Nike, Adidas, Vans and PF Flyers (yup, those are still around). In addition to exclusive styles from the big brands, they're also the only store in Charlotte to carry "athleisure" labels like Clae and The Hundreds.
1504 Camden Road, Suite 100
BEST HAIR SALON
What makes Great Clips so great? In one word: value. If you're going to choose a chain to chop your mop, this one's convenient (more than 40 area locations open every day of the week) and affordable (adult cuts cost $13 for both men and women). Hey, if it's good enough for NASCAR driver Jason Leffler and his fierce fauxhawk, it's good enough for us.
BEST HEALTH CLUB (SPECIFY LOCATION)
OK, Operation Bootcamp isn't technically a health club. In fact, if you attend one of the program's daily 45-minute sessions, you'll find yourself busting a sweat outside in a Charlotte-area park with nary a weight machine in sight. But don't let the lack of mechanical exercise devices fool you -- the ultra-intense, heart-pounding, muscle-pumping workout you get at Operation Bootcamp just can't be matched on a treadmill or a stationary bike. Bring plenty of water and tons of intestinal fortitude.
BEST YOGA INSTRUCTOR/SCHOOL
Yoga for Life
Instructor Mary Lou Buck opened this Dilworth studio in 1998, evolving her love of yoga into a successful business. She and her talented team of teachers offer an array of classes and workshops for posers of all levels. With a recent move into a larger location, they're offering more of the classes you love, plus massage therapy, energy work, and nutrition and psychological counseling for a one-stop wellness shop.
1410 W. Morehead St.
BEST AUDIO/VIDEO STORE (SPECIFY LOCATION)
Manifest Discs and Tapes
Past winners in this long-standing category have always been electronic stores that specialize in selling DVD players, VCRs, large-screen TVs, stereo systems, etc. (Best Buy, Circuit City). But these days, with the economy in shambles, who has big bucks to throw at such things? With this in mind, the critics' panel opted to go for a place that sells affordable items to play on those audio/video components. The readers apparently were thinking along the same thrifty lines, as they picked the DVD rental store Visart.
6239 South Blvd.
BEST COMPUTER STORE (SPECIFY LOCATION)
Apple at SouthPark
A repeat winner. There's always a crowd at Apple scrambling for the latest must-have Mac and iPhone models. But amidst the apparent chaos is a capable, friendly staff that stays on top of their game and keeps things flowing. If you know you're going ahead of time, you can call and make a reservation for tech support, personal shopping, business consultations and workshops.
4400 Sharon Road
BEST PLACE TO BUY CDS (SPECIFY LOCATION)
A repeat winner. Lunchbox not only has an incredible collection of CDs, but we're also picking it as the best place to buy vinyl. The selection here is as versatile as their clientele (it's a great place for people-watching, if you didn't already know) and if for some odd reason they don't have what you're looking for (mainstream releases included), owner Scott Wishart will happily order it for you. It also doesn't hurt that we're big proponents for shopping local!
1419-A Central Ave.
BEST PLACE TO BUY DVDS (SPECIFY LOCATION)
Manifest Discs and Tapes
A repeat winner. Whether you want your DVDs previously viewed or unviewed makes no difference: This joint sells both new and used discs.
6239 South Blvd.
BEST SEX PARAPHERNALIA STORE
The Red Door
Their inventory is impressive, their employees are helpful (where else can customers inquire about what hardware will best hug the breasts or the scrotum?), and, unlike some other area sex shops, they're open late.
200 W. Woodlawn Road
5301 E. Independence Blvd.
8309 Magnolia Estates Drive, Suite 1A, Cornelius
BEST PLACE TO FIND A PRESENT FOR SOMEONE
A repeat winner. Owners Ron and Tim have taken the guesswork out of gifting by choosing a savvy selection of items for their store, ranging from the stylish (candles, books, barware) to the just plain silly (nun action figures, candy-pooping penguins). No more worrying about buying for The Friend Who Has Everything. The only thing you have to worry about here is losing your whole lunch hour laughing at the latest raunchy cards from Coffee Stains.
330 East Blvd.
BEST PET SUPPLY STORE (SPECIFY LOCATION)
PetSmart (University Area)
Spoil your pooch without spoiling your budget at PetSmart. Found your brand of dog food for less elsewhere? PetSmart's Unbeatable Price Guarantee states that they'll match any competitor's price, Kibble for Kibble. The headquarters for all of your favorite four-legged supplies also offers training, grooming and veterinary services.
8116 University City Blvd.
BEST BIKE SHOP
Now, we're not saying the members of the critics' panel are all unhealthy -- some do belong to gyms -- but none seem to actually own a bike. So unless we wanted to include the Y's stationary bikes -- and we didn't -- we could not in good conscience declare a winner in this category.
BEST HARDWARE STORE
The folks at this family-owned Park Road retailer are friendly, and they have a nice selection of necessities (you know, the boring stuff like hardware, nuts and bolts), plus a pleasantly surprising assortment of home accessories and giftware. But the best part about this place is the free popcorn. We dare you to resist the salty, buttery goodness wafting through the air.
4225-B Park Road