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Consumer Culture
Critics' picks 

Best of Charlotte 2006

Best New Store (Opened in the Last 12 Months): NoFo on Liz
1609 Elizabeth Ave.

Finally! For years, we’ve had to get our NoFo “fix” at Raleigh’s NoFo at the Pig. Featuring a café, food market and gift shop, NoFo on Liz is the kind of place where you can (and should) linger for hours ... let’s see, first have lunch (grilled Thai chicken wrap!), then nibble on chocolates while finding the perfect tiara for your friend’s daughter. Don’t forget to pick up a little something from the NoFo Doggie Deli for your best friend.

Best Clothing Store: Value Village

2917 Freedom Drive

A repeat winner from years gone by (and a runner-up last year), Value Village again takes the top spot. This thrift shop is the be-all, end-all of thrift shopping, where you can find name-brand items — from household necessities, to furniture, to clothing — for a fraction of the original price.

Best Hair Salon: Bang Bang
1318 Central Ave, Suite A1

For two years in a row, Bang Bang rockets into first place, thanks to a funky interior, fun furnishings and, more importantly, stylists who truly listen when you tell them what you want. And if what you want is to get rid of some hair, you can do that, too: Eyebrow and bikini waxes are offered, as well.

Best Tattoo Parlor: Wolf's Den
3811 Monroe Road

Many tattoo parlors in the city operate with a too-cool-for-school attitude. Some even make fun of their clientele while they tattoo them. The new kid on the block has a more welcoming approach. And that doesn't mean you’ll lose anything with quality. For less money than you’d pay to certain self-promoting tattoo artists, William Wolf will skillfully craft that custom tattoo you’ve always dreamed of. Runner-up was Cosmic Tattoo on Monroe Road.

Best Piercing Parlor: SADU

1515 Central Ave

Besides having perhaps the coolest storefront in Plaza-Midwood, Corinna and Co. also boast the largest selection of body jewelry in North Carolina. Perhaps the most immaculate piercing studio on the East Coast, the staff are also trained in CPR, first aid, and blood borne pathogens, and follow OSHA regulations to the T while also training the piercee about appropriate aftercare for their new metallic accessory. Whether it be a pierced ear, aesthetic implants, branding or what-have-you, the ladies of SADU (from sadhu, referring to the frequently pierced Hindu ascetics who often pierce the inner cartilage area of the ear) can hook you up. Or put hooks in you — your choice.

Best Health Club: Morrison Family YMCA at Ballantyne
9405 Bryant Farms Road

With 40,000 square feet, this YMCA branch is larger than some big-box retail stores, but with much more happening. Yeah, it has all the usual cardio equipment, but you’ll also find special programs such as QuickFit and Buddy-Up to make fitness fun. (We love love love the “retro games” day idea — dodgeball, here we come!) This Y takes the “family” part of its name seriously, too. There’s a children’s program area, a kids’ climbing wall, and — the main reason for its selection — a water-you-waiting-for outdoor water park complete with triple flume slides and an interactive spray zone. Only debit: Because it’s in Bush-lovin’ Ballantyne, many of the TV sets in the treadmill area are set on Fox — it’s hard to work out while simultaneously gagging over the sight of Bill O’Reilly.

Best Audio/Video Store: Best Buy

7421 E. Independence Blvd

One of our critics purchased a $30 DVD player here after Christmas, and sure felt like it was a “best buy.” And that’s a far cry from the whole-room home theater systems that you can get here; who knew there was such as thing as a “digital sound projector”? Well, the folks at Best Buy, naturally. That’s why we go to them for all our A/V, um, stuff. A repeat winner for the umpteenth time. But then, what did you expect from a place that has the word “best” in its name?

Best Computer Store: Apple at SouthPark
4400 Sharon Road

Have you seen the Apple commercials with the two guys — the Windows user wearing glasses and an ill-fitting suit, and the Mac user in jeans and a zip-up hoodie? They start talking about the wacky crazy things they can do; the Mac guy can create movies, and the Windows guy can create some rockin’ spreadsheets. OK, that pretty much sums up the difference between the Apple store and every other computer place. MacBooks, iMacs, iPodsl; software including Shake, Aperture and Tiger; and tons of accessories. You walk in and instantly you feel like you can create anything. For these reasons, a repeat winner.

Best Place to Buy CDs: Lunchbox Records
1419A Central Ave

Central Avenue’s Lunchbox Records, run by former Manifest manager Scott Wishart, is one of those great High Fidelity-style independent record shops that not only stock the hard-to-find, endlessly of-the-moment, so-obscure-it-hurts sort of stuff, but also a solid selection of jazz, world, electronic, soul and vinyl. Oh, the vinyl! If you get the same meditative thrill we do searching for 33s, you’ll want to make sure to pack this Lunchbox.

Best Place to Buy DVDs: Borders
3900 Colony Road.

In a way, it kills us to have to give the prize to this mega-store, since stockholders’ earnings seem to matter more than customer satisfaction. In other words, “sale” is a foreign word around these parts, so expect to pay close to full price when purchasing all but a select few DVDs. But honestly, what are the alternatives? Best Buy? Please — they don’t even have a foreign film section. The used DVD stores like Manifest and CD Warehouse? Their prices are excellent, but selections can be spotty. Blockbuster? Not unless you want one of their 50 discarded copies of Firewall or Date Movie or whatever other recent release they deem hot. No, for the widest selection, it’s gotta be Borders. Admittedly, the new Borders Rewards program takes away a little of the pricing sting.

Best Place to Find a Present for Someone: Paper Skyscraper
330 East Blvd.

Not even close. PS was a runaway winner, thanks to its incredible variety. Sure, you can get a picture frame for Mom, and a book on architectural styling for Dad, and treats for Kitty — but there’s also neat things like the Jesus candles to ward off spells, wacky toothbrush holders and those cute boxing nuns. (Get ‘em, sister!) LOL cards and fab gift bags, too. Favorite gift received lately from PS: the book The Three-Martini Playdate.

Best Bike Shop: Lucky Cycles
1716 Camden Road

Forget luck; you can tell that a lot of hard work goes into keeping this South End shop in top gear. GT Bicycles, Schwinn and Del Sol are just some of the brand names you’ll recognize. You’ll find all the accessories you need, from head protection to toe clips, plus professional bike repair to keep your wheels spinning. Need tips on the best trails or streets for riding? Ask the experts at Lucky, who can also connect you with new friends in the Tarheel Trailblazers or the Dirt Bike Divas clubs. Get pedaling!

Best Lawn & Garden Shop: Garden Secrets
6705 Park South Drive

This shop is a full-service seven-acre nursery on Park South Drive, featuring upscale necessities such as Foxgloves gardening gloves, landscape lighting kits, and stylish arbors. Oh, and tons of shrubs, flowers, trees and hanging plants. Don’t be discouraged if you can’t immediately decide what’s best for your home; just ask the horticulturist on staff. Your thumb will be green in no time. Of course, since we’ve declared this a winner so many times, there’s likely no secret left to it.

Best Hardware Store: Lowe's

Lowe’s barely lost in this category last year (a vote behind the eventual winner), so it’s only fitting that it takes the top honor this time around. The tagline is: “Improving Home Improvement,” and they sure are. Forget the bare-bones “warehouse” feel, with stacks of boxes and pallets in the aisles. Lowe’s knows that members of the fairer sex increasingly are purchasing home improvement items, so they’re making their stores less about Tool Time Tim and more about Designing Women, grouping items like bath tiles, countertops and faucets in one area, so you can “do” a whole room at once. They even have appliances, which means you can pretty much plan your entire renovation in one day. (We did.) All the tools are there for you.


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