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Consumer Culture Critic's Picks 

BEST NEW STORE (OPENED IN LAST 12 MONTHS)NordstromWell, c'mon. With all the publicity and stark anticipation, you were expecting another answer? As a friend of one critic put it: "We don't have to go to New York anymore to shop for clothes." (And another friend stated, "It's a great place to go for $800 shoes.") The best part: You don't have to spend a fortune at this SouthPark store; there are plenty of choices for us mortals as well. Awesome customer service, too.

Nordstrom, 4400 Sharon Road. 704-336-4204.

BEST WOMEN'S CLOTHING STORELunaStop driving to Atlanta; you'll find the best collection of contemporary women's clothing, shoes and accessories at this Phillips Place favorite. Co-owner Tina Hart has described Luna's target shoppers as women, 24-48, who are educated and in the past have typically shopped for clothing in larger cities. Lines include Michael Stars, BCBG and Liquid. Nice.

Luna, 6809 Phillips Place Court. 704-554-6000.BEST MEN'S CLOTHING STOREBrooks BrothersIn a buttoned-down place like Charlotte, this buttoned-down store "suits" men just perfectly, with wool, poplin and seersucker classics. (Expect to pay between $500-700 per.) And cool sweaters and vests are perfect for Casual Fridays. Wrap it up with a dress shirt and a slanty-stripe tie, and you're ready for your next 7:30am meeting.

Brooks Brothers, 4400 Sharon Road. 704-367-1900.

BEST ANTIQUE SHOPJB's Hole in the WallAlternative name: Tent in the Parking Lot. No matter what you call it, if you're looking for something unique, JB's is Just Bitchin'. Wander through the front building along South Boulevard, then duck into the tents out back. You'll see some wacky stuff: an old traffic signal, perhaps, swivel bucket chairs like your parents had during the Nixon administration, or a Bay City Rollers lunch box. The search is half the fun.

JB's Hole In the Wall, 3813 South Boulevard. 704-522-7505.

BEST JEWELRY STORETiffany & Co.Since 1837, Tiffany & Co. has been delighting jewelry lovers with unique and timeless designs, presented in famous turquoise boxes with white ribbons. Its jewels are works of art (think of the famous six-prong "Tiffany setting" and Lucida-cut engagement diamonds), so much so that retrospectives of Tiffany jewelry have been held at the American Museum of Natural History, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Boston's Museum of Fine Arts. Beautiful silver picture frames, stunning fine place settings and crystal candlesticks, too. You can't go wrong with any Tiffany's purchase.

Tiffany, 4400 Sharon Road. 704-365-7773.

BEST COSMETICS STORESephoraA repeat winner. SouthPark's Sephora is the leading retail beauty chain in Europe, and it appears to be winning over Charlotte as well. And why not? It offers more than 250 classic and modern beauty brands in fragrance, makeup, skincare, bath & body, and hair care. Choose from hot names such as BeneFit, Stila, Hard Candy, Anna Sui and more. Great men's stuff, too.

Sephora, 4400 Sharon Road. 704-366-5080.

BEST HAIR AND/OR NAIL SALONVarji & Varji SalonGreat stylists, great services, and a super-convenient Morehead Street location. This is truly a spot where you can get a snazzy cut and a bikini wax -- and then have someone touch up your makeup before you leave. PS: We love the fact that Varji & Varji gets involved in community fundraisers such as Spa on the Square and the Community School of the Arts' Boogie Woogie Ball.

Varji & Varji, 911 E. Morehead Street. 704-333-1957.

BEST MASSAGE THERAPISTPat GansterPat's been winning this category -- hands down -- for years, thanks to her attention to detail... and her attention to customers. She's patient and kind, and a great listener. Tell her where it hurts, and she'll take pains to take your pains away.

Pat Ganster. 704-358-9911.

BEST TATTOO AND/OR PIERCING PARLORAce Custom TattooingIt might have moved location (just around the corner, now on Thomas Street), but its customers would follow its artists anywhere, knowing that they'll get the same great no-pressure service and superior artistry in a clean facility. Aside: You must check out the Ace website (, which was "Last updated last night... no shit," and is "best viewed at a screen resolution of 1024 x 768 or higher, with Internet Explorer 5+, in the nude, after drinking heavily."

Ace Custom Tattooing, 1525 Central Avenue. 704-342-3661.

BEST PLACE TO LEARN YOGAYMCA (Any Location)Time was, you had to purchase your yoga mat at only select vendors. Today, you can't turn around in your local drugstore without bumping into a yoga mat or exercise ball. We think it's great that Charlotte is stretching its limbs, releasing all sorts of stress. For interesting class offerings and room to move, we like the local YMCAs, which offer Beginner Yoga, "Gentle Yoga," Pre-Natal Yoga, Sports Yoga and more.

YMCA, various locations.

BEST SPABallantyne ResortIt only seems like you're driving forever to get there -- but when you walk through the doors, you're miles away from the craziness of everyday life. You're greeted with cushy spa slippers and a luscious robe, and then invited to relax with a beverage while gazing over the golf course. Specialty treatments include the Ballantyne Facial Classic, Field Lavender Massage, Milk Whey Bath or Field Lavender Soak, Herbal Wraps, Spa Manicures, Pedicures, and hair design. Swedish Massage is available for individuals or couples. Ahh... pure indulgence. Purely perfect.

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