Best Green-Friendly Business
1512 W. Wabash Ave.
If you've ever "fantasized" about free-range turkeys and locally harvested tomatoes, you may not be surprised to learn our readers' choice for Best Green Business, Food Fantasies, began as as a gourmet food specialty shop in 1989. The founder still works at the Wabash store. When Jerry Caslin purchased it in 1996, "green" was more closely connected to a television frog named Kermit than a lifestyle served so well by the informed, friendly staff today. "We've offered eco-friendly cloth shopping bags for more than 10 years," Caslin explains. More than a dozen area suppliers, including many regulars at the downtown farmers' market, keep the buffalo meat and farm-fresh eggs coming. Though all meat arrives frozen, none contains chemicals or hormones. Caslin estimates more than 100 grains and seasonings are sold in bulk. Though the store makes a relatively small eco-footprint at its Wabash address, the Web site provides lots of room to roam and shop, almost 27,000 items. Besides merchandise, visitors will reap a profusion of information about nutrition and healthy living. Today as never before, a visit to Food Fantasies' Web site or store will reveal proof positive: it's easy being green.
Best day trip destination
Since the Beatles introduced the phrase to the American lexicon in the '60s, "day tripper" has meant different things to different people, a fact borne out by the variety of sites receiving votes this year. Reader recommendations ranged from "Downtown Springfield" to Chicago, and included Oak Ridge Cemetery, Dr. Jazz Soda Fountain and Grille in Lebanon (Illinois, we presume) and "Fast Eddie's in Alton on a motorcycle." Most, by a landslide, cited St. Louis in one form or another. "Lunch and grocery shopping at Viviano's on 'The Hill.' More shopping at 'Trader Joe's,' " quoth one enthusiastic reader. "A great art museum and watching the cheetahs run at the zoo is awesome," chimed another. "Close by and cheaper than Chicago," and "Close enough, but far enough away," were variations on a theme. Whole Foods in Brentwood, a St. Louis neighborhood, was particularly prominent in the responses. To view the Gateway City's big picture, visit www.explorestlouis.com.
Runner-up: Allerton Park in Monticello
Best cable access television show
Life Without Limits
Wednesdays at 3:30 and 11:30 a.m.,and 8:30 p.m.
The set is like virtually every other Channel 4 chat show: blue stage, maroon chairs and those ubiquitous ugly green plastic potted plants. Despite the catchy title, the show is focused on dealing with disabilities — a theme that could be depressing in the hands of anyone other than the persistently-perky Jill Egizii, fundraising chair for the local chapter of United Cerebral Palsy. The show's dual purposes are to educate the disabled about available help (assistive technology, job training, housing opportunities) and to remind us lucky types that the disabled are also gainfully employed, going to school and striving for independence. After four years and approximately 180 episodes, the energetic Egizii still declares that all of her guests are "exciting." Lately, she's especially pumped about the nearly $1 million grant UCP got from HUD to build two new group homes for disabled adults in Springfield. We're just wondering if it would be kosher to siphon off a few bucks to buy the Channel 4 set some decent plants.
Best oddball place to take out-of-town guests
Museum of Funeral Customs
1440 Monument Ave.
It's one of only two of its kind in the U.S. and the only one in the world where you can snack on candy coffins in light or dark chocolate. The Museum of Funeral Customs opened just outside the south gate to Oak Ridge Cemetery in 2001, the creation of the Illinois Funeral Directors Association, not a separate not-for-profit, 501(c)3 organization. Jon Austin has been director since it arrived. He credits the changing array of relics and re-creations of American funeral history for its growing popularity. "We recently added a borrowed embalming pump to our Civil War display," he said. Other arrangements appear half a year at a time. The large-format gallery of pictures of stained-glass windows in St. Louis-area mausoleums continues through the end of this year. Other "must sees" include a reproduction of Abraham Lincoln's coffin, a re-created 20s-era embalming room and a re-creation of an 1870s home funeral. Knight's Action Park it ain't, but Austin reports about 12,000 visitors dropped in last year.
Museum hours are Tues.-Saturday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sunday, 1 to 4 p.m. Admission: $2 for children aged 6 to 17; $4 for adults; $3 for age 62 and older.
Kimberly Smoot Photography
An unconventional approach that will surprise visitors expecting traditional verbose self-indulgence, professional photographer Kimberly Smoot's sunshine super-gallery lets her pictures talk for her, eloquently. Text is almost nil. A recent visit encountered re-postings of Good Deeds letters published in a local news daily. The rest was all pictures, all the time. Subjects included high school seniors, a young lady hugging a lucky Labrador, and what appears to be a groom and male attendees posing informally outside a mansion. Some of the seniors' pictures are poster heart-throb material. With faces and poses like these, who needs Hollywood? An archive organized into categories — maternity, kids, babies, families, etc. — will keep "readers'" attention for more than just a passing glance. Unique to the blog is an invitation to comment about each picture. Smoot explains this is for the photographer's benefit only; comments are not published or shared. She provides the pictures; you provide the words. On the whole, the presentation is an affirmation of life, cookies and lemonade for the soul. Visitors harvest lessons that are always ripe and in season. It's a fine blog; well worth a lingering look-see.
Best Business Website and Best Non-Profit Website
In 2004 Kim Leistner Little, frustrated by no central source for information about parenting and kids-related activities, produced a newsletter that shared the information she felt other moms would appreciate and sent it as e-mail to 30 friends. From that acorn a mighty oak has grown: 50 pages of everything you ever wanted to know about raising sprouts and didn't know where to ask. Brightly arranged, easy to navigate and well supported by area sponsors, it is a cornucopia of facts, including a list of restaurants where kids eat free, birthday party ideas, resources for children with special needs, support groups, a family forum and focusing on activities within a 50-mile radius of the capital city. Webmaster Dawn Dively keeps a tidy home page with little outdated information and a calendar of events that will keep families away from their couches and out having fun. You can also subscribe to twice monthly e-mail updates. It adds up to a safe, secure, entertaining browse for moms, parents and grandparents with time and kids on their hands.