Unique Blendz Barbershop, 2917 S. MacArthur Blvd., 528-4245
If you’ve got to put your head in the hands of a guy with some seriously sharp blades, Craig Jones is the kind of guy you’d want that to be. Professional but fun, he’s welcoming – and skilled, with the ability to tame any type of hair. “We cut everybody’s hair,” Jones says, explaining that his shop is “multicultural.” Though he can do the traditional, no frills trim and shave, Jones is also an expert design guy, able to effortlessly shave symbols, faces, words and more into a head of freshly trimmed hair. Originally located on Fourth and Carpenter, Jones and fellow barber Nate Gurnsey, who came in third in the best barber category, moved the shop to the south end of MacArthur Blvd. earlier this summer. Prior to starting his business in Springfield, Jones worked in Peoria, where he says customers weren’t quite as adventurous with their cuts.
Runner-up: Dave Beggs
BEST BIKE SHOP
832 W. Washington St., 544-9550
This one was close, with just six votes separating R & M from the runner-up, but the victory here is well-deserved. You’ll find no greater selection than here, from starter bikes to recumbents to high-end carbon fiber road racing bikes costing thousands of dollars. The shop also sells used bicycles, and for reasonable prices – expect to pay $200 or less for a club racer from the 1980s. At R&M, they understand bicycles as works of art, and we love gazing at the Schwinn Apple Krate and vintage frames by the likes of Cinelli, Vitus and Austro Daimler. Mainstay brands carried include Trek, Orbea and Cannondale.
Runner-up: Ace Bike Shop
2060 W. Washington St., 787-2200
Call him chiropractor to the stars. Paul Venturini has worked on such celebrities as George Thorogood and Phyllis Diller over the years, and has won props. “Boy, did he crack me up,” Diller told the State Journal-Register in 1998 after Venturini un-kinked her neck, prompting the comedienne, then 81, to call him “a precious man.” In practice since 1989, Venturini works with physical therapists and also offers acupuncture at his clinic called Advanced Center for Pain and Rehab. While chiropractors are known for treating back pain, Venturini also offers to help folks who have problems with bedwetting, asthma and ear infections, and he welcomes children.
Runner-up: Stephen Unverzagt
BEST DANCE INSTRUCTOR
TurnOut Movement Arts Studio, 6100 S. Second St., Suite C, 816-3888
To Tracy Sims, owner of TurnOut Movement Arts Studio, teaching dance is a heck of a lot more than showing people how to move their bodies. “It’s not just about learning dance. They learn about responsibility, they learn how to display their emotions, they learn how to use dance as an outlet,” says Sims, this year’s best dance instructor. Sims says her Taylorville and Springfield studios are thriving, but she is also traveling to Highland and Troy to teach for the Jane Mannion School of Dance, whose students will join Sims’ Springfield dance teams for a special Feb. 18 performance that will raise money for both the Children’s Miracle Network and Sims’ special needs students. In addition to her mainstream students, Sims and her staff teach about 35 students with special needs, an area of expertise for Sims, who focused on special needs classes when earning her master’s degree in movement and wellness.
BEST GAME STORE
2506 N. Dirksen Parkway, 492-1105
2501 Wabash Ave., 793-9449
2854 Veterans Parkway, 698-5614
3421 Freedom Drive, 546-9890
PSP, 3DS, PC, PS3, Wii and Xbox. Those game systems are either a foreign language or a first language. But whether you’re new or old to the gaming world, Gamestop is the place to go. Voted once again Springfield’s best game store, Gamestop offers a knowledgeable staff and a wide variety of games to choose from at four different Springfield locations, plus the 24-hour option of an online store at www.gamestop.com. Bring in old games and systems for credit towards new ones, and choose between a wide selection of new and pre-owned.
MOST GREEN BUSINESS
1512 Wabash Ave., 793-8009
From an in-house bakery to vegetables grown by local farmers, Food Fantasies is serious about promoting healthy food, with no preservatives or chemicals involved in processing. The store is small but stuffed with organic dairy products, bulk spices and chiles, gluten-free foodstuffs, prepared vegan dishes as well as natural shampoos and other beauty products. The staff is small and knowledgeable about what’s on the shelves, lending a neighborhood feel while offering one of the widest selections in the city. There’s a reason this place thrives after more than 20 years in business. Make sure to bring your own bags for hauling your groceries home.
Runner-up: Farmers market
BEST PET GROOMING
3183 S. Veterans Parkway, 698-3091
Whether you call it a pedicure or manicure when a dog is involved, it’s all good at Petsmart, which in addition to nail trimming offers exotic shampoos and coat-care products to deal with such issues as split ends, itchy skin, excessive shedding and encounters with skunks – expect to pay around $30 for the deluxe treatment that includes brushed teeth and a spritz of vanilla scent. With windows that allow anyone to watch, it’s great fun checking out the eight-station doggie beauty shop, even if you’re only stopping in for goldfish food or doggie nail polish.
Runner-up: Dal Acres West
BEST HAIR STYLIST
Nicole Andrews, The Gallery
2939 Montvale Drive, 787-8119
A blonde is not just a blonde. You see, there’s such a thing as a platinum blonde, a golden blonde, a caramel blonde and a strawberry blonde – not to mention hundreds of shades in between. It’s knowing the differences between those subtleties, and having a hand for up-dos, that makes Nicole Andrews this year’s best hair stylist. A hair designer and blonde expert at The Gallery for the past nine years, Andrews says she fell in love with hair styling as a girl, watching the professionals and sweeping up after them, and as a cheerleader doing hair on long bus rides. “I love making people feel good and making them happy,” she says.
Runner-Up: Josh Oldridge, Willow & Birch
BEST HEALTH CLUB
2701 E. Sangamon Ave., 788-8250
3631 S. Sixth Street Rd., 787-8348
2811 W. Lawrence Ave., 787-1111
With 94,000 square feet of space divided between three fitness centers in Springfield, FitClub is huge. You can do a lot more than just sweat at these facilities, which offer personalized help in designing menus and training programs to get you in shape or keep you there. FitClub also offers child care so busy parents can still work out. FitClub North on Sangamon Avenue is the baby of the bunch and is the only location without a swimming pool. In conjunction with the Heart Center at Memorial Medical Center, the Sixth Street location offers a cardiac rehab program designed for physician-referred exercisers who have heart problems, are at risk for heart problems or have risk factors for heart disease. Relatives of folks enrolled in the rehab program receive reduced membership rates.
Runner-up: Cardinal Fitness
BEST FINANCIAL INSTITUTION
United Community Bank
301 North Main St., Chatham, 483-2491
Numerous branches in Springfield
Headquartered in Chatham, United Community Bank isn’t a faceless Wall Street-based conglomerate; it is committed to the local market. In fact, the bank has just committed $100 million to small business and agricultural lending in central Illinois. The bank goes back to 1907 and has 24 offices in eight central Illinois counties. With three locations in Springfield, an equal number in Auburn and branches in Loami, Pawnee and Divernon, there are plenty of offices in Sangamon County, and you’ll also have a place to go in Roodhouse, Gillespie and Carlinville when you hit the road.
Runner-up: Marine Bank
BEST FRESH FISH/MEATS
Robert’s Seafood Market
1615 Jefferson St., 546-3089
Every once in awhile, you can find decent fresh fish at the local supermarket, but the only consistent offerings are tilapia and catfish. Not at Robert’s Seafood, where top-quality fresh fish from all over the place are sold every day. The fish at Robert’s is as good as you’ll find in San Francisco, Seattle or any other big city, which explains why they’ve been in business since 1916. Consider salmon. Most places sell just one variety, but it’s not at all unusual for Robert’s to offer wild coho (best-tasting species in the world, in our opinion), wild chinook and farmed Atlantic, all on the same day. They have a knack for procuring to-die-for halibut, and they invite special orders – orders for most species, they say, can be filled within 24 hours, and they can get anything from Mexican mahi mahi to flounder from the North Atlantic.
Runner-up: Humphrey’s Market
BEST JEWELRY STORE
2901 W. Wabash Ave., 787-0500
Founded in Jacksonville in 1954, Denney Jewelers moved to Springfield six years ago, but the business is already a local favorite. It isn’t the 10,000-square-foot showroom that we like so much, nor is it all the diamonds and opals and rubies. Rather, it is the sales staff that makes Denney Jewelers what it is, and we speak from experience. When you go in to pick out wedding rings, you can be sure that whoever helps you will take their time and patiently answer all your questions, even the silly ones, no matter how big or small your budget. There’s also onsite jewelry repair.
Runner-up: Giganti & Giganti
BEST PET BOARDING
Dal Acres West
2509 W. Jefferson St., 793-3647 (DOGS)
If your dog could talk, he’d say “Go along, now, take a vacation. I don’t care, as long as you take me to Dal Acres West.” And so would your gerbil/guinea pig/turtle – except for birds and snakes, Dal Acres West takes care of all kinds of animals, and if your best friend gets bathed or groomed before you pick it up, they don’t charge for the last day of boarding. They don’t lock ’em up and throw away the key at Dal Acres West, which has floors featuring radiant heat. The owners promise regular play time, and some long-term guests are allowed to wander the facility. There’s just one problem: With care like this, Fido might not want to come home.
Runner-up: Laketown Animal Hospital
BEST PLACE TO FIND A BARGAIN
2001 W. Wabash Ave., 787-7496
815 N. 11th St., 789-0400
2531 N. Dirksen Parkway, 753-3620
A life-size cardboard stand-up figure of Humphrey Bogart for $5. A vintage made-in-USA Pendleton wool shirt for $3. A Lawnboy lawnmower that mulches or bags for $50. A Burberry trenchcoat for $7. Stuff like this comes along, if not every day, then often enough to make Goodwill a mecca for the serious bargain hunter. The store on 11th Street retains a traditional thrift-store ambience – word on the street is, there are plans to convert it to a sold-by-the-pound outlet store, a concept that’s proven popular in other cities. The other two stores are more upscale and spacious. During the past year, a book section was introduced at the Wabash Avenue store, which features a coffee shop.
Runner-up: TJ Maxx
BEST PLACE FOR A WEDDING RECEPTION
Erin’s Pavilion at Southwind Park
4965 S. Second St., 753-0702
Sitting on 80 acres of gardens and ponds, Erin’s Pavilion at Southwind Park is this year’s best place for a wedding reception. The main banquet hall accommodates more than 300 people and looks out onto a terrace and peaceful pond. Brides and grooms can also rest easy knowing they’re choosing both an ADA accessible and a “green” building – Erin’s Pavilion exceeds all accessibility standards and is powered by solar, geothermal and wind. With a gazebo, playground and gardens galore, the grounds surrounding the pavilion offer a backdrop for photographs of nuptial bliss.
BEST VETERINARY CLINIC
Laketown Animal Hospital
1115 Stevenson Drive, 529-4211
With a half-dozen veterinarians on staff, Laketown Animal Hospital can handle most anything, from laser surgery to dentistry. The clinic offers after-hours emergency care and has a mobile resuscitation unit if your pet can’t make it in under its own power. Several receptionists staff the lobby, where the waiting area is roomy and as nicely decorated as in a doctor’s office for people – just right for putting Fido at ease. The clinic is going digital so that x-rays and other medical records can be emailed to you. Boarding is also offered, and they have a doggie spa when your pooch deserves – or needs – a bath and makeover.
Runner-up: Coble Animal Hospital
BEST YOGA INSTRUCTOR
Ami Flamini, Ahh Yoga
1051 Wabash Ave., 725-2373
Last year, Ami Flamini took second fiddle to Aasne Vigesaa Daniels in the best yoga instructor category. Both teach classes at Ahh Yoga and Daniels credited Flamini, who founded the studio, for much of her success. So it’s only appropriate that this year Flamini takes top prize. To be sure, Daniels is also on the list of Best of Springfield favorites, along with fellow Ahh Yoginis Kristin Ettinger and Judy Riedl. Stop by the studio to take a $15 class, or pick up a class card for a deal and try all of Ahh Yoga’s beloved instructors.