BEST PLACES TO SHOP LOCAL
United Community Bank
1900 West Iles Ave., 787-3000
700 Stevenson Drive, 529-3000
617 Bruns Lane, 787-3001
A bank is a bank is a bank is a bank, right? Wrong. United Community Bank, as the name implies, really is a community bank, and they prove it with the number of branches in communities throughout central Illinois. There are more than 30 physical locations, including three in Springfield and two apiece in smaller burgs such as Bunker Hill, Macomb and Auburn. Even Roodhouse, population 1,800, has a branch. It’s hard to go anywhere in central Illinois without spotting a UCB branch or ATM.
Runners-up: Illinois National Bank, Marine Bank
BEST BIKE SHOP
Ace Bicycle Shop
2500 S. MacArthur Blvd., 523-0188
The folks at Ace genuinely love bicycles and bicycling of all kinds, from racing to leisurely spins around town. They pride themselves on BMX, which is too often forgotten in today’s world of triathlons, mountain biking and stage racing. With a used inventory that turns over in a hurry, they always have just the right bicycle whatever your needs or price range might be, and if they don’t have it in stock, they’ll get it in a hurry. Most repairs are completed overnight. But what we really love about Ace is the Monday night rides that depart from the shop and take riders along the area’s best cycling routes. No one gets left behind and there are at least two mechanics on the outings that start in March and end in September. It’s a great way for neophytes to learn the finer points of riding in a group without fear of getting left in the dust.
Runners-up: R & M Cyclery, BikeTek
3005 Great Northern Road., 787-9443
Best known for barbecue, Nelson’s is more than brisket and a puff of smoke. In addition to some of the finest ribs, chicken and pulled pork available anywhere, Nelson’s also offers lasagna and – gasp – a vegan burger. Before diving into main courses that feature a dizzying array of potatoes, pastas, beans, salads and other side dishes, they can start you off with fresh fruits, deviled eggs, wings and some meatballs, either Swedish or, of course, barbecue. Bacon-wrapped water chestnuts? No problem, Nelson’s has ’em. They also offer nearly 20 desserts. Great food and variety is only part of the equation. It has to be fresh and on time, and Nelson’s wins high marks in these departments. There’s a reason that this place has been in business since 1995. One bite and you’ll know why.
Runners-up: Hamilton’s Catering, 5 Flavors Catering
BEST SHOPPING FOR WOMEN’S FASHION
2939 Montvale Drive, 679-0174
The thing we hate most about shopping for women’s clothes is the c-word. “That’s sooo cute!” “Oh my god, look at that: It’s cute!” “That is the cutest thing I’ve ever seen!” You don’t hear a lot of the c-word at Gypsy Soul, where the clothing is smart and somewhat earthy, more evocative of Tibet than Vegas, with a hint of old-school Banana Republic. Shabby chic, if you will, at its finest, as if someone combed the world’s thrift stores, found the very best stuff and replicated it for the masses. It is certainly a popular place. During a recent visit on a Tuesday afternoon, there was nary a parking space to be found. They also have lots of really cool jewelry, particularly stuff with a Celtic flair. Cool – that’s a much better c-word than the other one.
Runners-up: Bella’s Boutique, Maurice’s
BEST GARDEN AND LANDSCAPE CENTER
2290 E. Walnut St., Chatham, 483-6236
There are lots of places to go if you’re in the market for mulch or plants. But there are few places that are so much fun you can go all year long and think of it as a special outing. Besides both cut and live flowers, shrubs and ornamental plants, AppleBarn sells candy and cider and jam and all sorts of locally produced foodstuffs. They even have a bakery. Think of it as Hickory Farms meets Lowes. With more than a dozen varieties ranging from Mutsu to Melrose to Honeycrisp, AppleBarn, as the name suggests, is one of the area’s best places to buy apples, particularly for pies and apple crisps. It’s apple and pumpkin season now, but AppleBarn will soon be the go-to place for wreaths and Christmas trees. Just a fabulous oasis of old-fashioned country in the midst of the suburbs.
Runners-up: Green View, Buckley’s Prairie Landscaping
BEST CREDIT UNION
Heartland Credit Union
2213 West White Oaks Drive
720 South Grand Ave. West
2717 Sangamon Ave.
701 N. First St. at Memorial Medical Center, Room C18
Interest rates are as low at Heartland Credit Union as anywhere else, but this is more than a place to get a mortgage or an auto loan. Since 1946, which is a very long time, Heartland has been making life easier for its members, which now number 27,000 people. There’s a good reason why readers have picked Heartland as Springfield’s best credit union for three years running. It’s a not-for-profit institution that awards four $1,000 scholarships each year to deserving high school seniors who need money for college. Try finding that kind of commitment to the community from a bank headquartered in New York.
Runners-up: Citizens Equity First Credit Union, Credit Union 1
BEST CAR WASH
Drive-In Car Wash
1814 S. Sixth St., 522-3586
Get out of your car. Leave the keys in. A man with a tired look in his eyes opens the doors and gives a quick vacuum to the interior. Then he picks up a jug of something mysterious that he applies to the bumpers and wheel wells – if this were a house, you’d guess he was after termites, but smart money says it’s something to prevent rust. When he’s finished, someone else gets behind the wheel and guides your ride through a huge tunnel of soapy love. You wish you could be there, in the front seat, watching the rubberized scrubbers go over the windshield while giant brushes thrum against the doors. Instead, you’re directed to a payment booth. “Do you want the Super Express Wax?” the lady asks. No, just the basics. Twelve dollars. Briefly, you contemplate an air freshener, the kind that’s shaped like a tree. They only cost a buck and come in all sorts of scents, from coconut to pine. Instead, you watch as your ride, all shiny, emerges from the washing apparatus and is hand dried with towels while someone with a spray bottle cleans the windows from the inside. Between drying and vacuuming and making the windows sparkle, no fewer than four people have given your car the personal touch during the eight minutes or so it takes to go through this car wash. No wonder readers say it’s the finest in Springfield.
Runners-up: Rainstorm Car Wash, Gas and Wash
Fifth Street Flower Shop
739 S. Fifth St., 522-3334
Flowers wilt in a week, but a florist is darn near forever, at least in Springfield. There has been a Fifth Street Flower Shop in Springfield since 1929, when Truman Cole started peddling petals on Fifth Street, with a dozen roses going for 75 cents, just as the Great Depression was getting started. Flowers By Mary Lou, the second-place winner, has been around since at least the 1940s. While florists endure, they don’t always stay planted, but after a few moves over the decades (including a stint on Eighth Street) the Fifth Street Flower Shop has been at the same location since 1991. The place is huge, occupying the entire first floor of a fairly large brick building, and they put the space to good use putting together everything from $45 mixed bouquets, perfect for giving someone a mid-week surprise, to large arrangements that make once-in-a-lifetime events even more special. The central location on the southern edge of downtown makes it an easy place to go for spur-of-the-moment bouquets.
Runners-up: Flowers By Mary Lou, Trendsetters Design
BEST AUTO REPAIR
Brahler Tire and Lube Center
1701 South Sixth St., 525-7243
1557 Wabash Ave., 546-0234
700 North Grand Ave., 525-7244
1031 W. Jefferson St., 793-5391
1950 N. Dirksen Parkway, 523-002
531 E. Laurel St., 523-564
If your engine catches fire or white smoke starts belching from your tailpipe like a Vatican chimney, or you want to prevent that from happening, readers agree that Brahler is the place to go. There are five locations offering oil changes, minor repairs and routine maintenance and a sixth on East Laurel Street that can fix darn near anything. So, whether there’s something drastically wrong or you want to keep things up to snuff to prevent something from going drastically wrong, Brahler is the place to go. And they’re fast. We’ve never had to wait more than 15 minutes for an oil change.
Runners-up: Wilkerson’s Shell, Floyd’s Imports
BEST LIQUOR STORE
BEST RETAIL WINE STORE
3080 Mercantile Drive, 698-1116
You want booze? Friar Tuck has it. Lots and lots and lots of it. More than you can possibly imagine, and then some. They also have beer – we are especially fond of the pick-your-own-six-pack option that allows you to choose from a veritable wall of beers from around the country and around the world, and if you can’t find anything you fancy (unlikely) they also sell brewing supplies so you can make your own. With eight other locations in Missouri and Illinois, Friar Tuck is more a booze hound’s Amazon than a local mom-and-pop where the proprietor sometimes must poke around in back to see if there is still a bottle of Barenjager sitting around. Friar Tuck keeps track of inventory like no one else. All you have to do is enter the beverage of your choice into their website’s search engine to see if they have it (and they probably do), press the “buy” button and they’ll give you a call when it’s ready for pick up. While Friar Tuck has stores elsewhere, they pay careful attention to local tastes, and so you can get Rolling Meadows and other locally produced beers and wines.
Liquor store runners-up: Hy-Vee, Famous Liquors
Retail wine runners-up: The Cork Screw, It’s All About Wine
BEST MEAT MARKET
1821 S. 15th St., 544-7445
Founded in 1932, Humphrey’s is simply the best when it comes to meat. Places like this were once ubiquitous – small neighborhood joints jam-packed with produce, canned goods, bread and all other manner of foodstuffs. One by one, they have, sadly, fallen by the wayside. Why go to some tiny grocery store when you can shop at a mega-chain that carries more stuff and sells it cheaper owing to economies of scale? Problem is, that’s not true when it comes to Humphrey’s meats, which don’t necessarily cost more than at the Acme Supermarket headquartered in who knows where. Consider fresh chicken legs, which were recently selling for 59 cents a pound for a five-pound bag. Freshly ground round was going for $3.29 a pound for five pounds. Sliced deli ham? Just $5.49 per pound. Bottom line, you can actually save money by buying meat at Humphrey’s, particularly if you have lots of mouths to feed. The butchers behind the counter know what they’re talking about, and if they don’t have what you’re looking for, they’ll order it for you. In an age where mass-produced beef can often taste bland, you really can taste the difference when you bite into a Humphrey’s steak. And if you have a taste for the exotic, they carry elk, alligator, ostrich and other critters that never saw the inside of a feed lot.
Runners-up: Country Market, Hy-Vee
BEST SEAFOOD MARKET
Robert’s Seafood Market
1615 W. Jefferson St., 546-3089
The thing is, with fish, you really have to care. No source of protein on the planet is more unforgiving than fish of not being kept at the right temperature, not being quickly and competently cleaned and not going from alive to either the dinner plate or freezer without delay. Few things are less appetizing than sea bass that spent four days traveling from the ocean to Springfield, then went four days in a display case before some unfortunate buyer came along and plunked down $20 for a fillet that, by this point, is barely fit for a cat. These sorts of things do not happen at Robert’s Seafood, which remains the go-to place to buy fish in Springfield despite supermarkets that today have vastly fresher, and better, offerings than they had just a few years ago. Several places now offer fresh wild salmon during the season for $10 a pound, and it is often fine stuff, but we have been disappointed more than once. We have never been disappointed with Robert’s. They don’t always have it, but when they do, halibut from Robert’s is, hands down, the best in town. Their selection of fresh offerings, and that’s what we crave, isn’t necessarily huge, and that’s OK by us. If it isn’t top notch, Roberts won’t sell it, and that’s why they’ve been in business for 99 years and keep winning top marks from readers.
Runners-up: Carter’s Fish Market, Hy-Vee
BEST MOTORCYCLE DEALER
2301 N. Dirksen Parkway, 528-8356
We love it when a place like Hall’s is deemed best in the business by readers. It hasn’t been around forever, but almost, and it’s still in the same hands as it was in 1962, when Stan Hall and his wife, Pat, bought Crawford’s Cycle Shop in downtown Springfield. Back then, they also sold bicycles, but along the way they’ve ditched Schwinns in favor of Ducatis and Husqvarnas, which they sell from a separate shop a few blocks away called Hall’s Cycles. Motorcycles are in Stan Hall’s blood, and through the years he has collected plenty of pictures of himself piloting bikes to prove it. We were privileged to spend time with him a few years back prior to a Springfield Mile, talking about motorcycles and racing, and his knowledge goes beyond encyclopedic. He may be getting on in years, but he still knew the sport, and he had his opinions, not all for publication, about which racers were gentlemen and which were prima donnas. The two-story dealership is state-of-the-art, complete with carpeted showroom and all manner of baubles and trinkets that reflect the evolution of Harley from the bike of bad boys to toy of the wealthy. But the place still has soul. Thanks, Stan.
Runners-up: Capital City Motorsports, Overturf Powersports
BEST PET GROOMER
Suds and Pups
235 N. English Ave., 546-3686
Getting a haircut can be so traumatic. There’s always all kinds of excitement and other pooches around that may or may not be on their best behavior. Your dog deserves the calmest experience possible, and that includes the trip to the barber. Plopped at the edge of a neighborhood with houses and grass and fire hydrants all around, Suds and Pups is the kind of place that Fido can walk to, which can help set the canine mind at ease. If you can’t make the trip yourself, Suds and Pups will pick your pet up and drop it off when they have it looking its best. And they don’t stop at dogs. Suds and Pups also welcomes cats. For dogs that know how to play well together, they have a play area so your best friend can make new friends.
Runners-up: Bow Wow Barber Shop, Bubbles of Fun
BEST PLACE TO FURNISH YOUR HOME
Hendricks Home Furnishings
217 North Springfield St., Virden, 965-3337
Want your house to look like it belongs on the glossy pages of House Beautiful? Hendricks Home Furnishings in Virden, 30 minutes south of Springfield, has the goods. They’ve been open for 60 years, and they carry snazzy furniture to match every style from contemporary to minimalist to country chic. Their website features a neat application which allows you to draw up the rooms of your house and see what different decorating motifs would look like, as well as a separate application to customize furniture. (Warning: It’s kind of addicting.) As a bonus, their commercials aren’t annoying, which can’t be said of some furniture stores.
Runners-up: Magnolia Lane, Flea Market to Fabulous
BEST PET BOARDING
Laketown Animal Hospital
1115 Stevenson Drive, 529-4211
Going away for a bit? Give your pet a vacation as well. Even though going to a hospital doesn’t sound like a getaway, the staff at Laketown Animal Hospital go out of their way to make pets feel comfortable while they’re boarded. Laketown is more than a hospital; it’s a one-stop-shop for veterinary care, grooming, boarding, diet planning and more. Dr. Joseph Curry opened the animal hospital in 1961 and sold it to his son, Dr. Chris Curry, in 1985. Cathy Curry, wife of Chris Curry, says that whatever routine your pet is used to at home, they’ll get at Laketown, which helps animals feel less anxious and more at home while their parents are away. “We have great employees, and we all care about dogs, cats and pets in general,” she said. “Our clients come first. We want to take the best care of pets we can.”
Runners-up: Dal Acres, Kinner Kennels
BEST EVENT VENUE
Southwind Park, 585-2941
Whether you’re looking for a place to celebrate a wedding, an anniversary or the reuniting of long-lost kin at a family reunion, Erin’s Pavilion has it all. It’s just five years old but already a reader favorite, and no wonder. There’s plenty of space for kids to play tag outside while older folks mingle and enjoy adult beverages. You won’t feel cramped, given the high ceilings and huge windows that afford views of the park. While you probably won’t notice it, the pavilion is also one of the most environment-friendly public spaces in Springfield, having been recognized by the U.S. Green Building Council for its energy efficiency, wise use of water and other green touches.
Runners-up: Boondocks, Arlington’s
Jim Fulgenzi - Jim Fulgenzi and Company
2475 West Monroe St., 341-5393
Jim Fulgenzi comes from a family of builders, so it was only natural that he’d take the next step and go into real estate. Fulgenzi, who owns Jim Fulgenzi & Company RE/MAX Professionals, has been in the real estate business for 22 years. “I’ve actually always had a love for homes,” he said, adding that he likes real estate because it’s challenging. “Every day, it’s a little bit different,” he said. “That keeps it fresh and interesting.” While Fulgenzi was surprised to have been nominated for “best Realtor,” he hopes it was because of the care and attention he gives each client. “It’s really taking the time to sit down with them and get a firm understanding of what their needs are, and then helping them understand the realities of the marketplace,” he said. “Our goal is to give our clients the best representation they can possibly get.”
Runners-up: Kyle Killebrew - Real Estate Group, Jami Winchester - Real Estate Group
BEST JEWELRY STORE
2901 Wabash Ave., 787-0500
Before it was fashionable, Denney Jewelers reached out to gay customers, promoting their wares to same-sex couples at pride events even before gay marriage became the law of the land. Call it both socially enlightened and smart business on the part of Denney, which has long been known as one of the region’s best jewelers. The store got its start in 1963 in Jacksonville, when Ray Denney took over Crawford Jewelers and didn’t change the name for more than 20 years before finally naming it after himself in 1984. The store moved from Jacksonville to Springfield in 2005, more than doubling in size, but the place has kept its small town values. You’ll never feel pressured or rushed at Denney, now owned by Shane Denney, Ray Denney’s son, and his wife, Cathy. With a staff of more than a dozen, an expert is never far, whether you need to know what grandma’s diamond is really worth or why your favorite watch has suddenly stopped ticking. The showroom is one of the biggest in town, as is the selection.
Runners-up: Giganti and Giganti, A.B. Lauer
BEST THRIFT STORE
Land of Lincoln Goodwill Industries
2001 Wabash Ave., 220-1036
2531 N. Dirksen Parkway, 789-0400
75 W. Plummer Blvd., Chatham, 220-9431
Readers didn’t specify which of the three Goodwill stores in the Springfield area is best, and so we are left to ponder and consider personal experience. Is it the one on Wabash Avenue, where we scored a KitchenAid stand mixer in perfect condition – and with all attachments – for $50? Or perhaps the store in Chatham that provided us with a spanking-new Brooks Brothers dress shirt, retail store tags still attached, for $9.99? And who could forget the epic find at the Dirksen Parkway store, where erstwhile WICS anchorman Vince DeMentri dropped off a collection of $2,000-plus suits? We have found more treasure at Goodwill over the years than Captain Kidd ever buried. Crystal stemware and chef-grade carbon steel knives. Audiophile quality loudspeaker stands. And, of course, plenty of albums by Olivia Newton-John and Barbra Streisand, plus turntables to play them on.
Runners-up: Vintage POP, Clothes Mentor
BEST PAWN SHOP
2324 S. MacArthur Blvd., 744-7296
Used to be, pawn shops tended toward the cruddy side. They were sketchy, often dank, places where desperate people went in hopes of getting enough money to keep the lights on or keep from getting evicted, with pawnbrokers all too willing to prey on the misfortune of others. That image has largely disappeared, thanks to “Pawn Stars,” the hit show on the History Channel where treasures of epic proportion – a Jimi Hendrix guitar, a cigar box that sat on John F. Kennedy’s desk – appear out of nowhere to be purchased by smiling guys in polo shirts. Monster Pawn has no such OMG treasures, but it does have smiling guys who chat amiably with both buyers and sellers and welcome browsers. The Fender Stratocasters and other really good stuff hangs safely behind the counter. They have the usual assortment of electronics – if you’re in the market for a tablet, Beats by Dr. Dre or a flatscreen television, this is your place – as well as oddities such as a Playmate of the Year action figure from 1998, a Japanese slot machine and a singing Elvis telephone, still in its original box. Also plenty of jewelry, watches and power tools. A fun place to poke around.
Runner-up: Pawn King
BEST STORE FOR MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS
The Rock Shop
1808 W. Jefferson St., 546-8980
The store’s slogan is in-your-face: “Just ’cause you suck doesn’t mean your gear has to.” And the gear here definitely doesn’t suck. Guitars are a specialty, with the selection leaning toward a 1960s aesthetic, with plenty of Fender Strats. They also carry to-die-for models by Gretsch that are nothing short of gorgeous. A music store cannot live by guitars alone, of course, and so The Rock Shop, founded 30 years ago, also rents brass instruments for schoolkids enrolled in band. And they also offer lessons, so you can learn how to play anything from ukulele to the drums to banjo. Plus, of course, guitar.
Runners-up: House of Music, Capital City Music
BEST VETERINARIAN’S OFFICE
Coble Animal Hospital - 2828 S. MacArthur Blvd., 789-4200
The problem with dogs and cats is that they can’t talk. “How are we feeling today?” Dr. Dolittle might ask. The response is always the same, either silence or a bark/meow, and unless you are Dr. Dolittle, you will never get a straight answer. Dr. Dolittle doesn’t work at Coble Animal Hospital, but the folks there are as close as it gets in Springfield. When there’s a conference on veterinary care that the office deems important, they shut everything down so the staff can attend. And with 18 vets and support personnel, it’s a big staff. Coble has been in business for 15 dog years (73 years if you’re a human), and no wonder. If you’re a regular client, they’ll cut your pet’s nails for free, which is a huge deal for anyone whose mutt runs and hunkers at the first sign of clippers. And they make house calls, including at the most difficult moment in the life of a pet, and its owner, when everything that can be done has been done and it’s time to send Fido to that great dog park in the sky.
Runners-up: Capitol Illini Veterinary Services, Grace Veterinary Clinic
BEST TATTOO ARTIST
New Age Tattoos - 2915 S. MacArthur Blvd., 546-5006
Jason Lee of New Age Tattoos jokes that being a tattoo artist means he gets to listen to music, wear whatever he wants to work and sit in air conditioning all day. Jokes aside, however, Lee says the real reason he loves his job is because he gets to express himself artistically. “I’m putting my artwork on people’s bodies for the rest of their lives,” he said. “That’s the biggest compliment anybody could ever pay to you.” Lee says he started out long ago tattooing his buddies “the wrong way” before he understood the need for standards of cleanliness in the profession. Since then, he has worked to get tattooing regulations in place to ensure safety and professionalism. He’s also quick to show respect for other Springfield tattoo artists. “It’s really hard to just corner one person as being the best,” he said. “There are so many great artists in this town.” Runners-up: Kevin Veara – Black Moon Tattoo, Benny DeWitt – New Age Tattoo