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Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2007 08:06 pm

Best of Goods & Services

The best of the city

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Untitled Document BEST PET GROOMER
Bob Hofstetter, PetSmart
3183 S. Veterans Parkway, 217-698-3094
Bob Hofstetter can train people to groom dogs. According to his co-workers, he has trained everyone who works in the canine beauty parlor at PetSmart for the past seven years. However, there’s apparently one thing Bob can’t teach the other groomers to do, and that is calm and comfort a nervous, neurotic dog as magically as he can. “We call him the dog whisperer,” one groomer says. “We can have a dog that’s acting up, and he can walk over to our table and look at [the dog] and it calms down. He just says, ‘Oh, you’re a pretty girl!’ and the dog’s, like, ‘OK, I love you.’ ” Along with a magic touch Hofstetter has decades of experience, not only grooming dogs for a living but also raising, showing, and judging Afghan hounds, those giant silky-haired creatures with long locks that resemble the curtain you drive into at the car wash. So, you want to have Hofstetter coif your cur? Get in line. According to his co-workers, he’s booked solid for the next month.
Runner-up: The Dog House, Chatham
BEST TATTOO OR PIERCING PARLOR New Age Tattoos and Body Piercing 2915 S. MacArthur Blvd., 217-546-5006
Springfield has more than a half-dozen tattoo parlors, and most seem to do a pretty brisk business, thanks to the resurgence in popularity of the art form. The Springfield shop that garnered the most votes in this category, New Age Tattoos and Body Piercing, is one of the old-timers — it’s been in business since the late ’90s. Located near Springfield’s iconic Penny Lane, New Age has three full-time artists, two body piercers, and a few apprentices. Each of the artists has his own specialty. Owner Jason Lee excels at portraits; Sean Warnke tilts toward what his colleagues describe as “new school,” bright and colorful images in which perspective is manipulated, and graffiti; Ryan Thompson does the classics, American, and neo-traditional work. There’s no typical job; a small tattoo can cost $50, and an elaborate job stretching over several appointments will run into the hundreds of dollars. The common denominator is pain. “It hurts — you can’t lie about it,” says Thompson. The pain’s usually tolerable, though, and it doesn’t last very long. Thompson says that he’s never had a customer who didn’t get the work finished, but some have taken their own sweet time. He laughs about one guy, a U.S. Marine fresh out of boot camp, who wanted an eagle and American flag. “He took a break every five minutes, turning a 20-minute tattoo into a two-hour process,” Thompson says. The shop tries to discourage people from having names tattooed on ’em, mainly because it’s hard to cover up lettering — and that’s invariably what happens when a relationship ends. If the client insists, they’ll do the job, but “we make a big joke out of them. We let them know we’ll see them in a month.”
Runner-up: Styx Unlimited Tattoo Emporium
BEST ANTIQUE STORE Widow at Windsor Antiques 711 S. Fifth St., 217-744-3735
Widow at Windsor Antiques, owned by Tom and Marilyn Kushak, takes its name from a Rudyard Kipling poem about the widowed Queen Victoria. The Old World flair is ever present in a store that stocks antiques from France, the Netherlands, Belgium, and other countries across the pond, including such treasures as a French carousel panel from 1890 ($1,950), a French dollhouse ($245), and an English lectern ($275). Walk in, and visit a different world. Runner-up: Sangamon Avenue Antique Mall
BEST HAIRDRESSER
Phil Kralik, Celebrity Salon 1129 S. Second St., 217-753-0453
You could spend an entire day at Celebrity Salon. Owner Phil Kralik can not only cut and style your hair but also color it (a giant certificate displayed in the salon proclaims him a certified colorist), give you a pedicure, and bronze you in the tanning bed. Any residual tension can be tenderized away by his massage therapist. Then you can take some of the salon home with you in the form of Kralik’s private-label hair-care products, bottled under the Epic brand, which are formulated to have less alcohol than most products on the market. Or you can do like we do and just dash in for such a quickie cut en route to the office, for which Kralik skips the complimentary wine and just hands us a mug of fresh hot coffee. Either way, you’ll have fun.
Runner-up: Annie Egan, The Palms Salon
BEST NAIL SALON BEST SPA
BJ Grand Salon & Spa 3055 Professional Dr., 217-753-8880; 3300 Robbins Rd., 217-787-7770
Getting a pedicure is all part of the spa experience, so it’s no surprise that Illinois Times readers selected BJ Grand Salon & Spa as their one-stop shop for hair care, spa treatments, and general spoiling. The skilled nail technicians don’t just slap on a coat of paint and send you on your way; guests are made to feel like royalty with the seascape manicure or pedicure, which includes therapy for dry hands, or the anti-aging workup, during which an exfoliating peel and antioxidant cream are applied. If it’s R&R you seek, BJ Grand Salon has it, specializing in such relaxation rituals as a warm seafoam mud wrap, a firming and toning seaweed facial, and a new age-defiance treatment. The list of pampering possibilities is endless. Runner-up, nail salon: TC Nail Runner-up, spa: Appearances at Fit Club
BEST GROCERY STORE Schnucks 1911 E. Sangamon Ave., 217-744-2012; 2801 Chatham Rd., 217-698-2980
The Schnuck family opened their first store in St. Louis, and since 1939 members of the clan have opened more than 100 throughout the Midwest. Maybe it’s the bountiful salad bar, but we have a hunch that it’s the Midwest sensibility that keeps shoppers loyal to the chain. Schnucks prides itself on being “The Friendliest Stores in Town,” and that’s not just a slogan — the employees really are pleasant. Open 24 hours, the Springfield stores feature a deli, bakery, meat and seafood counter, pharmacy, and more. Runner-up: Shop ’n Save
BEST JEWELRY STORE
Giganti & Giganti Fine Jewelry & Gifts 1601 Wabash Ave.,
217-793-3300

Giganti & Giganti was launched as a wholesale business by Carl Giganti’s father in the late 1970s. “We bought small stores and estates. In 1986 we moved to our location on Wabash,” Giganti says. “You could say the community moved us into the retail business. I still do a little wholesale business, but my brother in California is strictly wholesale, and we occasionally buy from him. We still sell antique and estate jewelry.” The dual focus pays dividends. “Overhead is everything,” he says. “If you do a little wholesale and retail, you keep overhead down, and that makes for better pricing. As a wholesaler, I can move inventory on my retail side to other markets that support what doesn’t sell here.” Giganti says that celebrities determine what’s hot, creating market demand: “Oprah Winfrey wears a diamond circle necklace. That’s a hot item.” Bracelets can be built over time, with diamond links added for special occasions. He reports, “People get engaged during summer, so diamonds are popular. Fall and winter are for accessories. Pearls sell for weddings and during the Christmas season.” Besides diamonds and pearls, the store stocks a variety of colored stones, produces custom designs, and repairs jewelry.
Runner-up: Denney Jewelers
BEST HOTEL FOR VISITING FAMILY AND FRIENDS
Crowne Plaza Springfield 3000 S. Dirksen Pkwy., 217-529-7777
Even though they’re visiting you, when your loved ones choose to stay at the Crowne Plaza you’ll probably want to visit them. The Crowne Plaza, which bills itself as the hotel that pampers its patrons, contains the Mahogany Bar & Grill and the Rosewood Dining Room and is close to several other popular restaurants along Dirksen Parkway, saving you the trouble of preparing meals for your guests. Packages include a “Capture the Romance” luxury experience ($299), consisting of a one-night stay plus a round at the Rail Golf Course ($96.75 per person), and dinner at the Rosewood ($145). Among the 288-room hotel’s other amenities are laundry service, on-site massages, a fitness center, and an indoor pool. Runner-up: Hilton Springfield  

BEST KENNEL
Dal Acres Kennels 3528 E. Cook St., 217-522-1047; 2508 W. Jefferson St., 217-793-3647
Reading the Web site for Dal Acres Kennels is enough to make you want to book a reservation even if you don’t have a pet. You’d get your own clean, spacious, climate-controlled enclosure, with radiant-heat floors just inviting you to stretch out and snooze. Between naps, you could get the spa treatment — shampoo, haircut, pedicure. Best of all, you could even get “playtime,” a 15-minute romp during which a Dal Acres employee lavishes you with his or her undivided attention. As a bonus, you wouldn’t be bothered by those pesky felines, because they’re kept in their own posh cattery. Now, isn’t that enough to make you want to grow fur and learn to wag your tail? Owners Pat and Glen Hudspeth know what they’re doing. They’ve been in business forever, and they’ve bred and raised prize-winning Akitas and Welsh corgis.
Runner-up: Laketown Animal Hospital
BEST BOOKSTORE Barnes & Noble Booksellers 3111 S. Veterans Parkway, 217-546-9440
Sipping an espresso as you devour a new book is a winning combination — which is probably why Barnes & Noble Booksellers captured the title of Best Bookstore again this year, but we have a hunch that the big-box bookstore’s success has less to do with the big cookies served in the cafО than it does with the comprehensive selection of reading material. Whether you’re searching for Tolstoy or techie manuals, Barnes & Noble has it or the staff can order it. The high-traffic bookstore attracts a huge crowd, with bookworms monopolizing the comfy chairs, students tapping away at their laptops, and families wandering the stacks. On Oct. 21, the west-side book nook hosts Janis Cooke Newmann, who will sign copies of her historic-fiction book Mary, about Mary Todd Lincoln.
Runner-up: Prairie Archives
BEST MASSAGE THERAPIST Dianne Potter, Healing Hands Therapeutic Massage Center 217-553-0965
Dianne Potter became a licensed massage therapist in 1994, but, she says, something didn’t feel quite right. As it turns out, it was the clients! Since undergoing training and certification in small-animal massage at a school in Ohio, Potter has been working out the kinks on Fido and company. “I love animals,” Potter says. “They can’t tell us where it hurts, but I’ve really learned to read them and their body language. It’s fulfilling.” Potter works in her clients’ homes, providing such services as Swedish maintenance or sports massage for everything from rabbits and guinea pigs to extra-large dogs. She also administers pre- and postevent sports massages to animals that show, work, or compete in athletic events. Potter says the benefits include stress reduction, relaxation, increased mobility, and diminished behavioral problems. There’s no need to be jealous of the furry folk, though — the popular masseuse still works on human clients. Runner-up: Clifford Scott, Natural Health Awareness and Wellness Center

BEST VIDEO-GAME SELECTION GameStop 2845 S. Veterans Pkwy. (White Oaks Plaza), 217-698-5614; 2501 W. Wabash Ave. (White Oaks Mall), 217-793-9449; 2506 N. Dirksen Pkwy., 217-492-1105; 3421 Freedom Dr., 217-546-9890
We went to one of the local GameStops with a simple request: Recommend a gaming system that would make a teenage boy happy. It took about 15 minutes and a helpful manager, but when we left the store we felt a whole lot smarter — even though our knowledge of video games ended back in the days of Pong and Missile Command. Any decent video-game store allows patrons to try gaming systems and new titles; here, you can fool around with such top-of-the-line machines as the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3. The store stocks all of the new titles, and those that aren’t available you can preorder. The manager tells us that more than 300 people put down deposits on “Halo 3,” which is to be released next week — so rest assured, when you see a couple hundred geeks at White Oaks Plaza, that they’re not there for the Fashion Bug. Thanks to last year’s merger of GameStop and EB Games, the chain now has four area locations. Runner-up: Best Buy
BEST CD SELECTION Recycled Records
625 E. Adams St., 217-522-5122

“You kids turn down the volume on that goshdarned ______!” Whatever musical genre your generation’s parental units used to complete the preceding edict, you’ll find it at Recycled Records: compact disc, vinyl, cassette, eight-track tape. How many big-box chain retailers can say the same? No matter how the question is phrased (RR has taken the prize the past two years in the Best Used CD and Vinyl and Best Music categories), Springfield agrees that there is something special about Recycled Records. Runner-up: Best Buy
BEST FLORIST Fifth Street Flower Shop 739 S. Fifth Street, 217-522-3334
The Fifth Street Flower Shop opened its doors around 1920 at Fifth and Capitol, next door to the Lincoln Theater. In 1976, when the building was razed to make way for a parking lot, the shop relocated to Eighth and Cook while keeping the Fifth Street name. In 1990 the florist moved again, to Fifth at Lawrence. Owner Patrick O’Connor, who began working there in 1971 while attending Lanphier High School, says that although fashion fads have come and gone over the years, “saying it with flowers” has remained popular over the years, in part, because it’s easier than ever. “Buying flowers is an impulse,” he says. “People don’t plan ahead, so if we get a call before 1 p.m. we can deliver that afternoon. Being close to the Capitol Complex allows us to get flowers ordered early in the day to the offices by noon.” The Web site, www.fifthstreetflowershop.com, helps. People can order flowers in the middle of the night, and they’re delivered the next day. The market today is essentially the same as it always has been. “Most of our customers are 25 to 45, and with anniversaries we’re seeing growth in the higher end. There are advantages to visiting: They can see what they’re getting, and the fragrance of the flowers draws some people like bees,” O’Connor says. “One fellow who came in yesterday said it was like aromatherapy — better than a cup of coffee.” The shop is busy all year with anniversaries and weddings, but it’s busier from Thanksgiving through May.
Runner-up: Florascape
BEST CLOTHING BOUTIQUE Bella 2941 Montvale Dr., 217-726-6500
Trendsetters with deep pocketbooks will find everything they’ve ever wanted at Bella, from ribbed tank tops to flowy bright dresses to the best selection of bling in Springfield. The boutique’s employees describe the clothes selection as “casual fun to really dressy” and say that most of the styles are usually only found in cities such as St. Louis and Chicago. Open since 2002, Bella caters to daughter, mother, and grandmother and specializes in unique jewelry lines. The boutique also offers a wide selection of homecoming dresses and formals, just in time for that special occasion. Runner-up: Eye Candy by Brandy
BEST PHOTOGRAPHER Kimberly Smoot 217-793-2164, www.kimberlysmootphotography.com
Photography can be a dirty business, but someone’s gotta do it, and perhaps no one is better than shooter Kimberly Smoot, Springfield’s only internationally recognized Trash the Dress photographer. If you’re not familiar with the TTD phenomenon, you’ve likely been hiding under a rock, probably from marriage. The theory behind TTD is that wedding gowns are painstakingly preserved from the slightest blemish but rendered useless once the “I do’s” are exchanged. “Our daughters are not going to wear this dress,” Smoot says. So why not have a little fun once the wedding — or marriage — is over? Smoot says that one bride donned her gown to wade in a creek; another hopped on the back of a garbage truck. (With a parent’s consent, Smoot will trash prom dresses). Smoot waives her normal sitting fee for TTD. A good hunk of Smoot’s business comes from senior portraits. Runner-up: Ed Clark Photography

BEST BARBER Dukett’s Barber Shop 2659 S. 11th St., 217-553-7793
Deon Dukett (rhymes with “nuke it”) purchased the two-chair barbershop on South 11th in 1999, and his brother, Delon, joined the business a few years later. Both graduates of a barber college in Peoria, the Duketts are following a family tradition: Their great-grandfather and great-uncle were barbers in Springfield, near Dubois School. Deon says that the shop draws plenty of members of law enforcement, as well as customers from small towns all over central Illinois. “We’re a straight shot up Sixth to Sanford, an easy right, and when you see Bunn Park golf course we’re on your left,” Deon says. Location isn’t the only reason for the shop’s popularity; Deon, 37, and Delon, 34, say that their standing offer of “free mullet removal” draws customers (and smiles). Haircuts are $9. The shop is open six days a week. Runner-up: Beggs Barber Shop
BEST GARDEN CENTER Lowe’s Home Improvement Warehouse of Springfield 3101 W. Wabash Ave., 217-787-2300
You could say that, after nearly 15 years at the Lowe’s on Wabash, assistant store manager Ron Scattergood has put down roots in Springfield. He and his associates see most of the garden-center plants before they are unloaded, and their attentiveness has helped the store net top votes from our readers this year. “Making sure the plants are fresh and in good condition when they arrive is essential,” Scattergood says. “I hold the vendors accountable for their appearance. If I wouldn’t put them in my own garden, I send them back — and I have.” Scattergood says that the garden center is an all-year enterprise. “We have plants arrive every day. I just got in two semitruck loads of shade trees.” He notes that one of the best times to plant trees is in the fall, giving them a dormant season to get settled into a new home before putting down roots. “Except for Christmas trees, plants arrive from all over the country,” he says. “I want shrubs and Christmas trees to come from a cold, hardier place so we don’t have to worry about it adapting. We also bring trees in during February from up north when they’re dormant.” Trees, shrubs, and mums are popular this time of year, he says, and there’s a cold-hardy pansy that is good down to about 25 degrees. “Even though it’s an annual, it will bloom again in the spring,” Scattergood says. In addition to the Springfield area’s expanding population, he credits increasing pride in what strangers see in the front yard and friends encounter in the back. “People are more involved with their yards than they used to be,” he says. “They’re paying more attention to landscaping.” Contributing to Lowe’s popularity, Scattergood says, is the company’s one-year plant guarantee: “If you buy a tree and take it home and for some reason that tree dies within 12 months, I will replace it for you, no charge. That applies to all our plants.”
Runner-up: Green View Nursery
BEST MECHANIC Floyd Imports 1026 Adlai Stevenson Dr., 217-585-1214
Floyd Imports, our repeat winner in this category, keeps getting the business. Dave Floyd, who co-owns the shop with brother Eric, says they’re considering adding “a technician or two.” The sunny outlook, however, is tempered by an uncertain future at its long-established address: “With the 11th Street project coming through, we’re kind of in limbo. It’s going to take 15 feet from the frontage of our property. Stevenson at 11th is going to look like Wabash at Chatham Road. We’re negotiating with the city of Springfield now.” The shop will stay where it is during most of the street expansion. “It will be eight months to a year before we’re settled if we decide to relocate,” Dave says. Runner-up: Carl Johnson Auto Services
BEST LIQUOR STORE Friar Tuck Wine, Spirits, and Beverages 2930 Constitution Dr., 217-698-1116
The favorite destination for local spirits aficionados, Friar Tuck, not only stocks 5,000-plus varieties of wine but also has some of lowest prices around. The journey to the southwestern edge of Springfield is well worth it for the dough you’ll save. Friar Tuck allows customers to pick six of a wide variety of imported beers for just $8.99, and those with more discriminating palates will enjoy the selection of high-end stuff — a bottle of the always-popular Dom PОrignon costs $140, and Jose Cuervo Reserva can be had for $108. For those who enjoy a stogie with the nightcap, Friar Tuck offers a variety of cigars, including the $15 Dunhill Aged Cabrera.
Runner-up: 709 Liquors
BEST THRIFT STORE Goodwill Industries 2531 N. Dirksen Pkwy., 217-753-3620; 2305 W. Monroe St., 217-726-6871; 815 N. 11th St., 217-28-1871; 1333 W. Wabash Ave., 217-793-3113; 420 N. Main, Chatham, 217-483-5821
The perpetual winner in this category, Goodwill hasn’t let success go to its corporate headquarters. Instead, Goodwill has drastically improved its stores over the past year, giving each a fresh coat of paint, improving signage, adding mirrors to most dressing rooms, and, best of all, arranging clothing by size. Clothes were arranged by color for a minute (И la the Salvation Army), but customers were all, like, “Hey, we can see that lovely lime-green turtleneck sweater just fine; it’s figuring out the size that eats up the entire lunch hour.” Smart move on Goodwill’s part, because this new, more organized incarnation allows us to get the most from our shopping excursions, searching more sections and therefore stumbling over more incredible bargains, buying more stuff that we then have to make room for in our closets at home, and inspiring us to donate the stuff we no longer want . . . to Goodwill. Brilliant, huh? Runner-up: Salvation Army
BEST SENIOR- LIVING COMMUNITY Montvale Estates 2601 Montvale Dr., 217-546-5577
Holiday Retirement Corp., which built Springfield’s most popular senior-living community, began about 340 buildings and 37 years ago, when the founder, Bill Colson, wanted more than a nursing home for his mother. Managers Ed and Linda Orr are enthusiastic about their support team, which takes care of residents in Montvale’s 109 main-building apartments and 10 apartments in three cottages. “They take ownership of their roles,” Linda says. Ed and Linda and the co-managers live at Montvale, and they know every resident on sight. “I could probably tell you if they drink regular or decaffeinated coffee, too,” Ed quips. “We pour coffee three times a meal. Besides being sociable, it lets us know who’s with us in the dining room. If a regular who never misses a meal is not here, our job is to learn why and, if there’s a problem, to address it.” The rent is upscale, but it’s almost all-inclusive; the only thing residents pay for separately each month is the phone bill. There are no buy-in fees and no long-term lease requirements. Days begin with the “Stretch and Bend” exercise class at 9 a.m. sharp, and activities, including bus tours, picnics in the park, creative arts, and card playing aplenty, keep residents busy. Three meals are served daily. “After the tornado visited southwest Springfield a year ago last March, we didn’t miss a meal,” Ed recalls. “We have a gas kitchen and brought in refrigerator trucks. We had bread, but we didn’t have toast. The greatest burden was that we had to drink instant coffee.”
Runner-up: Lewis Memorial Christian Village
BEST VETERINARIAN Dr. Frank Coble Coble Animal Hospital, 2828 S. MacArthur Blvd., 217-789-4200
The son of a veterinarian, operating from an animal hospital that’s been at the same location since 1947, Dr. Frank Coble has a loyal following that has ranked him best pet doc for the second year in a row. The modest practitioner says that he’s not doing anything different this year: “We have the ultrasound, laser surgery, complete lab — about all our size town can support.” Over the last few years, though, dental care for pets has become more popular. “It used to be, people waited until teeth got bad and we pulled them,” he says. “Now we’re doing varnishes. Some teeth can be filled. We’re trying to preserve teeth now.” Formerly annual vaccinations and boosters are now being administered further apart. Pets don’t get as many pokes as they used to, particularly distemper and parvo shots, which last three years. “Parvo is still the No. 1 disease,” Coble says. He says he’s happy with the mix of practicing veterinarians in Springfield: “I tell people I appreciate their confidence (during) this contest, but we have neither too many nor too few veterinarians in this area, and all have special areas where they excel.” Coble specializes in orthopedics and skin, and dogs and cats account for nearly 100 percent of his clientele.
Runners-up (tie): Dr. Chris Curry, Laketown Animal Hospital; Dr. Greg Hurst, White Oaks West Animal Hospital

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