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The Best of Richmond 2000

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Best place to buy CDs and tapes

How does an independent record store survive — even thrive — among Goliathlike competition from superstores such as Tower Records? In the case of Plan 9 Records, which blew away the competition to be named Richmond's Best Place to Buy CDs and Tapes, chalk up at least some of that success to customer service and selection.

Long before listening bars became de rigueur, Plan 9 allowed shoppers to take a listen to anything in the store. And long before Web sites such as Napster made virtually any song available with a quick click of the mouse, Plan 9 was there to order your most arcane musical favorites. And it still is.

The Carytown store might be bigger, brighter and shinier than it was before, but it still manages to maintain a gritty indie spirit that makes you feel cool just for shopping there. It's not the kind of place you'd go to buy the latest Britney Spears CD, but that's precisely why our readers love it so.

Best place to shop for the person who has everything

A certain New York philanthropist and retired manufacturing exec was in town recently. This is a guy who has everything - a co-op on New York's upper East Side, a BMW sedan, a sprawling house in the Hamptons and property on St. Bart's. He flies to Europe regularly, waiters in good restaurants know him, he reads the latest books and has a closet bursting with Prada and Armani. But on a recent trip to Richmond his jaw dropped after spending a few minutes in Mongrel, the card and gift shop in Carytown. "We don't have anything like this in East Hampton," he said in that provincial New Yorker way — as if nothing exists beyond Manhattan.

In a market where Target sells Michael Graves designs and Martha Stewart does Kmart, Mongrel continues to maintain its edge in finding the new and unusual. And like its namesake, a mongrel, the merchandise mix is a little hard to describe, but sales people are unfailingly polite and helpful whether you're spending a couple of dollars on a birthday card or considerably more on a wild-looking lamp or some other accessory you could probably live without.

Best gym or health club

The happiest macho men and women in Richmond can be found kickin' it old school at the YMCA. With 10 Richmond branches and about 88,000 Richmonders enrolled last year in the Y's many programs and services, it's hard to believe the competition hasn't packed its bags and headed for Farmville.

Barry Saunders, director of communication, says it has been a year of many expansions for the Y in Richmond, including complete workout centers being added downtown and in Midlothian. If you're a member at any one location, you are automatically allowed to jog, swim or pump iron at any Richmond branch. Plus, all new members get personal fitness profiles, showing them their current state of health.

So lace up your sneakers, don your construction hat and strap on your tool belt, cause it's time to party at the YMCA.

American Family Fitness also earned several nods, finishing a strong second, despite not having a tacky song written about it.

Best in-town weekend getaway

Where else, the Super 8?

After a tough week of traveling Interstate 95 gridlock and having your favorite Survivor cast member booted from the island, you deserve to rest in the lap of luxury. And nothing says luxury in Richmond quite like The Jefferson Hotel.

From a tranquil afternoon tea break in the Palm Court, to fine dining at the five-diamond Lemaire, to an attentive manicure at Bridgforths, the Jefferson does its best to pamper and spoil you for the entire weekend. The Richmond treasure offers several weekend packages, starting as low as $265.

But remember, if you happen to get a bit tipsy at TJ's restaurant and lounge (it's open till 2 a.m.), find an escort to guide you back up the 36-step marble staircase.

Second-place finisher was Linden Row Inn.

Best bookstore

With their tasteful designs, comprehensive selections and refreshing focus on books - books! - rather than java, jazz and junk, Barnes & Noble stores rule in page-turning Richmond. By a nearly 2-to-1 margin, the chain claimed the city's top spot for buying books, manuals, tomes and such.

The first Barnes & Noble here, on Parham Road near Regency Square opened in 1992 and remains the only café-free big-box bookstore in town - which (with Jim the novelist and the other friendly, knowledgeable staff) is why it's our favorite, too. It will move to Short Pump - like everything else these days, it seems - in November. There, Assistant Manager Sharon Williams notes, it will have a café, but more books (100,000-plus), too.

Richmond also likes Borders and Carytown Books.

Best massage

Whether your idea of bliss involves the deep, soothing strokes of Swedish massage or the New Agey practice of being rubbed down with hot stones, Nesbit tops the list of places Richmonders favor for massage. With seven licensed massage therapists on staff specializing in everything from prenatal massage to Ayurvedic techniques, Nesbit seems to have a cure for your every muscle ache and pain.

So what strokes do Richmonders prefer? "The staple is good old Swedish massage around here," says Michael Wood, co-owner of the salon and day spa.

Not only does the spa offer a variety of massage techniques, but you can be rubbed for as long - or as short - as your heart desires. A 15-minute quickie chair massage during lunch could be just what the doctor ordered.

Faceworks comes in a close second in this category for its skilled bodywork.

Best barber shop

Two barber shops, Pine Street and William Byrd, tied for the top spot with readers.

In some ways, Pine Street Barber Shop, at 334 S. Pine St. on a leafy corner of historic Oregon Hill, is a throwback to Main Streets depicted on Saturday Evening Post covers. Its freshly painted, frame facade all but glistens in the morning sun. A traditional striped barber pole hangs over the sidewalk, and a "Walk-ins welcome" sign beckons from the window. But Pine Street, opened by stylist Michael Gahan at this unlikely location in 1981, serves up tradition with a twist. One can get a basic cut or something more elaborate - highlights, facials, waxing or manicures. It's also a neighborhood cultural center with ongoing showings of work by top Richmond artists.

When the William Byrd Hotel Barber Shop (as it's currently listed in the telephone book) opened in 1926 it was located, well, in a hotel. Most trains chugging into nearby Broad Street Station brought overnight guests. Come morning, patrons could get shaves and trims before pushing on. And while trains don't stop anymore and the hotel has been converted successfully into apartments, the barber shop is still prospering in its 75th year.

Early weekday mornings, commuters en route to downtown park curbside on North Davis Street and get in and get out of the shop quickly, served by one of five barbers who go about their business pleasantly and with minimum banter. On Saturdays, young fathers arrive up with sons in tow, continuing a weekend ritual that their fathers and grandfathers followed in past decades. And yes, there's a shoeshine stand just inside the front door. "La meme chose," as the French say; the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Best manicure

Nesbit also takes first place for the city's Best Manicure. Michael Wood, who owns the salon and day spa with Nesbit Hatch, chalks it up to the fact that they book a full 45 minutes for a basic manicure instead of the 30 minutes allotted at the average salon. An emphasis on customer service and a stellar selection of the latest nail colors add to Nesbit's reputation as a manicure Mecca.

Unlike some other nail salons, the chemical smell of Nesbit's manicure station won't knock you out. "There are no artificial nails here," Wood says. "Our nail techs are all committed to natural nail health."

Austin's and Faceworks tie for second place for the city's best place to have your fingertips primped and polished.

Best place to buy wine

Henry Reidy understands that purchasing wine can be an intimidating task. But he doesn't want it to be that way.

Reidy, who has owned top vote-getter Strawberry Street Vineyard for only this past year, says business has taken off because of the shop's renewed commitment to the customers. He and his staff are approachable, he says, and encourage customers to ask for recommendations.

Although the space is tight at Reidy's Strawberry Street location, he nonetheless makes great efforts to stock the shop with fine wines to fit the budgets and eclectic tastes of all patrons. Whether it be discriminating connoisseurs looking to impress, or first-timers ready to move past Boone's and Night Train Express, Reidy has the selection that makes it a favorite with Style readers.

River City Cellars, Emerson's, Price's and Carytown Wine and Beer were the best of the rest.

Best quintessentially Richmond product or service

You love the "International" aisle where you can buy Taco Bell and Chef Boyardee. You love the way they give their sections cute names ("Cool Stuff" for frozen foods, "Help!" for customer service). You love this carry-to-the-car deal. Richmond, you just plain old love Ukrop's. So it should come as no surprise that Ukrop's takes home the best quintessentially Richmond product or service award. In the Best of Richmond contest, Ukrop's was nominated for more categories than any other place or person—nine, including best BBQ, best pizza, best place to work, and best place to meet Mr./Mrs. Right.

Richmonders named Ukrop's as most quintessential based on the carry-to-the-car service, the Virginia Diner Peanuts, and just the existence of the place. The closest anyone else came to taking the lead was Legend's beer, with less than half the votes of the winner's.

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