Even though she's personally excited about her business' win, City Bakery owner Rose Dennehy explains: "I'm really thrilled for the employees who work so hard and produce such a great product. They deserve the recognition."
The "product" she's talking about is multifaceted, including 20 varieties of bread as well as various types of rolls, muffins, pastries, cookies, scones and, of course, the famous City Bakery Bar (chock full of pecans, walnuts, chocolate chips and oats). All the baked goods are made with organic flour and without preservatives, and many come in dairy-free, vegan or spelt (low in gluten) varieties.
The business is truly a family affair. It all began about 10 years ago, when Dennehy's brother Joe Eckert, co-owner of the Laughing Seed Cafe, decided to start baking his own bread for the restaurant. The rest, as they say, is history: City Bakery now includes not only its Charlotte Street location (which will soon expand to provide more seating) but a soon-to-open second location in the Village at Biltmore Lake, plus wholesale distribution to local stores and restaurants.
Dennehy bought the bakery from her brother in January, and four of her children are involved in the business's operations. Despite all the growth, she insists, "We will always be a neighborhood store." -- LW
88 Charlotte St, Asheville
"What's the secret?" I ask Chocolate Fetish owner Lissa Juedemann about her divine-tasting treats. There must be some reason I find it so hard to resist popping in to get a dark chocolate pecan frog or a velvet sin truffle every time I walk by (Xpress's office is just one block away).
"Secret?" she answers. "A couple of secrets (they're not secrets, actually). It's really very simple. We start with really good ingredients, make really small batches, and add no artificial ingredients, preservatives or waxes. And they're made by people who really like to make chocolate."
Apparently, I'm not the only one who finds these delicious morsels irresistible. Says Juedemann, "We get a lot of people who drop in and buy one little thing -- and then they're back an hour later." She thinks about it a little more before adding with a laugh, "That happens a lot, actually." -- LW
The Chocolate Fetish
36 Haywood St, Asheville
For 24-hour chocolate shopping, check out The Chocolate Fetish Web site www.chocolatefetish.com.
"It's just fermented grape juice," says Rob Campbell reassuringly to anyone who might be intimidated by the prospect of choosing a bottle of wine.
Rob and his wife, Dorsey Fenner Campbell, have been helping customers get comfortable with wine for nearly 20 years now; they ran a retail shop and then a wine bar & restaurant in Atlanta before moving to Asheville three years ago to open The Wine Guy. In other words, they know their grapes.
"People realize they can come to us and not know anything -- that's our job," says Rob. The Campbells have tasted just about everything that's in the shop and are more than happy to share their knowledge. They also offer classes and wine tastings for customers who want to learn more.
"One of the things we try to do is remove the mystique and attitude factor from wine," Rob explains. "Wine should be about increasing enjoyment of food and the gathering of friends. If it's not fun, there's no point."
I'll drink to that! -- LW
The Wine Guy
555 Merrimon Ave, Asheville
1200 Hendersonville Rd, Asheville
Brian Haynes thought he and his wife, Susan, "were done with this sort of thing" when they moved back to Asheville in 1991 after owning a music store in Hickory for eight years. But, he explains, "We found there was a need for it here ... so we did it again!"
And boy, are there a lot of folks who are glad they did. Almost Blue offers their customers what Susan calls "not top 40 ... or not what most of the malls carry." Instead, expect to find blues, alternative and classic country, reggae, old time & bluegrass, a small rap section and "one of the best jazz selections around," she maintains. They've also expanded the store to include two levels, the lower one devoted exclusively to vinyl.
I ask the pair if they have any funny anecdotes about working in a music store.
"Working downtown, there's a funny story almost every day," says Brian. The latest, he explains, is when a guy wandered into their store, "went downstairs, grabbed a handful of records, came upstairs and immediately tried to sell them back to us." -- LW
Susan adds with a laugh, "He didn't even take the prices off them!"
92 Patton Ave, Asheville
Viva Europa is definitely not your garden-variety convenience store, making its win in this category a bit of a surprise (albeit a nice one). Not only can customers find Ghirardelli and organic, cane-sweetened chocolate right alongside the Almond Joys and M&Ms, but they can get deli sandwiches freshly made with Italian meats, cheeses from around the world and locally grown produce instead of your basic plastic-wrapped ham-and-cheese variety. And what convenience store have you ever heard of that has a doggie hitching post?
Nonetheless, the store is without a doubt convenient: Just ask Montford residents. Whether they want a pint of milk, a can of cat food, or more exotic items such as Annie's Natural Goddess Salad Dressing or Seventh Generation Dishwashing Liquid, Viva Europa is only a stroll away.
"We have a little bit of everything ... and if we don't have it, we're willing to get it," notes Jerri Goldberg, who co-owns the nearly two-year-old establishment with her brother Glenn. "We also have the best sandwiches in town."
"And the best sandwich makers," tosses in an enthusiastic customer.
Jerri smiles and adds, "A lot of our popularity should be credited to our staff -- they really have their own followings." -- LW
102 Montford Ave, Asheville
Her guiding motto, explains Malaprop's owner Emoke B'Racz, is a quote by Rumi: "Let the beauty you love be what you do."
It shows. If you love books and words, there's no better place to be than Malaprop's. Not only are there shelves of books to satisfy just about any interest or literary bent, but this 20-year-old bookstore also regularly hosts literary events such as author readings and open-mic poetry nights.
And if you're wondering what books Asheville's readers currently have their noses in, check out Malaprop's best-seller list, which includes such juicy titles as Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver, The Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan and The Passionate Buddha by Robert Sachs among the top 10.
Malaprop's staffers pride themselves on being knowledgeable about books, says B'Racz -- but sometimes, customers think the staff's wisdom is more universal. "We've received calls asking us if we know a good plumber," she recalls, laughing.
And then there was the recent e-mail from a customer who asked: "We're going to New York City. What should we see while we're there?" -- LW
55 Haywood St, Asheville
If you want to know about current trends in the craft world, go to Michaels. "Scrapbooking is really hot right now. Last year it was candle- and soap-making," says Store Manager Linda Guy.
She also notes that there's been a significant increase in business lately. "I don't know if it's the economy, but people seem to be making more things. Asheville's grown, too, and Asheville's a kind of artsy town."
Guy credits the shop's popularity to the fact that "we carry in-depth craft items and have a large selection." The types of crafts Michaels caters to certainly run the gamut: from woodworking, floral design and clock-making to cake decorating, stitchery and all types of visual arts.
"We're excited," she says about their win. "We think that's a pretty good honor. It makes everyone proud here -- lets them know they're appreciated too." -- LW
Michaels Arts & Crafts
299 Swannanoa River Rd, Asheville
The cavorting bruin in the Dancing Bear Toys logo is anonymous no more.
"Our bear didn't have a name," explains Assistant Manager Cheri Bieser. "So we had a contest for kids to name it. A ton of people gave suggestions."
More than 200, in fact. And after much deliberation, the staff chose (drum roll, please) ... Boogie Bear!
How appropriate for the symbol of a shop that makes kids and adults alike want to jump around in delight. Whether your kid's interest (or your own, for that matter) lies in science experiments or dress-up, dinosaurs or Groovy Girls ("a nice alternative to Barbie dolls," notes Bieser), Galoomoagalots (strange looking creatures) or train sets, this store has it all.
I tend to get stuck in the hat section, where kids (and, all right, me too) can try on all sorts: Viking helmets, racing helmets, princess tiaras, hardhats, propeller-topped headgear, police and firefighter hats, and much more (hmmm ... perhaps I'm subconsciously exploring a career change here).
Mary Evers, who owns this family-operated business along with Erika and Sarah Evers, attributes Dancing Bear's popularity to the fact that it's a hands-on kind of place. "Kids can come in and play with the toys. In fact, we encourage play. ... Customers aren't afraid to touch things" she says. -- LW
Dancing Bear Toys
144 Tunnel Rd, Asheville
Sure, Tops For Shoes has great shoes -- and with 35,000 square feet of showroom space spread over four levels, the variety of styles is truly astounding. And sure, the folks who work there are always really friendly and helpful. But what makes Tops tops for me is the fact that it has three entrances on three different streets (Rankin Avenue, College Street and North Lexington Avenue). This way, I can justify a little browsing by telling myself that I'm really on my way to somewhere else and just happen to be taking a shortcut through this particular establishment. (We won't dwell on the fact that the detour always ends up adding an extra 20 minutes to my travel time.)
Store Manager Dean Peterson attributes the shop's popularity (they're about to celebrate their 40th anniversary) to "the fact that we're an old-fashioned, service-oriented store in the sense of how we take care of our customers. You don't see that much anymore in the retail business. A lot of our employees have been here 15 to 20 years, and they're now working with second- and third-generation customers." -- LW
Tops For Shoes
27 N Lexington Ave, Asheville
The most obvious way Earth Fare tries to be an environmental steward, of course, is by offering its customers organic and locally grown produce and other edibles. But it doesn't stop there, says Marketing Coordinator Marcia Greenstein. Other environmentally friendly practices include the store's Friends of Earth Fare program (in which local nonprofits, including some that work on behalf of the environment, receive 10 cents for each grocery bag customers don't use because they've brought in their own); a large bulk department (which cuts down on packaging); a filtered-water dispenser (which enables customers to reuse bottles); an extensive in-house recycling program ("We try to recycle as much as we can," notes Greenstein); and giving local environmental organizations like the WNC Alliance and the Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project a place (usually out front) to further educate customers about environmental issues.
Greenstein says she's particularly excited about new federal organic standards that take effect Oct. 21. While it used to be that each state could have its own standard, now "organic" will mean the same thing nationwide, explains Greenstein. And that, she continues, includes "no sewer sludge [fertilization], irradiated products or genetically modified foods." Additionally, any packaged product must contain at least 70 percent organic ingredients before it can make that claim.
Now, says Greenstein, "There will be a lot more clarity for customers about what is organic or not." -- LW
66 Westgate Shopping Center, Asheville
Talk about your pampered pets. Owner Mary Hourihan says she shops all over the country to find just the right pet toys. "I do all the buying so I can get what my customers need," she explains. Hourihan even has a few discriminating customers for whom she buys special items. Talk about your pampered customers.
In business for 13 years, Hourihan says the secret to Asheville Pet Supply's success is service. "We can actually answer [people's] questions," she says. That plus the fact that many local vets recommend APS to newcomers with furry (or scaly) friends, which keeps Hourihan and her staff pretty busy.
If you stop by the store, say hello to the two store cats, Diana and Fergie -- and then keep walking. You know how royalty are. -- JC
Asheville Pet Supply
1451 Merrimon Ave, Asheville
We love CVS for its cheap store brands, those machines that make your photos huge, and the ginger snaps. OK, I love those things. Evidently, many of you have your own reasons for liking these stores -- not the least of which may be that they're everywhere.
However, more than a few of you shouted out for Nature's Pharmacy, earning the single-location outlet a second-place after the multi-store CVS chain. At Nature's Pharmacy, you can watch the pharmacist grinding and mixing your prescription right before your eyes. And they haven't forgotten about your four-legged friends, either: "We make capsules and creams for humans and animals," notes co-owner Bill Cheek. "Say there's a drug your dog needs -- we might reformulate that into a beef flavor that your dog would like." Yum. -- JC
CVS, they're everywhere
752 Biltmore Ave, Asheville
Wall Street: "I have Irish wool, Buddhist artwork and smoothies." Lexington Avenue: "I have antiques, vintage clothing and smoothies." Xpress readers were evenly split on which of these streets constitutes the best place to shop. Must be the smoothies -- the ultimate common ground. So the next time you're hanging out downtown, why not make a point of enjoying a smoothie on whichever of these streets you're least likely to frequent? You'll be doing your part to bring Asheville's diverse populations together. Then again, you could get your hair done on Wall, then go get a tattoo on Lexington. It doesn't have to be either/or, folks. Just spend a little money for the sake of harmony. -- JC
Wall St/Lexington Ave: Asheville, baby.
I have to admit, I dreaded calling Flipside -- I just knew some surly teenage boy would answer and give me grunted, one-syllable responses to my many cogent questions. Imagine my delight, then, when owner Krista Neri took my call. After I recovered from the shock, we talked, and I discovered that Krista, a former teacher, owns the shop with her husband, Tonell, and that both are very involved in the community. Local artists decorate the boards they sell, they do safety demos in the schools, and they "have good relationships with parents" whose kids shop in their store, says Krista. "I have parents who refuse to shop anywhere else, and we've watched several [local] kids grow up since we've been around the shop," she reveals. -- JC
88 N Lexington Ave, Asheville
Buying organic produce is a revolutionary act. Besides telling the agribusiness and biotech companies where they can stick their genetically modified "frankenfoods," you're also supporting local farmers -- and when you buy at a tailgate market, you're treating yourself to the purest, freshest veggies available.
The FBFC Tailgate Market happens Saturdays (through mid-November) from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the parking lot just down the road from the French Broad Food Co-op. It features certified-organic vegetables, fruits, herbs, flowers, honey, baked goods and more. (Just to keep things interesting, there's another tailgate market on Wednesdays from 3 to 6 p.m. on the other side of the Co-op, in front of Bio-Wheels.) And of course, the Co-op itself has been providing Asheville with locally grown organic produce and more for longer than many of our readers have even been here. So if you want to go organic, Biltmore Avenue's a happening place. -- JC
FBFC Tailgate Market
corner of Biltmore and Hilliard
Downtown Farmers Market
76 Biltmore Ave
Winning best bike shop is a big deal in this bike-crazy town. The good folks at Pro Bikes chalk it up to repairs. "Fred [Schuldt, the owner] is the best bike mechanic in town," boasts store manager Marty Gallagher. Customer service comes into play, too: "We know most of our customers by their first names, and we work on their bikes -- we're a real one-on-one shop," Gallagher reveals. Schuldt was unavailable for comment the day I called because he was off competing in a bike race. "We both ride," says Gallagher, adding, "We do what the rest of the biking community is doing." (Note: Don't be alarmed if you look for Pro Bikes and don't find it. By the time you read this, the store will have moved from its former Merrimon Avenue location to a new home in West Asheville.) -- JC
610 Haywood Rd, Asheville
If Pastimes owner Chris Atkins is getting tired of being called and asked the same questions every year, he's not letting on. He was exceedingly pleasant when I called -- not a bit like The Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons, a character Atkins says he likes very much. "I model my life after him," confesses Atkins. "I just try to be slightly nicer." (You're actually way nicer, Chris.)
This Hall of Famer says comic books are his stock in trade (big surprise). But Atkins also brags about having "some of the wackiest statues in the world" and some "hardback books that cost about a hundred bucks because [they] come in a plastic shell." No doubt there are folks out there desperately searching for these esoteric items -- and now you know where to find them. -- JC
175 Weaverville Hwy, Weaverville
Staffer Tonya Royals of Alan's Jewelry & Pawn only hints at the really weird items that pass through the pawn shop en route to new owners. "The oddest things come with antiques," she reveals -- before changing the subject. Of course, it must be hard to keep up the diverse array of goodies that find their way to the shop's door.
A perennial champ in this category, Alan's has been in Asheville for the past 15 years. And though Royals says they're happy about the win, she wishes the shop got more credit for its jewelry, the top-selling item. "We sell all types, and most of our jewelry is brand new. We get it through wholesalers," she explains. -- JC
Alan's Jewelry & Pawn
1298 Patton Ave, Asheville
If anybody's singing the blues, it isn't blue owners Susan West and Lynn Daniel, whose shop came out on top in this year's voting. Daniel attributes much of the store's success to their insistence on offering only one-of-a-kind items made from top-grade metals and stones. "Susan and I are the only designers, and we work in four colors of gold -- rose, yellow, white and green -- in 14-, 18-, and 22-karat gold," says Daniel. "We also work in platinum and sterling, and we only use hand-cut, natural stones."
And then there's the uniqueness factor. "We don't use multiple molds," she explains. "When most jewelers make a piece, they make 20 or so; we don't. Each and every piece we make is one-of-a-kind." -- JC
1 Swan St, Asheville
Surprise! In a town bursting with character-laden boutiques, Belk beat out the competition in the balloting for best clothing store. One key consideration here must be choice: Belk has a lot more to offer a wider variety of people than most of those smaller local specialty shops. Ashevilleans are a diverse lot, and a big department store can provide a lot of options. That can translate into one-stop shopping, instead of separate trips to a half-dozen different places. And with stores at both the area's principal malls, there's bound to be one near you. See you at the sales rack.
Belk, Asheville Mall (5 S. Tunnel Road, 298-4970); Biltmore Square Mall (Brevard Road, 667-1800). -- JC
Owner Forrest Hogestad has been selling quality outdoor apparel in The Enchanted Forrest -- her Merrimon Avenue consignment shop -- for six years now, and she says she's carved out a niche.
Hogestad says she tailors both her clothing line and her store's ambiance specifically to the Asheville market. "Most consignment shops are drab and grey; I try to [create] a really warm atmosphere with fresh flowers, ferns, good music and soft lighting," she explains.
The most unique item Hogestad remembers ever having sold was "an antique ivory mah jong set." Hogestad, who grew up in Japan, says her "mother belonged to a mah-jong group, so we never played bridge in my house." (Don't worry -- the set she sold wasn't her mother's.) -- JC
The Enchanted Forrest
235 Merrimon Ave, Asheville
Co-owner Robert Castillo says Hip Replacements seems to attract peculiar phone calls. "We get calls to a doctor's office that has nothing to do with our name, and we get other weird calls related to the name," he reveals. But that confusion obviously hasn't prevented Xpress readers from finding their way there in sufficient numbers to dub it this year's top choice for vintage duds.
Castillo (who reports that, happily, he still has the skeleton nature gave him) defines vintage clothing as "anything that predates a decade ago." Just think, in a mere 10 years, that snazzy outfit you just paid top dollar for could be coming back around.
The most unusual item Hip Replacements sells, says Castillo, is wigs "for parties and things like that." I guess when you go vintage, you have to do it all the way. -- JC
72 N Lexington Ave, Asheville
B.B. Barnes co-owner Barney Bryant says he and his staff "hand-water every plant on this nursery" because it "helps us maintain better quality control." Evidently, that extra attention to detail has paid off, helping make them this year's top choice for garden goodies. In business since 1988, B.B. Barnes has earned a reputation for its out-of-the-ordinary inventory. "We have a lot of unusual perennials, unusual trees and shrubs," notes Bryant. "And we're known for our container gardens." And if working with uncommon plants frightens you, the good folks at B.B. Barnes will actually design your garden for you. "We'll even go to your house if you want," says Bryant. Yes, please. And how about bringing some of those weird trees while you're at it? -- JC
B.B. Barnes Inc.
831 Fairview Rd, Asheville
When Xpress readers want to reach new heights, they begin with a trip to their perennial favorite gear outlet to get equipped. And it's no wonder. "We're one of the biggest climbing shops on the East Coast, so our climbing department is one of our bigger sellers," notes Black Dome manager Adam Pinkston.
These days, Black Dome is also selling "lots of fabrics" (retail-speak for clothes), though customers also count on the store for backpacks, mountaineering sleeping bags, tents and appropriate footware. And the folks who sell the stuff know first-hand what it will do. "I have lots of rock climbers, snowboarders and hikers on staff. To have somebody here who can pick something up and say, 'I've got one of these, and I use it' -- that really helps," says Pinkston. -- JC
140 Tunnel Rd, Asheville
The name isn't meant to be cutesy, though you may well find a good deal at Deal Motor Cars. According to Mark Wright, new car sales manager, the business gets its name from founder Walter Deal, who started things off back in the mid-1950s over on Coxe Avenue. "They moved to Merrimon in the mid-'70s, and they've expanded several times -- we now have 8 acres or so for our inventory and service department," notes Wright.
He cites two factors in explaining Deal's success: "We have a lot of experienced salespeople who've been here a long time, and we've had hundreds of repeat customers over the years." That's definitely the sincerest form of praise. -- JC
Deal Motor Cars
136 Merrimon Ave, Asheville
Owner Mike Warner doesn't take all the credit for his business' success. "By the power of Almighty God, we sell a lot of [cars]," he declares. Warner has made it his mission to sell used BMWs, Mercedes and Lexuses (Lexi?) to the citizens of Asheville and environs. "We try to get people in [these cars] who don't think they can buy them," he explains. "People can drive these cars -- they just need somebody who'll give them a good price."
According to Warner, "Car prices have dropped off, so we buy them cheap in volume and we sell them cheap." Try around $25,000 for a one-owner BMW 528i.
Perhaps there's a divinely inspired German automobile in your future. -- JC
Mike Warner Imports
38 Tunnel Rd, Asheville
Owner Beth Stickle wants everyone to know how happy -- and thankful -- she is to be celebrating 15 years in the flower business. And though Bloomin' Art specializes in weddings, Stickle says no occasion is too small or insignificant for flowers. "It's as important to me to send out that birthday gift as it is to do a big party," she reports.
A stickler for detail, Stickle believes in "maintaining the integrity of the individual flower" and offering "a diverse selection of cut flowers of the best quality for a great price." Whether you're after a single stem, a bouquet or a roomful of posies, Bloomin' Art has got you covered. -- JC
60 Haywood St, Asheville
There'll be no smoking, dipping, chewing or spitting in the Antique Tobacco Barn, thank you very much. You'll have to content yourself with ooh-ing, aah-ing and buying (or wishing, at any rate). With 70,000 square feet of floor space and some 70 vendors, the Tobacco Barn must look like the promised land to lovers of antiques.
"There's a lot of turnover ... and we don't charge a lot to the [vendors], so they can charge a lower price," explains manager Lisa Ramsey, the daughter-in-law of the store's owners. Ramsey says they sell "a lot of architectural items -- doors, mantels, stained glass." Or you can browse among the dizzying array of vintage beds, chests and dressers. And then there are those mystery items that you can't even clearly identify -- you just know you have to have them. -- JC
Antique Tobacco Barn
75 Swannanoa River Rd, Asheville