When my former roommate and I moved in together, the first thing we did was hit the Antique Tobacco Barn to flesh out our dorm-room-chic furnishings. We'd planned on spending about an hour at Xpress readers' favorite antiquery, but wound up wandering around all afternoon, stunned by the amazing loot displayed in every cranny.
What's so great about the Tobacco Barn, anyway? The 70,000 square feet of floor space? The more than 70 vendors? The low prices? The high turnover (so you're sure to find something new every time you come in)? The staggering selection of really great stuff? Check it out and decide for yourself. You may never buy new again. -- CB
Antique Tobacco Barn
75 Swannanoa River Road, Asheville
Crusty sourdough rolls stuffed with feta, garlic and spinach. Cookies perfectly straddling the line between crisp and chewy. Muffins, scones, Danish, fresh-baked bread. But of all the sweet and savory selections she offers, what's the one thing City Bakery owner Rose Dennehy can't resist? The fougasse, a made-from-scratch French country dough, rolled thin; rubbed with olive oil, salt and pepper; and topped (on the day I dropped by) with fresh mushrooms and Parmesan.
And, notes Rose, "It's all very good for you." City Bakery uses only preservative-free, organic ingredients and a minimum of sugar, and many items are available in vegan and spelt versions.
Rose attributes her business' success to more than just the quality of the products, though. "A big thank-you to our loyal customers -- and to my staff. It all has to do with them," she declares, smiling at her store managers (and daughters), Meghan and Molly. -- CB
88 Charlotte St., Asheville
1390 Sand Hill Road, Candler
In bike-happy Asheville, the competition for bragging rights in this category is always tight, and winning is a serious score. This year, Liberty Bicycles nudged 2002 champ Pro Bikes out of the top spot, but not by much. Liberty employee Jennings (who seemed awfully happy for a guy who's at work and not out biking), says he'd "like to think [the win] has a lot to do with our service." He also credits Liberty's staff canines -- Zeke, Libby and Miles (Cotton, alas, has moved on to a touring gig) -- with helping give the store an edge. Or maybe it's the repair-and-maintain-your-own-bike classes, the custom bicycle fittings, or the snazzy selection of women's cycling gear. Whatever your reasons, the folks at Liberty extend a big thanks for voting them No. 1. -- CB
1378 Hendersonville Road, Asheville
Take that, all you mega-warehouse book vendors. You can peddle all the gelato and corporate coffee you want, but you can't budge the small but mighty Malaprop's Bookstore/Cafe from first place in the hearts of Xpress readers. Independent, urbane and eclectic -- just like the folks who love it -- Malaprop's has been a downtown landmark for more than 20 years. The staffers know their books (if you have any doubts, check out the staff-favorites shelf) and their customers, too; the coffee's organic and sustainably harvested; and the people-watching can't be beat. Plus, you don't have to fight Tunnel Road traffic to get there. No wonder Malaprop's keeps the big boys at bay year after year. -- CB
55 Haywood St., Asheville
How can you resist a store whose stock in trade bears names like Velvet Sin, Ancient Pleasures and Ecstasy Blossom? Handmade goods crafted using only the highest grade of that most sensual of ingredients, chocolate? Judging by The Chocolate Festish's repeated and resounding victories in this category, you don't. You succumb to desire, head downtown, and -- if you've called ahead -- have a dose of Fetish decadence delivered curbside. (No kidding: Bill Foley, the spouse of store owner Sue Foley, says many regulars do just that.)
Not content to rest on her recently acquired store's laurels, however, Sue tapped her customers' profoundest chocolate fantasies to develop a new line of exotic treats. Who knew local choco-philes were dreaming of dark European chocolate wrapped around a rich, wasabi-tinged ganache center? The Dragon's Kiss is only one of the Chocolate Fetish's many exciting new offerings.
Go ahead: surrender. -- CB
The Chocolate Fetish
36 Haywood St., Asheville
Store Manager Ruth Ann immediately recalls my favorite-ever M'press Cards & Eclectica purchase. "Ah, yes -- the Easter card," she says with a sigh. I snicker, even though the card in question specifically warned me that I'd go to hell if I laughed at it. I'd tell you more about it, but it would piss off too many people. And those it didn't piss off would be condemned to hell right along with me. Suffice to say it's one of M'press's more ... controversial selections. And like most of the other treasures available at Xpress readers' favorite card-and-stationery shop, it was produced by an independent (and probably woman-owned) company -- and you won't find the likes of it anyplace else in town.
"We carry an interesting, unusual and surprising mix of things," Ruth Ann says teasingly, before urging folks to check out M'Press's newly opened downstairs addition (in the former Malaprop's Cafe space). -- CB
M'Press Cards & Eclectica
61 Haywood St., Asheville
WNC's source for Buick, Isuzu, Mitsubishi, Volkswagen, Porsche, Audi and Saab, Deal Motor Cars stays busy. This reporter tried nailing down a sales manager for comments on no less than five separate occasions, only to be turned away each time with the apology that they were covered up with customers. And considering this Hall of Famer's multiple wins in this category, we can only assume that Deal's sales staff spends its time doing exactly what they're supposed to do: giving customers superior service and helping them find sweet cars, not hobnobbing with the media. -- CB
Deal Motor Cars
136 Merrimon Ave., Asheville
Mike Warner sure does sell some pretty cars -- Beemers, Lexi and Mercedes, all shiny and looking just as new as you could want 'em to. But shiny, pretty cars alone do not a Best Of winner make (not two years running, anyway). Asked about his employer's popularity with Xpress readers, shy Sales Manager Chris (who declined to provide his last name) offered: "I don't know. I guess it's just our irresistible charm." After begging me not to print his comment (a request that, sadly, I had to refuse), Chris added, "Well, we sell really clean cars -- cars that aren't going to give you any trouble, that won't need a lot of maintenance -- and we sell them at a price people can afford." Charm, trouble-free cruising, and a good deal: irresistible, indeed. -- CB
Mike Warner Imports
38 Tunnel Road, Asheville
In a city full of folks who eschew commercial radio, it seems only natural that this category's perennial victor would eschew the music played thereon. "We're all about noncommercial, non-Top 40 music, says Almost Blue co-owner Susan Haynes. "We're about good music," she declares.
Since opening their hip little downtown shop nine years ago, Susan and her husband, Brian, have built a reputation by stocking a huge variety of new and used albums. In addition to offering the premier alt-country and jazz selections in town, the store also features one of Asheville's best-loved (and best-looking) musicians as a salesperson. (Said attraction prefers to remain anonymous, but you'll know him if you see him.)
Alas, the Haynes say they're ready to move on. "We'd like a customer to buy [Almost Blue] -- someone who understands what it's all about," says Susan. Sound like you? Then come on down and make an offer ... -- CB
92 Patton Ave., Asheville
Ah, sweet, schizophrenic Asheville! What other small, Southern city would produce a tie for Best Clothing Store honors between a chichi downtown boutique and a less-than-chichi distributor of secondhand goods? Minx Boutique co-owner Rebeccah Mark finds her store's dead heat with Goodwill both flattering and understandable. "It's about being resourceful," she observes. "I used to buy clothes by the pound, and I still like to mix that with more expensive pieces." Not that Minx's offerings will break your budget; many items are surprisingly affordable, including the tres practical control-top fishnet stockings by the Atlanta-based hosiery manufacturer Spanx.
Goodwill Industries District Manager Jay Roberson explains that though the charitable organization no longer sells clothing by the pound, the deals are still good -- and so is the cause. The money you spend on a $5 shirt goes directly into Goodwill's job-training program. "Plus," adds Roberson, "you're helping keep things out of the landfill." Hip and responsible -- how very Asheville. -- CB
64 N. Lexington Ave., Asheville
1616 Patton Ave., Asheville
86 S. Tunnel Road, Asheville
Where in Asheville can you find fine clothing at discount prices? I didn't know until all you intelligent, cosmopolitan Xpress readers clued me in. The Enchanted Forrest carries gently used clothing plus some new items, including ibex and flax samples, hiking gear and accessories. And the staff is super friendly without subjecting you to that "birds of prey" treatment you get at some stores.
The store's owner, the enchanting Forrest Hogestad, says she plans to go to Nepal in November to buy jewelry and pashmina cashmere (the highest quality), which she sells for about one-quarter what you'll pay in other stores. Hogestad says she strives to carry unique and artsy clothes that represent "the flavor of Asheville." -- RD
The Enchanted Forrest
235 Merrimon Ave., Asheville
The good people of Asheville are a crafty bunch. Why else would they need a barn-sized crafts emporium like Michaels Arts & Crafts? I wouldn't have enough free time in my entire life to try half of the activities this perennial winner sells supplies for: painting, baking, sewing, crocheting, ornament- and decoration-making, and just about anything else you can think of. They also carry a large selection of frames and even design custom floral arrangements.
And besides selling every craft item imaginable, Michaels also offers about 10 demos a week to teach people how to use them. At this time of year, they're anticipating lots of business from folks who make their own holiday gifts (which takes rather longer than just slapping down your plastic at the mall). -- RD
Michaels Arts & Crafts
111-A River Hills Road, Asheville
Everyone in Asheville knows what the big, red tomato on Earth Fare's sign stands for: organic produce, free-range meats, and foods without scary, unpronounceable additives. That's why this popular alt grocery won top honors in two categories this year.
The store recycles everything it can, composts unsold produce, and encourages shoppers to bring in their own shopping bags and containers for bulk items like grains, nuts and dried fruit. Earth Fare recently expanded all of its departments, including the cafe that features a hot bar, fresh juices (Lois Lane would be happy), pastries and even sushi.
And besides all the wonderful things you can buy at Earth Fare, if you're lucky, you can even find a free furry companion (no, not the guy stocking the trail mix). I acquired a new addition to my household in the form of a black kitten, Franz Francois (world-weary Eurotrash) at Earth Fare. He was lolling about with some of his brethren in a cardboard box outside the doors and clearly wanted me to take him home. Talk about a store that has everything! -- RD
66 Westgate Shopping Center, Asheville
Beth Stickle recalls that when she launched Bloomin' Art 17 years ago, it was the only business on that side of Haywood Street. These days, of course, there's a whole host of stores flourishing right alongside hers. Stickle credits Bloomin' Arts' longevity in part to the store's unique arrangements that incorporate wildflowers -- her trademark.
Most of Stickle's flowers are locally grown, except for the exotics she imports from, well, exotic ports of call. And with the walk-in cooler strategically positioned in the front of the store, customers can see for themselves how fresh the flowers are.
Customers can also choose from an extensive line of gifts to brighten up both home and garden. And weddings, of course, are a store specialty. -- RD
60 Haywood St., Asheville
"We try to find unusual and different products and collector-type plants," notes Ned Gibson, co-owner of B.B. Barns Inc. along with Barney Bryant. They're both really excited about the new garden center scheduled to open in January on Sweeten Creek Road.
This perennial winner boasts an impressive variety of plants, shrubs and trees. I wandered around the outside display and almost got lost (and me without my bread crumbs!). Spotting store employee Kevin O'Brien, I considered asking him to wheel me out in one of the little red wagons they provide for shoppers. But he was watering the plants with such Zen-like concentration, I decided not to disturb him. -- RD
B.B. Barns Inc.
831 Fairview Road, Asheville
Why did Xpress readers vote Jewels That Dance (aka Jewelry Design) WNC's Best Jewelry Store?
"Because we're the deal!" exclaims Manager Marlene Clevenger. (She should know: Clevenger notched a win herself for Best Cashier/Clerk.)
Co-owner Paula Dawkins emerges from the rear of the shop, magnifying goggles perched on her forehead. "We have the prettiest jewels and the prettiest girls," she booms.
"And the smartest girls," interjects Clevenger, flashing me another bright smile.
The women who own and work at Jewels That Dance are as bubbly as the champagne they share with their clients to celebrate special moments. They attribute their relaxed-yet-professional atmosphere to their enduring popularity with WNC residents.
And for those who don't believe that diamonds really are a girl's best friend, Clevenger confirms, "We sell love." -- RD
Jewels That Dance
63 Haywood St., Asheville
Black Dome has been in business for about a dozen years, and Head Buyer Whitney Heuermann reports that people come from all over the country seeking outdoor equipment. "One reason is we have more rock climbing here than any other place in the Southeast."
The store concentrates on offering the latest in outdoor gear, and the employees try out all the merchandise themselves. "You can be sure someone here has used the equipment. We also physically inspect the products, like the tents," says Matt Gentling, a self-proclaimed "retail toady."
Black Dome opened up a new location this summer, in the Harris Teeter Shopping Center on Hendersonville Road. It carries less gear but showcases new clothing lines you won't find at the original store.
Whichever one you visit, though, Heuermann guarantees that the staff will be able to outfit you for your next trek into the wild. "They're fanatical about sports and pass that on to customers," he declares. -- RD
Black Dome Mountain Sports
140 Tunnel Road, Asheville
Black Dome Outdoors
1378 Hendersonville Road, Asheville
Asheville Pet Supply manages to provide everything a pet owner needs without subjecting customers to the overwhelming size and unflattering fluorescent lighting found in chain pet stores. Mary Hourihan, who co-owns the store with her husband, Bob, says she's been carrying all-natural, organic pet foods for about 12 years. "We were doing it before it was popular. Now the rest of the world is catching up to us."
Hourihan also keeps holistic remedies and shampoos in stock for the conscientious pet owner. "I think the more concerned person who reads the Mountain Xpress is also concerned about what is best for their pet."
Since opening in 1990, the store has garnered lots of loyal customers. "The customers are our friends. I probably know more about them than anyone. It's kind of like being a bartender," says Hourihan with a laugh. -- RD
Asheville Pet Supply
1451 Merrimon Ave., Asheville
It may be hard to believe living here, but most places don't have a New Age store on every corner. In fact, I suspect that only Sedona has as many amethyst points, zafus and geodes per capita as Asheville. Still, even in this holistic haven, Essential Arts rises to the top when it comes to dharma supplies. The downtown venue features an extensive line of books, CDs and videos covering everything from goddess chants to flow yoga. Crystals, statuary and implements of meditation abound, along with a well-stocked information area for spiritual networkers. There's spring water to drink while you browse, and a soothing water bell fountain -- in fact, there are enough water fixtures to make you rethink that cup of spring water. And then there are the bumper stickers. My favorites: "Get a Past Life, Too," "Oh, Evolve" and the transcendental (or is it existential?) "Whatever." -- AM
18 Wall St., Asheville
As it is, the French Broad Food Co-op offers its customers fresh, locally produced foods and assorted other goodies. But they don't stop there: The co-op also provides space for farmers, bakers and other local vendors to peddle their wares directly to consumers. You can talk to the person who actually grew/cooked/prepared the food and other products (such as soap and lotion).
Wednesday Market Manager Steve Arpen schedules a musician to play each week. Free vegan food is also available, and vendors of bread, jam, salsa and such often let you sample what they're selling.
Saturday Market Manager Jen Lapidus, who owns the Natural Bridge Bakery, says the market encourages the community to buy from its neighbors. "Farmers and bakers are hard-working people and are unappreciated in this society," she laments.
French Broad Food Co-op Tailgate Market, Wednesdays, 3-6:30 p.m. in the Bio Wheels parking lot (76 Biltmore Ave.), and Saturdays, 8 a.m.-1 p.m. at the corner of Biltmore and Hilliard in downtown Asheville. -- RD
For 11 years, Gary Kramer has tended to his toys two floors down from the Mountain Xpress offices in the Miles Building (at the corner of Haywood Street and Battery Park Avenue in downtown Asheville). Now and then, he would sit on the park bench beneath our windows, poignantly looking up and wondering whether the Best Of Bird would ever perch in his branches. At last, our readers have filled his wish-nest.
"We love being here, and we're honored," said Kramer when he heard the news. "We like having products out for kids to play with, too."
Enviro Depot stocks fun, eclectic, educational toys that seem to draw as many grown-ups as children into their enticing sphere. -- CLB
18 Haywood St., Asheville
If Rob Campbell is The Wine Guy, then Dorsey Campbell must be The Wine Gal, since the two are joint proprietors of Asheville's favorite vintner. With locations north and south, the 4-year-old store has won broad support, pulling double the vote of its nearest competitor in this year's poll.
Rob says he appreciates the community support and promises to continue to provide the best service and the best prices he can deliver on what my great uncle, another breed of wine guy, called "raisin squeezins." -- CLB
The Wine Guy
555 Merrimon Ave., Asheville
1200 Hendersonville Road, Asheville
We included this category for the first time this year, in both the dining and shopping sections, as much to raise awareness as to help those with mobility problems get around a little better. Precious few votes were cast in this category (a mere 3 percent of our respondents), which suggests that such concerns are still below the radar for many of our readers. And the results were literally all over the map, with no one store collecting more than two votes. As one reader noted, "It should be all of them." Maybe one day it will be. -- CLB