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Best Of Wilmington

GOODS AND SERVICES: Best Of 2018 winners

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LAMAINE AND HIS SQUAD: LaMaine Williams of Train with LaMaine took home another Best Personal Trainer award at the 2018 Best Of Party. Photo by Chris Brehmer Photography


LaMaine Williams – 45% votes

“The best part of my job is I actually make a living doing what I love,” LaMaine Williams describes. “I love being in the gym, I love making a difference in people lives. My job as a personal trainer is a natural thing that was suppose to happen.”

Wilmingtonians who “Train with LaMaine” continue to appreciate his infectious enthusiasm and passion. Thus they have recognized him on our readers’ poll as Best Personal Trainer again, bringing his total to number nine with 2018’s victory lap.

“This year’s encore win feels like it did in 2009—that was my first win,” Williams recalls. “The encore award means a lot to me and I don’t take it lightly. To win this award means I was there for the community.”

Williams is an AFAA certified personal trainer and takes pride in his cross-training system, which mixes cardio, weight training, agility balance, and coordination to strengthen physical and psychological health. He says it’s particularly beneficial for women who are looking for a challenge without bulking up. Williams’ dedication to work can be found Facebook, wherein he strives to educate when and wherever he can doing live feeds and outreach.  His website,, features testimonials from local clients like WECT’s France’s Weller. Williams serves a wide range of clients, from retirees to professional working people, younger or older, and folks of all ability levels. He only does one-on-one training, wherein sessions are customized around two major parts to his program: There is the workout to make clients “look good” and then there’s performance.

“I want my clients to be able to do things that other people can’t do and I want them to look good while doing it,” he states. “A lot of my clientele came by word-of-mouth, so they feel like they are in good hands when they come to see me most important is I get results.”

At the end of the day, it’s about showing up for Wilmington—clients and soon-be-clients included.“It’s about being of service,” he says. He will focus 2018 ton how the mind and body works together. “In 2017 I started learning a more scientific approach to gaining strength and flexibility,” he tells. “I will continue this path for the new year. This has been the biggest finding for me in years,” he divulges. “It feels good to still learn new things after 19 years of personal training.”

To set up a free consultation with LaMaine Williams, call 910-297-3488 or email him at

Keeping folks fit on our 2018 poll for Best Personal Trainer are Anita Harrell with FitMo (30%) and Rhonda Schilawski with Port City Adventure Bootcamp (24%).


GLOWING 3.0: Best Esthetician Marcella Hardy is taking home her third win in a row in 2018. She poses with Tanglez Salon owner Donnie Canady at the Best Of Party. Photo by Chris Brehmer Photography


Marcella Hardy – 49% votes

For year three now, Marcella Hardy has appeared on the Best Of Readers’ Poll as Best Esthetician. What does this mean? Well, her popularity clearly continues to skyrocket with readers. Why? Because Hardy continues to evolve in her skin-care offerings to Wilmingtonians—of all genders nonetheless.

“I’m proud to be the first and only to offer beard facials for men,” Hardy says. “I now have a men’s skin-care line and offer beard treatments and facials.”

Her massage and esthetics license has allowed her to continuously train and improve her operation, which started 24 years ago. Her professionalism is 20 years strong. While she currently doesn’t practice massage services, anyone who receives a facial will be able to experience her magic hands with facial massages. The products she uses with the facials are often hand-made to order, even—such as March’s Lavendar and Lemongrass Facial. Hardy mixes the product with homegrown lavendar and freshly picked lemongrass, along with other organic products.

“It’s never too late to take care of your skin, just like your teeth and your health,” Hardy says. “Sometimes spending a little more time on yourself has huge benefits and does so much for ones self esteem and self worth.”

She services a lot of clients who face aging issues and skin disorders, and can offer a skin care regimen, along with waxing services for items like ingrown hairs to help. Her long-running specials is a Brazilian wax. “I offer my regular repeat clients a discount,” she says. “I have so many people trust me with their skin, and they thank me for making them feel comfortable!”

In fact, careful attention to customer service means Hardy gains friends rather than mere customers. “That’s the advice I give when I speak to new esthetic class students: Treat them differently, like friends.”

She sets up shop at Tanglez on Oleander Drive (the salon was recognized this year as Best Tanning Salon, too) and admires and respects all the do for health and beauty. “I love my job, I love my clients—I’m so blessed to be a part of the Tanglez team.”

Other estheticians on the poll are Crystal Romero of Sola Salon Studios (24%) and Marla Jackson of Marla’s Skin and Wax Studio (27%).


FLOWER CHILD: Dana Cook and her grandson  take a moment to bask in the joy of Julia’s Florist numerous encore wins for Best Florist. Photo by Jessica Russell


Julia’s Florist – 73% votes

Julia’s Florist is all about helping folks share heartfelt emotions with loved ones by way of elegant, beautiful and unique floral creations. They convey love, excitement, well wishes, celebration, sorrow, with each gift carrying its own story.

“Consequently, we are the caretakers of emotion and truly treasure that responsibility,” Dana Cook says. “We often say, ‘We’re not saving lives, but we are sending someone’s emotions one vase at a time, so we must get it right.’ . . . Our lead driver, local bass player Jason Moore, often says, ‘I’m just delivering sunshine over and over again, it’s the greatest job a musician can have.’”

Based on popular opinion from encore readers, Julia’s has been considered Best Florist every year since 2004. They’ve taken home this year’s win to add to their “shamelessly displayed” plaques which hang their fresh flower cooler.

“Customers are everything to us,” Cook praises, “and we are so proud when someone points out our [awards]. We tell them how thankful we are each year to be chosen as the recipient.”

Julia’s growth over the years includes expansion to a design center directly across Wilshire Boulevard in Crossroads Shopping Center, near their anchor store at the corner of Wilshire and Kerr. It’s an updated modern facility but allows for more coolers and loading docks to account for more deliveries from growers worldwide. The move also was followed by their “Julia’s Events” showroom directly next door, where they meet with brides and event managers and planners for hand-on demonstrations and arrangement needs.

“Julia’s customers care enough to not only send flowers but to send the very best,” Cook observes. “They don’t wander onto the internet and order flowers from a national order taker that expects you to ‘add water and arrange.’ They want the freshest flowers, artfully arranged and delivered to their loved one’s doorstep with a smile and a ‘thank you.’”

Cook’s team of sales associates, floral artists, operation managers, processors, and delivery drivers means a great deal to her business’ success. In February she had to leave her post for a family emergency for 10 days, right before what is arguably her industry’s busiest time of year: Valentine’s Day. “When I returned the team, led by operations manager Katelyn McNulty, had not missed a beat,” Cook notes. “In fact, it proved to be our smoothest Valentine’s season ever.”

With spring around the corner, Julia’s will soon start focusing on seasonal colors, events and holidays. Low and compact design styles have been most popular trends as of late, while the “up-and-out garden styled classics” remain in demand as well. Their “Wild” arrangement is one of Cook’s favorites: A rustic wooden box, filled with elegant Cymbidium orchids, tulips, stock, roses, hydrangea, and fragrant eucalyptus. 

“I just love over-arching architecture of an arrangement designed by our floral manager Wendi Fayad,” Cook continues. “We go to great lengths to offer a wide variety of styles, but sometimes I just love when our customers say, ‘designer’s choice!’ Our designers really are artists and . . . they love a challenge, so some of our top arrangements are totally unique.”

Many arrangements can be viewed at, with updated offerings constantly. Not to overlook all of Julia’s non-floral specialty gifts, more relatively new options are beer and wine gift baskets.

“These are offered both in store and for local delivery, and can be paired with flowers, chocolates and gifts to create a truly remarkable gift that will make a terrific impression,” Cook adds.

Other favorite arrangements on our 2018 poll come from Fiore Fine Flowers (16%) and Verzaal Florist and Events (11%).


Dock Street Printing – 41% votes

“Wow! I must be in the right place!” seems to be the running theme when it comes to customers who notice a business’ encore Best Of award. And when the see an array of them, its more impressive. 

“It definitely helps instill a bit more confidence for the customer that might  need a bit more reassurance that they are in more than capable hands here,” Karl Schultz, owner of Dock Street Printing, says of his own collection. Schultz and company picked up another for Best Print Shop in 2018.

“It is always a honor to be nominated and recognized for our hard work,” he continues. “Our customers are always commenting how friendly we are and they love that we are always willing to work with them to achieve the best possible finished piece within the time and budget limits that they need.”

Being in the middle of a growing downtown Wilmington, Dock Street Printing does more than print business cards or copies on glossy paper—though, they are happy to do it with a smile. They have a line of services at; if there’s anything customers need a logo on they can get it. Plus, they offer free deliveries in New Hanover County on orders of $50 or more.

However, Christmas and other holidays are fun, especially when asked to print unique cards inked and illustrated by local artists. “They range in artistic style and theme,” Schultz describes, “but of course the occasional ‘dirty bird’ or ‘off-color’ card always makes the work interesting.”

Schultz and his team have an ear out for customers’ wants and needs. They often look for new products and services to bring to the print press when they can. For example, they now offer 13-feet-by-26-feet panoramic prints on text or cover, both in gloss and uncoated.

“With the installation of our new digital press at the end of December 2017, we are working to fine-tune some new pricing for larger color runs, as well as some specials we hope to offer, possibly as early as Easter,” Schultz adds. “We feel a few new services may be offered with its added capabilities. We’ll keep it at that for now, as we want to make sure we offer a solid service/product prior to announcing it officially. We hope to have something posted online later in the spring/summer 2018.”

Printworks (23%) and AlphaGraphics (35%) also made it to press on encore’s poll for Best Print Shop.


TEE UP: The crew from Beau Rivage joined in on the festivities at the encore Best Of Party, held at Brooklyn Arts Center on Feb. 24, where they won Best Golf Course. Photo by Chris Brehmer Photography


Beau Rivage Golf Resort – 51% votes

Living in a coastal community means the phrase “tee-off time” can be heard often, thanks to a mild climate that keeps the golfers on the greens year-round. On our reader’s poll for 2018, Beau Rivage Golf Resort comes out on top among Best Golf Course.

“We have big plans for the golf course and grounds this year at Beau Rivage,” GM Jake Walker says. “Our first priority is to renovate the our elevated driving range complex in the spring.”

They will reshape, relevel, and resod the course, as well as add artificial turf section, new benches, new bag stands, and renovating a few more tee boxes, bunkers, cart paths, signage, and more. Hosting more than 40,000 rounds of golf annually, Beau Rivage. stay top-of-mind because it’s course isn’t flat, so there’s more of a challenge to its players. Plus they always upkeep the putting greens and turf conditions. “The small things, like built-in GPS on the carts and promotional rates, also appeal to players,” according to Walker.

A family-owned and -operated business since 2006, Beau Rivage isn’t a corporation only looking at the bottom line. They’re friendly service keeps people coming back to golf, and even eat and lodge. “Whether someone is visiting the area as a single golfer, traveling with friends or as part of a group, after playing Beau Rivage, they’ll understand why outstanding customer service has always been our hallmark,” Walker beams.

The resort is expanding their clubhouse kitchen space and eating areas in 2018, too, so The Veranda Bar & Grill can accommodate larger groups, often seen when the club hosts charity (like for Pleasure Island Habitat, US Coast Guard Diligence, Carolina BG, and NC Public Transportation Association), or member tournaments. Tournaments are open to everyone and include events like holiday scrambles or even competitive outings like their Winter Lone-Wolf, Spring Stableford, Summertime 6-6-6, Fall Classic and Port City Open (the latter will be Beau Rivage’s first amateur tournament ). “We also reserve a list of outings exclusively for club members like the Member-Staff, True Alternate Shot, Texas Scramble, Plantation Cup, Easy Day, Tough Day, Club Championship, Member-Member and more,” Walker tells.

They round out December with a Player of the Year Shootout wherein members compete for dues credits, reserved parking spots and more. Find out more about becoming a member at

Other courses attracting golfers are Magnolia Greens (21%) and Cape Fear Country Club (28%).


Blockade Runner Hotel – 40% votes

Blockade Runner Beach Resort hosted around 75,000 guests last year, and while summer remains their overall busiest time, spring and fall follow in close second. “Spring brings out the athletes and a long list of marathons, biathlons, paddle races and bike races,” Blockade Runner’s Karen Pennington explains. In fact, two of Blockade Runner’s spring events were named among Southeast Tourism Society’s Top Twenty Events: March’s US Open Fat Bike Beach Championship and April’s Carolina Cup Paddle Race. “Both of these events are just as much fun for spectators as they are for the athletes. With a room at the hotel, you are staying right in the middle of the action.”

No matter what season, Blockade Runner offers food, family and fun to out-of-towners and locals alike. It’s likely what continues to land them on our readers’ poll for Best Hotel each year, and secured their win in 2018. Whether young professionals looking to stay beachside surrounded by trendy boutique hotel décor, groups in need of meeting rooms by day, or simply a place to relax in the evenings—there’s something special for everyone. “That, we think, is the magic of Wrightsville Beach at work,” Pennington muses.

Throughout the year Blockade Runner plays host to many folks celebrating anniversaries, special birthdays or getaways, but spring holiday gatherings like Easter and Mother’s Day are frequented by locals and typically include a grand buffet. Locals often enjoy overnight packages for winter’s Holiday Flotilla, Enchanted Airlie and Opera House Theatre Christmas Cabaret too.

Aside from Blockade Runner’s long-standing and colorful history in Wrightsville Beach, it’s become a mainstay for decades for many reasons: seaside gardens featuring beautiful flowers, hammocks, fire pits, outdoor dining and expansive lawns for playing children; Soundside watersports for all ages; sunset cruises from private docks; and restaurant menus filled with fresh local seafood, vegetables, herbs grown onsite, and farm-to-table options from local purveyors. “Chef Jessica Cabo and food and beverage director Robert Astraikis are constantly building artful renditions of classic Southern cuisine,” Pennington continues, “and presenting them in new and inventive ways. Our full moon dinners can really be an evening to remember.”

With extensive renovations to 40 guest rooms (new baths, new layouts, new décor), almost a dozen new adventure packages (sailing, eco-paddle, gardens, island flavors) are rolling in for spring, too, at Their list of community events and fundraisers continues to grow as well. “Live music and poolside dining kick off in April,” Pennington details. “A variety of musicians play Wednesday and Friday evenings and also for Sunday Brunch.”

In a year where downtown Wilmington has experienced tremendous growth, including new hotels with their own offerings, Pennington admits it’s humbling for Blockade Runner to be singled out as a local favorite. “We are grateful for every encore reader who took the time to cast a vote,” she says. “We’ll be working hard this year, to live up to all of your expectations.”

Remaining on our top three-list for Best Hotel include Holiday Inn Resort (22%) and Hilton Wilmington Riverside (38%).


FUR THE LOVE OF PETS: The folks from College Road Animal Hospital score win number three for the Best Veterinarian category. Photo by Chris Brehmer Photography


College Road Animal Hospital – 36% votes

2018 marks year three that College Road Animal Hospital has taken Best Veterinarian on our readers’ poll. Their services are aplenty at both locations (which includes Carolina Beach Animal Hospital). They offer extended hours for urgent care, Monday through Friday (6 – 11 p.m.) and on Sundays (10 a.m. – 4 p.m.), and they provide flexible financing. Plus, this year, they have alternative medicinal care for their patients.

“Dr. Kim Smith now offers veterinary acupuncture services,” assistant office manager Angela West says. “It is a tool that can be used in conjunction with conventional medicine to improve a pet’s quality of life in many disease processes and in preventative medicine.”

They cover the basics of immunization and wellness care, but offer nutritional counseling, behavioral medicine, dental care, digital radiology, specialists, and more. Plus, they’ve extended their exotic medicine services at both College Road and Carolina Beach Animal Hospitals. Folks line up to bring their reptiles, bunnies, rats, gerbils, sugar gliders, ferrets, and birds, in addition to Fito and Milo.

“The most important aspect for us to continue being a successful veterinary practice is providing progressive medicine for our patients, where emphasis is placed on exceptional client services and education, to increase the health and well-being of our patients,” West continues.

Their wellness plans helps clients split up costs to afford larger services rendered, whether it’s an X-ray or emergency surgery. It helps CRAH and CBAH continue to provide the best care without stressing patients who fear their pets health will be at risk because of financial worries.

The vet also works with local rescue programs. They also oversee their own, CRAH Pet Rescue, to ensure continued efforts are always at the forefront to save, rehabilitate and adopt animals.

“We hold many special events to raise money for CRAH &and CBAH’s Paws rescues,” West notes. “The events that we hold are typically our annual dog wash, yard sales, and other exciting fundraisers.”

Folks can keep up to date by checking out their website at Also found here will be products and services they recommend and offers on  rebates and specials, as well as updates on their loyalty rewards programs.

Other veterinarians ranking high with their furry lovin’ is Paws and Claws Animal Hospital (34%) and A Country Veterinarian Clinic (30%).


HEMPED UP: Joe Lupton, manager of the S. College Rd. store, and Chelsea Wetherell, marketing director,  are all smiles for The Hemp Farmacy’s first win. Photo by Shea Carver


The Hemp Farmacy – 50% votes

A new kid is in town and taking the Best Alternative Medicine category by storm in its first year. The Hemp Farmacy opened two stores in Wilmington in 2017—one downtown on Grace Street and the other on South College Road. They sell non-psychotropic products made of hemp and cannabidiol (CBD)—which means it’s all-natural and won’t have the aftereffects of marijuana simply because there is no THC involved.

“The Hemp Farmacy is the first business of its kind on the East Coast and provides the region with high-quality, in-demand CBD and hemp products,” according to marketing director and events coordinator Chelsea Wetherell.

Since the 2014 Farm Bill, section 7606, passed, universities and state departments of agriculture have grown hemp for research purposes and commercial uses under pilot programs. In 2018, all 50 states allow folks to buy, possess and sell hemp and CBD products.

Why is this a big deal? Quite simply, the uses of hemp are far and wide and have been around for ages. In the 1800s, hemp was used as the primary source to make textbooks. Today, in NC, farmers are undergoing a pilot program to get approval to grow hemp to make paper rather than rely on trees.

As well, it’s a great source for textile, biofuel and even food, but at The Hemp Farmacy its natural healing properties are the reason most folks buy the dietary supplements. “We have a system of receptors in our body specifically for the metabolization of cannabinoids,” Wetherell tells.

Whether buying topical products to help with skin issues or tinctures to help with migraines or edibles for anxiety, products galore can be found. Better yet, folks don’t need a medical card, prescription or special permission to utilize The Hemp Farmacy services.

“Our line of U.S.-produced products are researched, reviewed and tested by our knowledgeable staff before being sold,” Wetherell says. To be clear, however, Farmacy staff are not doctors, and they are not making recommendations for products for a specific condition. “We are not allowed to comment on our customer’s results,” Wetherell clarifies. “The FDA regulates what representations we can make regarding product, as well as places limitations on testimonials from satisfied customers.”

Though insurance does not cover The Hemp Farmacy products, the Farmacy offers monthly savings and generates discounts to veterans and first responders. Their focus is to offer the best service, which also includes educating the public. Their Facebook often features classes and lectures being offered on hemp and CBD, plus they provide live video regarding products and information on topics like “How to refill your vape pen.”

“Historically tinctures have been our most popular products because they are easy to use and discrete,” Wetherell says. “However, since The Hemp Farmacy began selling hemp flowers in November, they have become a favorite among our customers.”

Other place taking top votes per Best Alternative Medicine are Wilmington Acupuncture Clinic (24%) and McKay Healing Arts (26%).


ROCKIN’ CREW: Staff from the Rockin Roller Salon take home their first win as Best Hair Salon in encore’s 2018 readers’ poll. Photo by Chris Brehmer Photography


Rockin’ Roller Salon – 43% votes

When it comes to hot tresses, there are many folks in Wilmington to turn to in order to keep the best kept locks looking shiny and perfectly coiffed. On encore’s readers’ poll, we have a new contender cutting their way into first place: The Rockin’ Roller Salon.

Made up of eight hair stylists, make-up artists, an esthetician, and administrative folks, the Kerr Avenue salon has been known for their edgy approach to hair design and their under-the-radar, word-of-mouth praise since they opened a decade ago. In 2018 their appeal continues to rise with a boldness our readers are taking to most brilliantly. Stylist Cindy Emerson attributes the popularity to Rockin’ Roller’s willingness to remain fresh on the front lines.

“This industry is always evolving,” she says. “Education is the key, and attending classes on new products and new techniques helps keep you up to date on constant changing trends.”

Currently, they’re servicing a lot of wants and needs for balayage, blonding and texture.  Clients are going platinum in order to sport the mermaid look, oil slick, opaque, or smoky pastels. Their clientele spans the ages too, from ages 4 to 84.

“Some are conservative, while others are looking for something crazy and shocking,” stylist Lauren Ricker notes. “I think they trust me as a stylist because I am always honest about my abilities, limitations of their hair or anything else that might affect the outcome, and also knowing that I stay current on my education.”

The salon is constantly evolving visually as well. Local art adorns their walls and they are considering the addition of nail services again. “We hope to have more stylist go for master colorist training with Goldwell,”  owner James Lewis says.

While the clientele praises the work, the stylists praise the work dynamic and environment that constantly invigorates their passion and creativity. “It is awesome that I have a wonderful place to come to work,” stylist Dylan Sabo says. “I love meeting and working with people. This job allows me to get challenged on different levels. It also makes me feel ecstatic when the client loves the work I put into their hair and make them feel beautiful or handsome.”

But service isn’t only available to folks in store. Stylists make sure once customers get outside the store, they’re also informed on the best practices in keeping their hair healthy. “Trust your stylists at home recommendations,” Blythe Lundy advises. “We take into consideration your individual lifestyles and hair needs when we recommend products.”

The Rockin’ Roller also work with our community at large and local nonprofits. They donate money made from teal fusions and bracelets to Coastal Horizons annually. Plus, each October the donate money made from pink fusion to American Cancer Society. “We always carry Toys for Tots box in the shop in December,” Lewis continues. “We also have a few stylist who have donated their time to Nourish NC.”

They’re hoping 2018 marks the first year of many to begin their Best Of collection, as awards decorate walls of local businesses with the famed “e.” “It is a good way for new and veteran residents to discover local businesses they might not have heard of but have earned votes from loyal customers that show that they provide great quality of customer service,” Lundy says. “We’re happy to be among them.”

Other hair salons snipping on the poll are Tanglez of Wilmington (42%) and Brush Salon (15%).


Tidal Creek Co-op  – 39% votes

The old saying “you are what you eat” is cliché, even if true. Many of us still hanging on to new year’s resolutions know how to be healthy means starting with food. According to our readers, the best place to keep to those goals is Tidal Creek Co-Op.

Founded in 1982 as a community-owned food store, Tidal Creek has worked to source quality natural foods, supplements and other health items at a good price. They strive to showcase artisan products that are “local, sustainably produced, healthful, humanely raised and reflect fair trade practices,” according to their missions statement. Co-manager Anthony Garguilo says his favorite part about working at the co-op are customers.

“We are a community at Tidal Creek, and a true small business,” he tells. “Our customers shop with us because they love and trust us—and the feeling is mutual!”

The co-op contains 1,700 members currently, which continues to grow. “Being an owner of Tidal Creek saves you money, supports a local business that truly does good in our community, and means you own a grocery store!” Garguilo says. “How great is that?”

Members receive discounts and rewards, but Garguilo points out how members also share in profits. “When we make a profit, Garguilo says, “we give dividend checks back to our owners!”

Although Tidal Creek’s mission has remained the same over the years, they’ve added new ways to get the community involved. They host markets, exercise classes, tastings, dinners, and more for the community at large.

“The biggest addition for 2018 is probably our new Saturday Farmers’ Market,” Garguilo says. “Late last year, we were approached by a group of the area’s best local and organic farmers, who asked us about hosting a producer-only market, which we naturally obliged!”

Called simply “Wilmington Farmers’ Market,” it is different from others of its ilk because it features food produced by local vendors. In addition, Tidal Creek hosts a monthly craft fair and goat yoga.

“Goat Yoga is a trip,” Garguilo admits. It’s a monthly gathering of yoga practitioners and four-hoofed climbers from Be Life Farms. Be Life is just one of many local producers that  partner with Tidal Creek.

“It’s really something to be able to work with veteran farmers like Stephan at Black River and Meg Shelton at Shelton Herb farm, and watch the mentoring and support they provide to the next generation. “Kyle Stenerson of Humble Roots, and Morgan Milne, a.k.a. Red Beard, are amazing young folks carrying on the tradition, and providing us with literally the best food money can buy.”

As for rumors the market might be moving to a new location, they tell encore for now they’re staying put. They want to get back to the basics.

“Our board has made the decision to focus on strengthening our core business on Oleander, and really giving back to our community our top priorities,” Garguilo notes, “and that’s where we are putting all of our energy right now.”

Other health-food stores topping the poll are Whole Foods (29%) and Lovey’s Market (32%).


EVERYBODY’S CRUISIN’: Greg Powell, Tatiana Venable and Felix Emeka from Cruisers Car Wash and Detail Center are keep vehicles spin-and-span and collecting e’s in the process for being top-notch in their field. Photo by Chris Brehmer Photography


Cruisers Car Wash & Detail Center – 55% votes

It’s pollen season, y’all, and in addition to the itching and sneezing, all of Wilmington cars are covered in the yellow stuff already. Cruiser’s Car Wash can’t help with allergies, but according to our readers, they can get that ride dusted off better than anywhere else in town.

Since they opened in 1998, Cruisers has grown to include two full-service locations and two express locations throughout southeastern NC. Their full service locations offer detailing, shampooing and odor removal, headlight restoration, and now dent removal.

“Last spring we sent Felix, our general manager, to paintless dent removal school, Cruisers president Clayton Gsell says. “Paintless dent removal, or PDR, is a process that enables us to remove dents from the ‘inside out’ of a vehicle’s body. Instead of spending thousands of dollars at a body shop, we can remove dents for as little as $100.”

They also recently added to their family of businesses Coastal Glass Tinting, a company that has been operating in Wilmington for over 38 years. It has allowed them to offer time- and money-saving options for customers.

“We now offer special-package pricing between Cruisers and Coastal Tint,” Gsell says. “We also have complete detailing services at Coastal Tint so many of our customers drop off their vehicles for tint and get it detailed as well. It’s a great time-saver for our customers.”

The center of Cruisers philosophy is and always will be customer service. They want every person, local and tourist alike, to leave happy and know they can depend on Cruisers after every day-trip to the beach, or pollen rainfall with every season change, or even the occasional snow fall. The Cruisers staff keeps top of mind how vehicles are among people’s most important investments. Thus, every vehicle is treated with utmost care.

Cruisers also understands the importance of giving back to their community at large. They continuously support local charities, according to Gsell.

“Currently, we work with Lower Cape Fear Hospice, the Cape Fear Council of the Boy Scouts, The American Heart Association, She Rocks, and a number of smaller charities.” 

And as a constant gratitude of support, Cruisers also offers free washes to veterans every Veterans’ Day.

Other car washes scrubbing onto the poll are Mister Sudzy Car Wash and Detail Center (20%) and Buff Masters Car Wash (25%).


Perry’s Emporium – 47% votes

Each year, if it snows in [pick somewhere cold in America] on Christmas Day, Alan Perry and his team of jewelers have a massive engagement ring giveaway. It’s part of their marketing genius to create a brand and keep customers benefitting from lifelong partnerships with Wilmington’s Best Jeweler. Perry’s Emporium has paid for ??? rings from this campaign. But what they’ve gained in return are community adoration.

But it isn’t only engagement rings Alan Perry is known for. He also carries a large line of other highly revered jewelry, from bracelets to necklaces, earrings to watches, and beyond. “We just picked up ELLE, which is a sterling silver fashion line,” marketing manager Kayla Millie tells. “Alan, [and his sons] Jordan, and Josh just went to a show in Atlanta and picked up a bunch of different men’s jewelry, and colored gemstone jewelry, like jade and sapphire.”

Just in the past month, they’ve received dozens of loose diamonds to help evolve their already large and impressive collection. Much like the snow campaign, their “Rainy Day Diamond Guarantee” means refunds are given on engagement rings when it showers on the day of the big dance.

“It must rain an inch here at Perry’s on your wedding day,” Millie tells. “We also have our trade-up policy, where if you buy your diamond from us, whether it’s a diamond to go in an engagement ring, diamond studs, or a diamond pendant, you can trade it in the future for a bigger diamond. We will give you credit from the price of your old diamond toward your new one.”

Their constant discounted programs mean lovers get the most for their buck. Engagement ring purchases receive 20 percent off wedding band purchases as well. Plus, they carry a slew of designers, like Hearts on Fire, Sylvie, Simon G., Gabriel & Co, and ArtCarved, as well as Triton and Benchmark. And if vintage is the way a bride prefers to showcase her style, Perry’s can help. They have a wide variety of estate bridal offerings. 

“Because we offer so many loose diamonds to complete the semi-mounts we carry, you can completely customize your engagement ring to be what you want it to be,” Millie verifies. “Our estate collection has always been a top seller for us. We have antique and vintage pieces that are timeless and affordable and come from almost every decade and every style.”

Because of living on the coast, men aren’t left out of the jewelry equation in town. Fishermen and outdoorsmen who need sturdy watches in harsh environments can find REACTOR—a top seller of Perry’s since theyr’e the only jeweler carrying them on the East Coasts.

While selling the best and most beautiful gems, jewels, gold and silver remains top priority, Perry’s give-back to the community at large keeps him popular beyond shiny, sparkly wares. He offers a helping hand with numerous nonprofits like Cape Fear Literacy Council, American Red Cross, PEO of Southport, Operation Pretty Things, Ducks Unlimited, several church organizations, and First Fruit Ministries.

“We’ve given away over 1 million dollars in the past 26 years to charities,” Millie tells. “ Alan is a big believer in giving back to where you live. Typically we give donations or sponsor events hosted by organizations, and Alan will often act as the auctioneer if there is an auction for a charity.”

Other jewelers stamping our poll are Reeds Jewelers (31%) and Cape Fear Jewelry and Antiques (22%).


GOLD IN A BOTTLE: Dr. Kristen Gibbs, co-owner of Fermental, takes the first “e” for Best Bottle Shop 2018. Photo by Chris Brehmer Photography


Fermental  – 39% votes

A bottle shop has a pretty clear purpose: They must stock bottles of alcoholic beverages and sell them to people. But the best bottle shops don’t stop there when deciding how to conduct business. They take “stocking” a step further and begin “curating.” They listen to their customers and pay attention to industry trends, in order to put together a collection of beers and wines that will provide a lot of choices, but more importantly the right choices for each and every imbiber.

For over five years, Fermental has strived to be the among the best. When they opened their business on the North Market Street corridor in a 1940’s bungalow, they were pretty much the only game in the area. But they were surrounded by residential communities and ripe opportunities for future growth. Owner Steven Gibbs has embraced the neighbors who have made hanging out at Fermental a part of their routine. But it doesn’t stop there.

“We also host a good amount of other area locals from Monkey Junction to downtown, alongside tourists from neighboring big cities,” he clarifies of their vast clientele. “We are a local small business that offers a unique, unassuming, laid-back environment.”

During a Friday night visit, an equal number of college-aged patrons, Marines, young families with kids, grandparents with grandkids, and retirees who seemed thankful to have no kids in tow all shared the same space—smiles, sips and laughter included.

Fermental serves beer and wine, of course, but patrons will never get a sense they’re in a spot their kids shouldn’t be. In fact, games are aplenty, from bocce ball to horse shoes, giant Jenga, Bahamian ring game, and plenty of board games indoors. Folks pack picnics and gather in the beer garden to hear live music. Others line up at the food trucks on Fridays and Saturdays to nosh on locally made vittles. “We try to stay busy with fun,” Gibbs clarifies. “As the weather warms up, live music continues on Thursday nights with food trucks as well as the occasional Sunday shows.”

Upcoming at the space will be a St. Patrick’s Day celebration on Saturday, March 17. Fermental will go green with a naturally dyed Pisgah Brewing Cream Ale. Their hop infusion chamber will include whole leaf Cascade hops in an IPA to offer a bit o’ extra green hoppiness; Port City Puffs & Stuffs will be parked to serve up grub, while Soul R Fusion takes the stage at 8 p.m. On March 21, they will welcome Sweetwater Brewing Company and showcase beers on draught, bottles and promotional items, along with rare beers and daily favorites. Vittles food truck will be there at 7 p.m. and Kyle Lindley will play at 7 p.m.

Fermental has six brews on tap in-house, as well as special-order kegs, not to mention over 1,000 beer options and new varietals and labels of wine, sake and mead, starting at $4.99. Plus, they host wine tastings every Friday at 6 p.m.

“We are a local, small business that offers a unique, unassuming, laid back environment,” Gibbs tells. “One of the original goals of Fermental was to create a place that we would want to go every day.”

Other bottle shops popping votes on the list are Palate (24%) and Hey! Beer (37%).


Intracoastal Realty – 54% votes

“The market is on fire, and we’re seeing low inventory and multiple offer situations on properties in many price segments,” Lake Slacum tells encore about southeastern NC’s housing market. In fact, folks looking to purchase a home under $400,000 will find low inventory and high demand. “Intracoastal Realty’s average selling price in New Hanover County for 2017 was $370,605,” Slacum tells.

For buyers with a little more bang in their pockets, luxury homes (over $1 million) were on an upswing in 2017 and as a result have reduced the surplus of listings. “Despite a significant number of luxury home sales, however, the amount of inventory is such that it remains a buyer’s market (inventory exceeds demand),” Slacum tells.

Currently, Intracoastal has about 1,728 listings in our three-county area. With their copious resources and easy-to-make transactions, Intracoastal realtors remain well-connected and go above and beyond what it takes to make clients happy. They even merge friendships most of the time.

As for first-time buyers looking for tips, Slacum says get pre-approved mortgage rate first in order to know what properties are available for said budget. If folks have bad credit scores, then find a mortgage lender who will have programs to help repair their credit.

“ Also, first-time buyers – and any buyer, for that matter – should download the Intracoastal HomeSpotter App to search for properties,” Slacum instructs. “It’s a great tool and is so convenient to search for properties on a mobile phone or tablet.  There is nothing else like it in this marketplace.  The homespotter”feature is something even Zillow doesn’t have!”

Slacum says it’s a great time to purchase a home, since APRs are near historic lows still, even comparing with data going back to the 1970s.  A half-percentage of an increase can result in a few 100 bucks added to a monthly mortgage payment.  “The time to buy is now while rates are low, because they won’t remain there forever,” he tells.

Aside from overseeing a strong business model, Intracoastal Realty also believes in strengthening its community. They donate to over 70 charities annually, and their why founder Jim Wallace established his own 501(c)(3) in 2005 called “Teacher’s Fund.” It helps area instructors the opportunity to afford school supplies and books they need for success in the classroom.

“To date, the Teacher’s Fund has awarded over 1,400 grants in excess of $300,000 and benefitts more than 150,000 students,” Slacum says.

Other real-estate agencies taking votes are Coldwell Banker Sea Coast Advantage (30%) and Regina Drury Real Estate (16%).


WINNING WHEELS: Paul Tracy and his staff from Auto Wholesale score another Bestie from the 2018 Best Of readers’ poll. Photo by Chris Brehmer Photography


Auto Wholesale – 47% votes

Car-buying is an experience most of us don’t look forward to since the process has a reputation of being arduous: figuring out what you want, finding it locally, getting a price negotiated, and getting it financed. The price-negotiation part is what most dread, but Auto Wholesale—Wilmington’s Best Used Car Dealership—largely takes that process out of the equation.

“We offer a no-haggle buying experience,” owner Paul Tracy says with pride. Essentially, that means there’s no wheelin’’ and dealin.’ And there’s no “I have to ask my manager about this price” nonsense either.

“Our customers deal with the same person from the beginning to the end of the buying experience,” Tracy says.

Tracy spends a lot of his time sourcing inventory, and remaining selective about it. Auto Wholesale only sells newer, low-mileage cars, all at the right price. Why do they do things differently? According to Tracy, consistency is key.

“Same consistency that we’ve had from day one,” he tells. “We’re still doing the same things because they have been proven to work!”

Auto Wholesale’s inventory is changing daily as more cars are sold. Those sales are made easier by a seamless financing system.

“All of the salesmen help the customers get their financing done,” Tracy praises. “We are well-versed in the different credit situations, so we are here to help customers get into the car of their dreams.”

Tracy says their top sellers are Hondas and Toyotas, but their inventory is large with all top-grade makes and models equaling $2 million in inventory currently on the lot.

Other used dealerships riding the polls are Jeff Gordon Chevrolet (26%) and Bruce Cavenaugh’s Automart (27%).


Sweetwater Surf Shop – 43% votes

Sweetwater Surf Shop keeps washing up on the Best Of shores annually and storming the Best Surf Shop category. Its Wrightsville Beach location makes it a prime spot for folks looking to get the latest threads in surf ware, from bathing suits to board shorts, dresses to tanks, shirts, shoes, hats, sunglasses, and the like from brands like Vans, Reef, Hurley, Sanuk, and Toms. 

“Eco-friendly products are becoming more and more important to us, and we are striving to bring in more eco-friendly brands in clothing, sunscreen, etc.,” says Danielle Bourgeois, owner of Sweetwater.

Just as well, the surf shop launched its own line of clothing a few years ago with screenprinted and embroidered tees. The customers took to the shop’s surf brand and so Sweetwater expanded their inventory to include men’s walk shorts, knit shirts, board shorts, dresses, and tops, among other items.

“Our brand compliments the other surf brands we carry,” Bourgeois tells, “but at a better price. Often customers come in looking for the surf brands but also want a good deal. Plus, so many of our customers like to represent the Sweetwater name.”

Their upcoming annual Swim Soiree will feature all spring 2018 swimwear for men, women and children at 20 percent off. Plus they event will have raffle items, a DJ, snacks and drinks, and other freebies. The event takes place March 15, 7 p.m. – 8 p.m. 

Aside from its popular clothes, the store has hundreds of surf boards and skate boards for sale, too. For folks who don’t want to purchase a board, they do have surf board rentals, body board, and SUP rentals, as well, for a day, half-day or even by the week. They also can point folks in the right director for recommended surf lessons.

Pros who want to show off their technique can go ahead and mark August 17 – 19 as the dates for their annual O’Neill/Sweetwater PRO-AM (keep up to date on the event at

Sweetwater has been taking home the “e” for more than a decade now, with the last eight wins coming consecutively. Bourgeois attests their popularity to offering great products and deals, but also because they family-owned establishment focuses on community and events.

“We will have a Soft Top Surf contest at the end of April,” she teases. “The date is yet to be determined.”

Other surf shops riding the waves onto our poll are Hot Wax (30%) and South End Surf Shop (27%).


FASHION FORWARD: Jenn O’Campo, Matthew Angell, Michael Vinson, & Larkin Peoples from Bloke happily accept the award for Best Men’s Clothing. Photo by Chris Brehmer Photography


Bloke Apparel and Supply – 39% votes

On the downtown streets, at 216 Princess, is Wilmington’s Best Men’s Clothing Store, Bloke Apparel and Supply, which has taken the category by storm numerous years in a row now. They carry multiple brands and wares, from clothing to grooming products. Even better, they offer locally made products, like Forge and Foundry, meaning money spent at Bloke is money well-spent across the whole community.

“We’ve been selling their grooming line for six years now,” Michael Vinson says. “They offer two of our best selling items, an all natural deodorant and pomade, and have become staples for our customers.”

They are also introducing a new clothing NC-made line to their inventory, Alex Mostella. Vinson calls the high-end basic clean, unique and modern. They’re also showcasing Candor from Los Angeles. “They offer casual, yet forward designs with an elevated aesthetic,” Vinson says.

Whether wanting classic staples or updated trends, Bloke has it all. They are currently seeing a trend toward throwbacks of the ‘80s and ‘90s with modern flair.

“From colorful geometric prints to bold color blocking, and from looser fits to track suits. All items with a nod to those decades still offer updated fits, fabrications, and design elements that keep them contemporary, fresh, and wearable,” he adds.

When Bloke opened on the north side of town, on Military Cutoff, their popularity soared almost instantaneously. However, since being downtown for the last three years, they’ve culled a greater sense of community. “The relationships we form with our patrons, neighbors, and friends are very important to us,” Vinson says. “We’re super thankful to have the chance to weave our way into the fabric of the downtown community—and look forward to the years to come.”

When they aren’t keeping men looking dapper, they’re operating on their give-back to the community they adore. In fact, they work with Dauntless Dogs, Lillie Ann Heggins Scholarship Fund, and Cape Fear Heart Associates.

“Helping to raise funds and awareness for local charities is something that we try and practice as often as we can!” Vinson says.

Other men’s clothing stores racking up votes on the poll are Belk (34%) and The Gentleman’s Corner (27%).


GIFTING THE BEST: Melissa Hindle-Sherman accepts the award for Blue Moon Gift Shops again in 2018 as Best Gift Shop. Photo by Chris Brehmer Photography


Blue Moon Gift Shops – 61% votes

The “Blue Moon Concept” was born in 1999, when owner Mary Ann Masucci founded a spot for local artisans and craftspeople to test out their businesses before going all-in for an individual retail space. As a sort of stepping stone to complete independence, Blue Moon Gift Shops both supports local makers and creates an inimitable shopping experience for locals and tourists—a shopping experience that has won it Best Gift Shop for 10 consecutive years.

Featuring over 100 local artisans in 8,500 square feet of space, Blue Moon Gift Shops has something for everyone. Whether you have a discerning eye for handmade jewelry, want to pick up a quick souvenir for a friend, or are looking for a stand-out baby shower gift or piece of wall art, Blue Moon is the place to go. Shoppers enter the one-of-a-kind, asymmetrical building off Racine Dr. into a lofted space, a kind of loop lined with individual boutiques. It resembles a farmers’ market, but one full of specialty clothes and linens, handmade bags and pottery, affordable sculptures and other art.

“Our customers are always looking for unique items that are handmade, and our selection of new shops is attempting to meet that need,” Masucci says. “We are always bringing in new and exciting shops.”

In 2013, Blue Moon began a shop of its own—Eclipse Artisan Boutique, a unique kind of art gallery. Award-winning in its own right, the shop features one-of-a-kind, eclectic pieces meant to surprise.

The shop supports its vendors myriad ways, from playing an advisory and encouragement role to promoting sales and events on social media and the Blue Moon website. By sharing a space, vendors can minimize overhead costs like utilities, phone bills or sales tax. Blue Moon provides sales staff at the shop seven days a week, so vendors don’t have to worry about being on hand all the time to sell their wares. The shop also provides a security system and updates vendors frequently about their inventory and other pertinent information.

“We’re so excited about our new point of sale system,” Masucci adds. “With the new system, our checkout is more efficient, and our vendors can access their sales in real time.”

Potential vendors can look into leasing at Blue Moon by filling out an application, providing a work sample, a business plan, and $200 for the application fee.

As for shoppers, stop by the Blue Moon Gift Shops any day of the week to check out new vendors, artists and entrepreneurs, always expecting the best of Wilmington’s gifts and art.

Other gift shops wrapping up votes on the poll are Crabby Chic (14%) and Dragonflies (25%).


ROLLIN’ WITH THE LI’L HOMIES: Sabrina Newman accepts the award for Best Kids’ Clothing Store for Once Upon a Child at the encore awards party at Brooklyn Arts Center on Feb. 24. Photo by Chris Brehmer Photography


Once Upon A Child – 43% votes

A Fisher-Price lawnmower. Vineyard Vines youth tees. Mudpie skirts. Converse tennis shoes. A sturdy crib. A copy of “Little Women.” A double stroller. A DVD of “How to Train Your Dragon.” If all these were on your shopping list, you could spend a long day hopping from store to store and paying full retail price. Or you could drop by Once Upon A Child, load them all in the same cart, and spend a fraction of what you would elsewhere. 

Wilmington’s branch of the Once Upon A Child has been owned and operated by Terry and Sherry Talbott since 1994—long enough to see the toddlers it clothed at the beginning grow up and have their own kids. Despite being part of the largest national kids resale franchise in the U.S., the store on New Centre Dr. has a family feel.

“We have a good variety of clientele from young mothers, grandmothers, mothers, siblings, etc.,” store manager Sabrina Newman says. “We make it a great store with great variety for everybody to get what they are looking for.”

Whether you’re in the market for a whole wardrobe of onesies for a newborn or a varied list for children of different ages and interests, Once Upon A Child can meet every need. As a resale store, Once Upon A Child offers kids’ clothing for up to 70 percent off normal retail. In addition to being the go-to for buying kids’ gear, it’s also a premier destination for selling it. The process is simple: bring in gently used clothes your child has grown out of, leave them with a store associate to process while you browse for clothes your child can grow into, and return to the associate who will make an offer on qualifying items. It’s not limited to clothes, either—Once Upon A Child also carries toys and equipment.

“Toddler sizes and equipment are always top sellers for us and high-demand items,” Newman continues. “Your child is always growing—why not come trade your gently used items for something else your child can use? Once they outgrow that, come repeat the process!”

Of course, Once Upon A Child isn’t the only kids’ clothing store in Wilmington, but what sets them apart is the pride they take in their work and the customer service they provide. “The best part of my job [is] the customer interaction,” Newman elaborates. “Always being able to help out, make outfit suggestions, and let the customers leave happy is what makes my job worth it.”

Connecting with Once Upon A Child on Facebook and Instagram is a great way to keep abreast of upcoming deals and promotions, like the Star Wars items rolling out on May 4. “We are always posting great new deals, new inventory, changes…” Newman notes.

She credits the Best Of win to her hard-working, service-oriented staff and, of course, the families of ILM. “We always get great items in every day,” Newman says. “We are a unique, one of a kind store. Every day is a new day for surprises.”

Other kids’ clothing stores unfolding on the poll are Carters (23%) and Peanut Butter and Jelly (33%).


Island Passage – 42% votes

Despite Island Passage’s focus on women’s clothing, each of its boutiques is a little different. Its biggest store, over on Bald Head Island, carries not only women’s fashion but also surf lifestyle brands and family BHI clothing. Elixir, its downtown spot, carries the high-end, cutting-edge brands: Free People, BB Dakota, Blank NYC, Band of Gypsies, DV by Dolce Vita, Seychelles. The Wrightsville Beach location at Lumina Station adds to these lines brands with emerging names, like Tart Collections, Show Me Your Mumu, Michael Stars and Velvet; it also stocks jewelry pieces that make beautiful gifts. And then there’s ‘Edet: the revamp of Return Passage meant for fashion-savvy women on a budget.

Owner Kristyn Prentice and her partners are very excited about ‘Edet, their newest project, which she describes as a true sister store for Island Passage. “Edet” is a phonetic spelling of the word “edit,” which the owners often use as they select garments for the store.

“It is a selection of very accessible clothing and jewelry with an emphasis on shoes,” Prentice explains. “We wanted to elevate the shopping experience without elevated the prices. We want ‘Edet to be modern and meet the needs of today’s shopper.”

Island Passage is always adding new lines to its stores. Recent additions include Lovestitch—“bohemian on a budget”—and Z Supply, a line  of classic cotton tees and wardrobe staples. It carries local lines, too, like positive tees from hunger-fighting nonprofit Half United and jewelry from Kristin Woods’ Kopius line. Jewelry is one area where Island Passage stays on the move.

“Our jewelry selection always stays on a constant spin,” Prentice says. “It seems as soon as we get in a large presentation we need to replenish. We think it’s the affordability and the fun trends. Plus everyone loves a bit of jewelry to show their personal style.”

Personal style is what Island Passage embodies. It’s a place to pick out the comfy jeans or simple tees, but also one where you can find your next eye-catching pendant or one-of-a-kind ankle boots. It’s a place for styling weekends at home, Friday nights on the town, Tuesday mornings at school, or Thursday lunches with old friends or new bosses. It’s a place to find—or reinvent—your style.

2018 marks Island Passage’s 25th year in business, with Prentice and her partners celebrating 4 years since their acquisition of the stores. Their current projects include revamping the VIP program and putting together partnerships with charities and nonprofits, so stay tuned.

“We are grateful every day for the community’s love of Island Passage,” Prentice continues. “It’s truly my dream come true.  Nothing makes my day more [than] when I hear a story about someone shopping with their mom when they were in high school and now shop with their own daughter.”

Other women’s clothing stores dressing the encore readers’ poll go to Edge of Urge (37%) and Monkees of Wilmington (21%).


FUR THE WIN! The ladies of Von Barkee’s Dog Spa and Bakery gleam with pride for their 2018 Best Dog Groomer win at the annual awards party held Feb. 24 at Brooklyn Arts Center downtown on Fourth St. Photo by Chris Brehmer Photography


Von Barkee’s Dog Spa – 39% votes

Here at encore, we love our four-legged friends just as much as people (OK, maybe more). They’re always happy to see us after a long day of work. They make us feel better when we’re sad, and they never—ever!—bring up politics. They work hard for us, and good pet owners know doggies deserve to be pampered, too.

At Von Barkee’s Dog Spa and Bakery, this year’s readers’ pick for Best Dog Groomer, they have the tools and expertise to make sure Fito leaves feeling and looking great. Owner Nikki Beall says getting to know so many dog lovers in the community is what keeps her going.

“Developing a close relationship with them is such an amazing part of what we get to do,” Beall notes. “When you see a pet regularly and actually know them, their personality, you gain an invaluable ability to alert pet parents when something is ‘off’—or if they aren’t acting like their normal selves.”

Beall says she sees an average of 12 to 15 pets a day, and recently she gained more space to pamper them. In fact, it’s already been a pretty big year for the locally owned groomer.

“We moved into an amazing location two miles from downtown, in the Sunset Park area, and have much more room for events and the private dog park we have been wanting to offer our clients!” she says.

By “clients,” Beall is referring to the four-legged variety. “The most rewarding part of what we do is seeing a pet happy to come to Von Barkee’s and feel at home and comfortable. Nothing compares to seeing a dog super excited and running into our dog spa!”

Beall has been grooming pets for 20 years, and in her experience, proper care by owners between groomers is key. Brushing their fur is key. “And not just brushing, but being able to comb through the coat with a metal comb after it is brushed,” she tells. “If you cannot get a metal comb through your pet’s coat, all the way down to the skin, we will not be able to get clippers through it.”

They even will work one on one with clients to show them proper grooming techniques and tools to use. “We never want to have to shave a dog,” Beall says. “Our preference is to keep them looking cute and styled.”

Beall loves working with all dogs, of course, but her favorite is terriers. Their spunky personalities twists at her heart strings—as do elderly pups.  “They have given so much love in their lifetime and are so deserving of a little extra attention and pampering,” she says.

Von Barkee’s staff is just as passionate about their work, such as Jessica Newcombe, who is known as the “Doodle Lady.” “She loves grooming all types of Doodles and loves how happy and playful they are,” Beall tells.

In addition to standard grooming, Von Barkee’s offers a variety of specialty spa treatments, including feather extensions, a Dead Sea mineral mask, and even a blueberry facial. They’re also a bakery, and offer a line of healthy treats for pups.

Providing the services is a lot of work, but Beall says it pays off because they love their jobs and the pets and families they serve. “We have the most amazing clients and cannot thank them enough for keeping it local and supporting small business!” she praises. “Every day we strive to be the best we can be and offer the best experience for our clients.” She’s thankful for the support Von Barkee’s continues to receive from encore readers.

“It’s encouraging to have recognition for all your hard work,” Beall says. “As a small business owner, there are many struggles, but this was something that truly meant a lot to all of us at Von Barkee’s.”

Other groomers clipping the poll are Sea Peace Pet Grooming (25%) and Pups Play and Stay Boarding, Daycare and Grooming (36%).


MORTGAGE GOLD: Petia Blagoeff and Janelle Conrad happily accept Alpha Mortgage’s award for 2018. Photo by Chris Brehmer Photography


Alpha Mortgage – 55% votes

Just in case the new construction apparent across town doesn’t indicate the real estate market’s current strength, the fact Alpha Mortgage is expanding its programs and improving its technology for the perfect house hunt should be convincing. Add to it their 2018 Best Mortgage Company win and that they remain a leader in NC home financing, it is no surprise really.

“We’re in a rising rate environment,” marketing manager Petia Blageoeff says. “That means the absolute best time to buy a home and obtain a mortgage is now. The longer a person waits, the more risk taken for rates to rise, which could impact their ability to purchase as much home as they’d like.”

Alpha has been around since 1983 and is a full-service mortgage banker with house processing, underwriting, closing, and funding, but also continues their innovative offerings for self-employeed borrowers, and they do “best-rate” guarantees, same-day approval plans, and 15-day closings. They offer jumbo and super jumbo loans up to $3 million with more than 30 licensed loan officers and over 100 employees.

“We don’t just work here, we live here,” Blageoff tells. “We focus on coastal Carolinas because that’s our community and this is our home, too. We aren’t a large national company hiding behind a phone or keyboard; we’re locally owned and operated and as such invest heavily back into the communities we live and work in.”

While most folks consider them for home-purchasing needs, they also can help with refinancing, and should consider doing so when they can successfully lower their rate term or reduce the terms of their loan. “Many people can benefit from a 15 year mortgage over a 30 year for example while other people are more concerned with the lowest possible monthly payment,” Blageoff says. “At Alpha we like to win because the win is for our customers, for our employees and for our community. To us, these Best Of Awards tell us the community sees us as winners too.”

Wells Fargo Mortgage (29%) and Movement Mortgage (16%) also garnered votes on encore’s 2018 Readers’ Poll.


DRESSING FOR THE WIN: Stephanie Denning and Gina Wilkins dress up in the medieval/fantasy theme for the 2018 awards party, which had Fairy Circle scoring another win! Photo by Chris Brehmer Photography


The Fairy Circle – 47% votes

“2018 is shaping up to be a busy year for The Fairy Circle,” says Stephanie Denning, the shop’s owner. What began as a small boutique in 2001 has now grown into Wilmington’s best clothing consignment shop 14 years running, with two locations and over 8,000 square feet of space.

Recent big news included the moving of The Fairy Circle’s second location from Monkey Junction to Ogden’s Publix shopping center. The Ogden location carries all the same top-quality inventory shoppers expect from Fairy Circle. In April, the store plans to renovate its original College Road store.

“We hope everyone will stop by and see the changes,” Denning adds. The Fairy Circle’s mission will stay the same, no matter what: to provide great clothing, shoes, jewelry and more at a great price.

“We cater to the entire spectrum of Wilmingtonians,” Denning says. “Everyone from teens and twenty-somethings to moms and professionals shop and consign at The Fairy Circle. Consignors appreciate our straightforward, no-appointment-necessary process, and shoppers appreciate our wide selection and knowledgeable staff.”

The selection includes dozens of brands: Tory Burch, Free People, Brahmin, and Prada to name a few. At The Fairy Circle, you can find Calvin Klein jeans, Tommy Hilfiger pullovers, Ralph Lauren polos or Charlotte Russe skirts, among many more. With ladies coming in to build their summer wardrobes, LulaRoe and Lilly Pulitzer-printed dresses are big hits. As the summer-body gym rush begins, Lululemon workout apparel is coming back in style. The Fairy Circle also makes sure to stock high-end crowd-pleasers, a la Coach purses. “We’ve been getting in so many great pieces, it’s impossible to pick a favorite,” Denning adds.

Consignment is, as Denning reports, a simple process. Would-be consignors can bring in juniors clothing and women’s sizes 0 to 22, freshly laundered, to the College Road store for associates to evaluate and price. Consignors receive 50 percent of the sale price, and once items sell, they can either redeem the value for store credit or pick up a check between the 15th and 20th of every month.

But The Fairy Circle sells more than just second-hand clothing and accessories. It’s also the retail home for the products of several local businesses and crafts people. These specialty items include candles (hand-poured, soy, and locally made); incense; lotions and toiletry products from Naked Bee; necklaces, bags, stickers and other gifts with North Carolina themes and shapes; and local, hand-crafted jewelry, much of which has a Wilmington theme.

“I think the best part of my job is interacting with our customers and consignors,” Denning muses. “It’s so satisfying to hear someone say The Fairy Circle is their favorite store, or they bought their favorite outfit from us.”

Considering its high-end brands, low prices, fantastic customer service and easy consignment process, it’s no wonder The Fairy Circle is a Wilmington favorite.

Plato’s Closet (27%) and Clothes Mentor (26%) continue to score votes on the annual Best Of encore readers’ poll.


Adam and Eve – 50% votes

Go ahead. Make the jokes. But sex is a serious business, and one we at encore can … well, dare we say it? Get behind!

Let us put it to you this way: $15,250,000 were spent in sex toys in 2017. While most of the money went to vibrators, a small percentage did go to bondage—a growing industry folks are using to spice up their love lives.

“We just got a large shipment in with a lot of bondage last week,” Nichole (who prefers to withhold her last name) says.

Too much? Not enough? No worries, Adam and Eve, Wilmington’s top adult store according to encore readers, has a slew of items to turn on its buying customers, whether male or female, straight or gay, and anywhere in between. And they do so without one iota of judgement.

“Our customers can ask questions without being looked at like they have committed a crime,” ??? says. “Our favorite part is making sure that you as a customer feels that you can tell us anything we do our best to make sure that you are taken care of. We pride ourselves on making you feel comfortable while in Adam & Eve.”

In fact, customer service is only one area Adam and Eve ensure is at the top of the game, to keep receiving the best of the best accolades. Since they’ve been around for 45 years, it makes sense they carry an enormous amount of products to keep its fanbase happy. Plus, they stand behind them all and have a no-questions-asked return policy.

“We-vibe and the Rabbit Company are our top sellers,” Nichole tells. “We-vibe can be controlled by an app on your phone from anywhere.”

Yep! That means your special someone can turn you on from multiple cities, states, and even continents over.

They also have restocked the popular Amour from the Jopen line, which includes G-wands and vibrators. “We love our job love talking and helping anyone,” Nichole tells. “We are a warm and inviting store . . . When you come in, you’re treated like you want to be treated and that is what keeps people coming back.”

They are super knowledgeable about products and go over the ease of its use. They can provide insight on customer feedback, whether you’re looking for a sex toy, bachelorette party goods, lingerie, movies, lubes, lotions, or oils.

Folks who wish to shop online rather than in store can rest assured Adam and Eve has a state-of-the-art encryption program to protect customers, and they send packages in plain anonymous paper. As well, the name will never appear on any billing statement.

Other adult stores turning on our readers are Sweet Vibrations (22%) and Priscilla McCall’s (28%).


PUTTIN’ ON THE RITZ: Thalian Association won Best Theatre Company and also took home Best Theatre Production for their fall performance of “Young Frankenstein.” TA executive director Susan Habas and artistic director Chandler Davis accept the award. Photo by Chris Brehmer Photography

Premieres happen every year with theatre companies looking to debut fresh shows for Wilmington audiences. Thalian Association has continued making it a part of their annual season, with 2018 welcoming the opening of “The Bridges of Madison County” this week (see page 17). Last year, their debut of the Mel Brooks’ classic “Young Frankenstein” made the fall/Halloween season all the merrier, so much so encore readers voted it Best Theatre Production.

“It’s always nice to bring new pieces to Wilmington,” Thalian Association’s artistic director Chandler Davis tells encore. “So many people love Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder. The show contained all of that humor plus crazy dance numbers on top of that.”

Based on the famed 1974 horror film parody, “Young Frankenstein” became a Broadway musical in 2007, with book by Brooks and Thomas Meehan, and music and lyrics by Brooks. After 400 performances, the show closed on January 4, 2009. It would be another eight years before Wilmington would get its community theatre incarnation, with Troy Rudeseal playing Dr. Frankenstein, Michael Savas playing Igor, Courtney Poland as Inga, and Christopher Rickert as Monster.

The show received rave reviews by both StarNews and encore theatre critics because of its silly, yet clever dialogue and setup, not to mention its fascinating dance numbers. And the ensemble brought to life all of it with colorful animation.

“I really loved ‘Puttin’ on the Ritz,’” Davis says of her favorite number. “The dancers worked so hard and it’s so cool seeing everyone in a tux. It was just really neat seeing such an extravagant number pulled off like that onstage. Everyone in that show really put their heart and soul into it.”

Other theatre productions taking votes on the poll are also musicals: Opera House Theatre Company’s “South Pacific” (29%) and Panache Theatrical Productions’ “Heathers” (25%).


Thalian Association – 64% votes

Since 2006 Thalian Association has been scoring Wilmington’s Best Theatre Company according to encore readers. It’s no easy feat, either, considering how far and deep those arts’ inspirations reach.

“Wilmington has such an amazing theatre community compris[ing] diverse companies with many talented and creative people,” executive director Susan Habas says of the nonprofit organization.

It’s an outfit that’s turning 230 years old in 2018! Founded in 1788, Thalian Association hosts five major productions on Thalian Hall’s main stage (though the two Thalian organizations are not affiliated). Plus, they host children’s productions and manage the Hannah Block USO Community Center for the City of Wilmington.

“We were founded to provide income for one of the first free schools in North Carolina and our mission is still performing arts—arts education, with cultural and civic enhancement,” Habas tells.

Eleven years ago, NC legislature even named Thalian Association the official community theatre of NC in order to honor their history and impact. While they focus on a lot of management of their own shows, they also provide outreach for other organizations. Today they host free school performances and weekly theatre arts classes for Community Boys & Girls Club, Brigade Boys & Girls Club and the Girls Leadership Academy of Wilmington.

“We produce Divine Divas to benefit TACT and She ROCKS, as well as host the NC Azalea Festival Children’s Art Contest, and present the annual Orange Street ArtsFest every Memorial Day weekend since 1995,” Habas tells.

Fundraisers remain a vital role for Thalian Association to continue its mission. Currently, folks can help by participating in their raffle to win a luxury Rhine or Danube River cruise for two from Viking Cruise and AAA Travel Oleander (value: $7298). Tickets are $20 each or six for $100, and only 2,000 tickets will be sold.

“The drawing will be held at the free Viking Cruise Night cocktail party on August 30 at the HBHUSO/Community Arts Center,” Habas tells.

The 2018 Orange Street ArtsFest is already slated for May 26 and 27, at Orange and 2nd streets, in front of the Community Arts Center. Shows to look forward to in the 2018 season include “Caine Mutiny Court-Martial,” which will take place June 29 through July 19, with a special July 4 performance, including a picnic, the show and fireworks overlooking the Cape Fear River, as audiences are aborad the fantail of the USS NC Battleship. As well they will host a TACT Youth Cabaret and “Steel Magnolias” at Cape Fear Academy this summer. More information can be found at

Other companies shaking up the polls are Opera House Theatre Company (18%) and Pineapple-Shaped Lamps (18%)

HIS WORD IS ON IT! Mr. Pat Koballa, owner of Stevenson Honda, accepts the award for Best Place to Buy a New Car. Photo by Jessica Russell

HIS WORD IS ON IT! Mr. Pat Koballa, owner of Stevenson Honda, accepts the award for Best Place to Buy a New Car. Photo by Jessica Russell


Stevenson Honda – 37votes

Picking out a new car is not a simple decision. The options are wide-ranging and the decision is lasting. Pat Koballa of Stevenson Honda knows he and his employees are a big part of that decision.

“When someone buys a vehicle they are spending a lot of money and they need to feel good about where that money is being spent,” Koballa tells. “I preach the Golden Rule to employees: Customers [are] the first priority.”

Koballa says one of his favorite parts of the business is watching his employees grow. And he has had many in his three-plus-decade career managing many dealerships in town. In the end, his employees become like family.

“Watching someone start their career, begin dating, getting married, buying their first house, having a child and progressing within the organization brings a certain level of fulfilment to me,” he says. “I like to make people happy.”

Stevenson Honda opened back in 1983 (making them just a couple of years older than encore). Ever since, Koballa says they’ve been winning awards, including this year’s win for Best Place to Buy a New Car. “The Best Of Award speaks about our commitment,” he says. “By this I mean our commitment to our customers. There are a lot of choices in today’s environment, and if we do not make customers feel like they made a good decision when they turned in our driveway, they are going elsewhere to buy.”

While Stevenson is accepting the win for new cars, Koballa stresses their used car sector is becoming more and more important. Inflation is making the price of new cars rise, after all. “I expect there to be much more pressure on preowned inventory,” Koballa tells. “The demand of preowned vehicles will continue to climb. Preowned prices will remain strong due to demand, making it easier for customers to trade.”

He also says it may present difficulty to procuring needed inventory. Still, Koballa and the Stevenson team are up for the challenge. He predicts new cars will become more attractive in the near future with vehicle manufacturers offering incentives on cars, trucks and SUVs

Making it easier for buyers is one focus of Stevenson Honda that continues to make them the best of the best. Many of their clientele are repeat buyers, in fact.

“They have purchased their last two, three … or some as many as 20 vehicles from us,” he praises. “The staff has made our customers feel good about their decision to buy from us. We have great products and stand behind what we sell,” he says, adding the famous phrase you’ve heard in their commercials: ‘If it has our name on it, You have our word on it.’”

Other new car dealerships parking on our poll are Bob King Automall (33%) and Jeff Gordon Chevrolet (30%).

HEALING HANDS: Mary Beth Redman continues to take home the award for Best Massage Therapist and will open her own spa, Willow Retreat, on Princess St. in April. Photo by Chris Brehmer Photography

HEALING HANDS: Mary Beth Redman continues to take home the award for Best Massage Therapist and will open her own spa, Willow Retreat, on Princess St. in April. Photo by Chris Brehmer Photography


Mary Beth Redman – 52votes

Mary Beth Redman provides her clients with the best quality massages possible because she knows the benefits of excellent massage therapy. When she was younger, Redman trained in gymnastics, but the life of any kind of athlete means sore muscles. She would regularly undergo massages to help with the soreness. As a teenager experiencing terrible migraines, which seemingly no treatments would help, Redman returned once again to massage therapy to ease her pain.

Armed with knowledge on how massage therapy helps, Redman decided to pursue a path in the practice. Now, she owns her own private practice, and does for others what she was able to experience as a child.

“I am passionate about massage because I can sincerely help people overcome and deal with stresses that come along with everyday life,” Redman says. “It’s hard to stop and take a breath sometimes; we get lost in life and forget to take care of ourselves. I love being the most relaxing part of someone’s day!”

Redman sees many clients walk through the doors of her practice with various needs. Regardless, but mission remains the same for each one: provide them with the best quality massage.

“My clients are a diverse array of people,” she explains. “I have no specific type of client. I believe in healing for all! I think because I take pride in what I do and take a therapeutic approach toward every massage, the clients feel I sincerely listen to and this ensures they receive maximum benefits. I don’t do cookie-cutter massages.”

In between sessions, Redman recommends ingesting a healthy diet to complement the healing properties of massage. “It’s a great preventative measure for overall health,” she notes. She also suggests keeping stress levels down, with short, meditative stretching sessions daily. Most importantly, Redman encourages her clients to drink plenty of water.

“It helps deliver oxygen through the body, flushes toxins, lubricates joints, allows cells to grow and reproduce and much more,” she assures.

Redman will be opening Willow Retreat Spa with her fiancé, Jamison Congleton, in April 2018. The couple named the spa after their one-and-half-year-old daughter, Charlee Willow. The location will be at 802 Princess St. and the spa will provide services in therapeutic, hot-stone, prenatal, cranial sacral, deep-tissue, and more. Services also will include yoga, meditations, manicures, and pedicures.

When Redman is not providing massages to the Wilmington community, she is often acting. In 2014, she won encore’s award for Best Thespian. She also holds a bachelor’s in biology from UNCW with an emphasis in marine biology and minor in psychology.

“I am so thankful to have such amazing and loyal clients take their time to nominate and vote for me,” Redman notes. “It means so much to and also helps remind me how I sincerely am making a difference in people’s lives! That is the most rewarding aspect of all!”

Other massage therapists kneeding the encore readers’ poll are Haley Walk at Wilmington Massage and Rehabilitation Center (27%) and Gregg Policari at Back In Motion (21%).

FROM BRONZE TO GOLD: Tanglez Salon owner Donnie Canady shows off a new win for the salon, Best Tanning, with tan technician Denise Carver. Photo by Chris Brehmer Photography

FROM BRONZE TO GOLD: Tanglez Salon owner Donnie Canady shows off a new win for the salon, Best Tanning, with tan technician Denise Carver. Photo by Chris Brehmer Photography


Tanglez Of Wilmington – 43votes

At Wilmington’s best tanning salon, the magic is in the lack of UV rays. At Tanglez Salon and Spa, spray-tan technician Denise Carver has been helping customers glow up since she joined the team in 2010.

“We believe our tanning salon is the best in Wilmington because of Denise’s ability to customize your tan to your skin tone,” office manager Sharon Pool says. “Her experience, coupled with her dedication to perfection, is bar none.”

Carver is Tanglez’s one and only purveyor of the sunless spray tan. Originally trained in 2005, she has been refining her skills for more than 10 years. She prioritizes making clients as comfortable as possible.

At Tanglez getting a tan is a quick, easy and convenient process. After a spray from Carver’s high-pressure spray gun on desired areas—which takes as few as 5 minutes—the tan dries fast and lasts seven to 12 days. Tanglez also has “quick tans” available for a busy customer who needs to shower as soon as two hours after the appointment (normally, spray tans need to set at least six hours before a wash).

One Tanglez tan session with Carver costs $30. Customers chasing a constant bronze finish can get discounts: two sessions for $50 or a package of five sessions for $100. All sessions are one-on-one and customized to the client’s needs and desires. Spray tans can remedy tan lines, achieve instant results and eliminate the risk of skin cancer that comes with sun tanning and tanning beds.

The goal of a Tanglez spray tans—along with any of their other spa and salon services—is to make customers look and feel their best. Tanglez offers skincare and makeup services, brow waxing and tinting, facial and body waxes, eyelash extensions. The salon offers haircuts, styles and coloring, texture and treatments. It uses a full range of professional products, stays open six days a week, and has locations across southeastern North Carolina from Wilmington to Carolina Beach to Castle Hayne.

Salon owner Donnie Canady founded the salon in 2009 and has been working in beauty since 1982. After traveling the U.S. as an educator of stylists, he returned to Wilmington to run several salons in Independence Mall before opening his own. Canady aims to imbue Tanglez with a family-like atmosphere that extends to both staff and customers. In fact, on Saturday mornings, visitors can find “Momma” Ernestine Canady sitting in a chair while her son styles her hair.

Just as well, Canady has real love for community and giving back. In 2017, Tanglez donated to the local chapters of the American Red Cross, Muscular Dystrophy Association, National Multiple Sclerosis Society and the Special Olympics. Its beneficiaries also include local organizations, such as the NC Nurses Association, Thalian Hall, the Cape Fear Equine Rescue, Art in the Arboretum, Going Beyond the Pink and area high schools.

Other tanning salons procuring votes are Timeless Tans (30%) and Saule Tanning Salon (27%).


The Plant Place – 39votes

Dee Ivey has worked for The Plant Place and its owners Bill and Bobbie Edwards for 34 years. Each morning she looks forward to greeting longtime customers and helping newbies navigate the Market St. garden store. She offers the best advice on anything from finding flowers for sun or shade gardens, to repotting plants. “We are family at The Plant Place and our customers become our family,” Ivey says. “They are most important to us.”

As their family continues to grow, so does their recognition as one of Wilmington’s go-to shops for all things plants and gardening. The Plant Place picked up this year’s prize for Best Local Garden Store.

“This year’s win puts a big smile on our faces,” Ivey says. “Bill and Bobbie began building The Plant Place in 1976, and they are the most wonderful bosses anyone could ask for.  . . . Our award makes us so very proud we won. We do love our customers and we love what we do.”

The store’s clientele stretches across the tri-county area, from Southport to Jacksonville. They’ve even seen an increase in college students, who have been known to prefer easy-to-grow succulents, perfect for busy lives and schedules. Ivey says folks are often looking for indoor foliage to help clean the air, and it’s not hard to find something special for inside or outside planting from The Plant Place’s 34 greenhouses. And if they don’t grow it, they’ll find it upon request.
It is, however, hard to choose a favorite.

“The sun impatiens really draw my eye for the ‘wow’ factor,” she offers. “Container gardening is hot right now. You would be surprised what you can grow in pots on your balcony, deck or just sitting in your yard. Cheryl is our lead container designer, you can bring your container in or choose one from our wide selection.”

Spring is here and The Plant Place is stocked with beautiful annuals, perennials, grasses, herbs, and hanging baskets—all grown onsite. No matter what gardeners are trying to accomplish, Ivey advises starting with good quality plants grown locally, and amending flower beds with good soil.

“Our knowledgeable staff can show you which flowers will work best in sun, shade and drought-tolerant areas,” she adds. “Shawna, Mr Bill’s head grower, keeps us informed on everything growing.”

Also sprouting up on our poll are Farmers Supply (25%) and The Transplanted Garden (36%).


Two Men and a Truck– 61votes

Moving is rarely easy and if it is, the stress of planning, packing and transporting seemingly never ends. Nicole Utz, the general manager of Two Men and a Truck, lists moving as “one of the top three most difficult experiences in life.” With the help of Wilmington’s Best Moving Company, though, such stress may not seem so daunting.

Two Men and a Truck began as a side job for two high schoolers in Lansing, MI, during the 1980s. At the time, brothers Brig and Jon Sorber helped people move around their area in an old pickup truck, while their mother, Mary Ellen Sheets, developed a logo for them for use in the local newspaper. Eventually, the brothers left home for college, but Sheets continued to take calls for moving services. Without the help of her sons and their truck, though, she needed to hire movers and find a new means of transportation. Thus, Two Men and a Truck began.

Sheets began franchising the company in 1989 and started with a location in Atlanta, GA. Twenty-nine years later, the company has expanded their franchises to reach 43 states and include a fleet of 2,800 trucks. One of their franchise locations happens to be in Wilmington.

The local company provides full-service moving and storage and can move both homes and businesses, while also providing packing materials for purchase when needed. The moving company does not just move locals from one end of Wilmington to the other; they can also assist in moves across states.

“When we move long distance, our customer’s belongings are on a dedicated truck not combined with other shipments,” Utz promises. “One major advantage to this is that it allows us to have an agreed upon delivery date for our customers.”

Two Men and a Truck do more for the community than just assist in the process of moving. They also support and work with organizations like Junior League, Pender County Humane Society and Welcome Home Angel.

Each year, the company helps give back to mothers in need every Mother’s Day through their Movers for Moms program. Movers collect personal-care items for women living in domestic violence shelters, with help from local businesses and organizations like RE/MAX Essential and Bill Clark Homes. The Wilmington recipient of donations is The Open Gate, and anyone interested in becoming a collection partner for the program should contact Utz at 910-763-7990.

Helping give back to the community is just one of the ways Two Men feel honored by the work they do. The team cares about customers and remain dedicated to them through big shifts in their lives.

“Being honored with the Best Of Award lets customers know we are a company committed to exceeding our customers’ expectations,” Utz explains. “I am very proud to be a part of Two Men and a Truck and grateful to our team for their hard work and dedication to our customers.”

Other movers climbing the poll include Few Moves Moving Company (22%) and Miracle Movers Wilmington (17%).

KEEPING ILM IN A SPIN: Matt Keen poses with his “e” with li’l helper Mookie at Gravity Records on Castle St. Photo by Jessica Russell

KEEPING ILM IN A SPIN: Matt Keen poses with his “e” with li’l helper Mookie at Gravity Records on Castle St. Photo by Jessica Russell


Gravity Records – 62votes

When one of Wilmington’s few remaining record stores, Manifest Discs & Tapes, closed in 2004, it seemed like the era of the record store was dead. With the rise of online music sales, physical CDs and vinyl records slowly started to become obsolete. A change in how people listened to music meant record stores found it hard to keep up with the times and closed as a result.

Matt Keen, the former manager of Manifest, was not prepared to let the record store era die, however. Soon after Manifest’s closing, Keen decided to open Gravity Records—Wilmington’s new hotspot for musical needs. According to Keen, “The rest is history.”

When Gravity first opened in 2004 it focused more towards CDs, since the compact discs miraculously remained popular throughout the early 2000s. As vinyl records became increasingly popular again in the late 2000s and early 2010s, the store evolved to cater to the renewed interest. Now, the store provides an almost exclusively vinyl catalog. And it’s customer base has not slowed down.

“[Records] are tangible,” Keen explains. “To listen to a record you have to literally put it on the player and get up and flip it. It’s a true listening experience. You are forced to pay attention. As long as you have even a decent record player, they tend to sound better, too.”

A quality selection of records is not the only factor keeping customers coming back to Gravity, though. What sets the store apart, according to Keen, is its musical knowledge base, turntable repair service and general kindness toward people. It also helps when Keen’s three dogs, Mookie, Murdoch and Monkey frequently monitor the store and pose for cute pictures on its social media pages.

Keen believes Gravity Records’ live performance space helps it stand out among the competition. The store’s stage provides a place for both local and out-of-town musicians and bands to perform in Wilmington. While the space is open for local groups, Keen says they tend to look out for bands touring the East Coast but can’t get a date in Wilmington. Some of the groups who have performed include Black Bouquet of Raleigh, D & D Sluggers of Wilmington, and Talk Me Off of Richmond, VA. Bands interested in booking a gig in the record store can e-mail

“We have our ear to the ground for the kind of bands that are on the verge of something bigger,” Keen says.

No matter ones musical tastes, Gravity aims to deliver in both live music and available records. From oldies like The Clash and Tom Petty, to the new age of artists, like Childish Gambino and Kendrick Lamar, Gravity Records provides a quality selection for everyone.

“[Customers] can expect to find great vintage vinyl curated with care,” Keen describes, “a safe welcoming and inclusive environment, great live music, Turntable’s new and vintage, and a local record store experience not quite like any other.”

Other records stores spinning onto the encore readers’ poll are Yellow Dog Discs (30%) and Angie’s Records and Hair (8%).


Finkelstein’s – 61votes

Finkelstein’s is one of the first buildings visitors see when they head downtown toward the riverfront—a landmark and historic site in its own right. Perched on the juncture of Market and Front streets, only a block from the Cape Fear River, Finkelstein’s has been a literal cornerstone of Wilmington since its 1906 opening.

“People come through these doors looking for experience, be it an engagement ring or a guitar,” owner Bobby Hamelburg says. “Finkelstein’s is a refuge for people of all backgrounds to feel free and welcome. It’s been a community hub for over 112 years.”
Perhaps that’s why it clinched the 2018 Best Place to Buy Musical Instruments title.

The store carries high-end brands for serious musicians from around the world: Fender and Martin guitars, Peavey speakers, Peal drums and more. Finkelstein’s employees are not only experts, but friendly folks who take the time to get to know regulars and locals. It’s the kind of place where a starry-eyed kid (or grownup) can walk in knowing nothing about music and walk out inspired with their first instrument and practice book, It’s also where ILM’s professional players can pick up the latest and greatest tools of the trade.

“A lesson in the upstairs studio is a travel into one of the coolest, most authentically historic second stories in downtown Wilmington,” Hamelburg points out. “Our students have been coming back for years, and the store provides the creative freedom so necessary for musical advancement and confidence of students of any age.”

It is a home for musicians, by musicians. The store greets newcomers with walls covered instruments and drumsticks piled neatly in an organized cubby next to a flock of Zildjian cymbals. Amps line the perimeters and drum sets crowd together in a cozy music-lover’s dream world. In addition to expertise and instrument sales, Finkelstein’s offers occasional classes and clinics; the upstairs private lessons in drums, bass, guitar and ukulele; setups; restrings; and amplifier and instrument repair.

And in addition to the fun sounds coming out of Finkelstein’s, their jewelry counter, nestled in the center of the store, is another attraction. Hamelburg runs the show as a registered gemologist, having learned the trade from Ann Finkelstein. He has been designing custom pieces for more than 35 years.

“Wilmington can expect to see Finkelstein’s continue to grow with the next generation, whose perspective will integrate progress and defend the small business through the test of time,” Hamelburg says.

In fact, the store is currently undergoing renovations but continues to remain open and serve its loyal clientele.

Other musical instruments shops servicing the town and showing up on the poll are Music Loft (30%) and Guitar Pickers (9%).

PAGE-TURNING WIN: Gwenyfar Rohler, owner of Old Books on Front St., and her siginificant other, Jock Brandis of Full Belly Project, accept the award for Best Bookstore. Photo by Chris Brehmer Photography

PAGE-TURNING WIN: Gwenyfar Rohler, owner of Old Books on Front St., and her siginificant other, Jock Brandis of Full Belly Project, accept the award for Best Bookstore. Photo by Chris Brehmer Photography


Old Books on Front – 41votes

Old Books on Front Street looked a little different when Mr. Daughtry opened it in 1982. After serving in WWII and selling appliances at Sears for many years, he found himself bored with retirement. He needed somewhere he could go and do something he felt was meaningful, so he decided to open Old Books on Front Street in the Gaylord building downtown to satisfy his craving.

Old Books on Front has changed some since Mr. Daughtry opened it in the 80s. He sold the shop to the Rohler family, and in 2010 the bookstore relocated to 22 N. Front St. where it is now managed by Gwenyfar Rohler—local author (encore writer) who also was a loyal patron of the store since its beginning. “It’s one of the most significant honors I have received in my life,” Rohler says about Mr. Daughtry’s request to have her succeed him as the primary manager of his passion project.

Rohler carries on his legacy and her parents’ legacies—both of whom passed away and were partners in taking over the shop—through the bookstore. She credits her parents with instilling a set of values she embraces in her work everyday.

“[It includes] a worship of the written word, a staunch defense of the freedom of information and the press, and a sense of stewardship for things in life that are more important than money,” she notes.

One day Rohler hopes to pass on the legacy once again to a rightful successor, just as Mr. Daughtry did for her.

The bookstore has evolved in more than just leadership and location. When Mr. Daughtry ran the store, he never accepted credit cards. Cash-reluctant patrons need not worry, though, Old Books accepts them all. The store also stocks many new books, as well as their self-titled “old books,” and myriad board games. There are some ways the store has not changed, however.

“We hand-write receipts,” Rohler explains, “and we don’t have a computerized inventory because the experience of talking with you and sharing with you is what we focus on—not fighting with a beeping machine.”

Old Books has branched off into other ventures since Rohler has taken the reins. One is The Top Shelf, a literary loft above the bookstore where guests can sleep among the works of writers new and old. There is even a life-sized Scrabble board to entertain guests.

According to Rohler, “The loft is designed to celebrate and honor NC’s writers.” Specifically, the loft honors writers who many people do not realize are from area, like the author of “Ender’s Game,” Orson Scott Card, and Kathy Reichs, whose books inspired the popular TV series “Bones.” Rohler hopes to bring attention to writers who deserve more than they receive, like George Moses Horton, an African-American poet who managed to publish his first book while still enslaved, by selling poetry to UNC students to pay for the time he was away from the plantation.

Along with The Top Shelf, Rohler also helped create the two-hour Literary History Walking Tour, offered every Saturday. On it she discusses local history and writers who have ties to our area. As if her schedule isn’t packed enough, she currently is working toward opening a North Carolina literary-themed bed-and-breakfast, Between The Covers, located in her childhood home. Rooms will have themes dedicated to North Carolina writers like Maya Angelou, Zelda Fitzgerald and Nicholas Sparks.

“When you come around the corner of the first shelves and say, ‘Wow!’ that is the pay off for the hard work,” Rohler notes. “When you come in and are unbelievably excited to talk about a new author you have just discovered whose work you have become enamored with—that is what we love. We want you to experience something unique and special here.  We want it to be tactile and real as opposed to digital and ephemeral. We want you to be thrilled and excited by the discovery and to share that with us.”

Other bookstores turning up are Barnes and Noble (35%) and Pomegranate Books (24%).


Riverfront Farmers Market – 61votes

Nowadays eating locally-sourced foods has never been more popular. Almost every restaurant menu stresses their ingredients are local, and more and more consumers are looking to add locally-grown produce to their home menus. What better place to get fresh and local wares than right from the source?

The Riverfront Farmers’ Market (RFM) is a great place for Wilmingtonians to get their local fix. According to R.T. Jones, market manager, the RFM started in 2004 when a small group of motivated local farmers, growers and citizens with support from the City of Wilmington organized in 2004 with handful of vendors along Water Street. “And here we are celebrating our 15-year anniversary!” Jones says.

As the RFM has grown over the past decade, the farmers, artisans and vendors have grown with it. They can market their goods and wares directly to customers in historic downtown Wilmington, along the Cape Fear River.

“Many vendors sell products to local chefs/restaurants they’ve met at the market and some who have used the market as a springboard to further success,” Jones tells.

The market’s direct relationship with producers is one of the things that makes RFM so attractive to consumers: “You get to know and talk to the folks that are actually growing and making the products you consume and the vendors get your feedback on their products and how to improve. We have vendors who have been with the market since it started, and develop relationships with customers. We see their kids grow up and bring their kids to the market.”

It’s a busy scene at RFM, with a wide range of people browsing and buying. Much can be found from a standard range of vegetables, as well as fresh eggs, herbs, meats, and cheeses. There are also local bakeries and arts and craft vendors to round out the experience.

“The market was developed . . . to educate consumers about local farming and seasonal eating and local distinctive art and crafts,” Jones says. “We want to encourage and promote the use of locally grown farm products and artisan offerings and to enhance quality of life in Wilmington by providing a community activity that fosters social gathering and interaction.”

The Riverfront Farmers Market kicks off the season on Saturday, March 31, from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. and runs through November 17.

“We are very grateful for the community support,” says Jones, “and proud of the wonderful relationships developed, like the one with encore, who has been with us since inception.”

Other markets delivering fresh goods to the public are Poplar Grove Farmers’ Market (26%) and Wrightsville Beach Farmers’ Market (13%).

MILES OF SMILES: Bozart Family Denistry’s Kelly Colwell takes home their “e” for Best Dentist 2018. Photo by Chris Brehmer Photography

MILES OF SMILES: Bozart Family Dentistry’s Kelly Colwell takes home their “e” for Best Dentist 2018. Photo by Chris Brehmer Photography


Bozart Family Dentistry – 56votes

Going to the dentist is not on the top of most people’s list for fun. It fact, for many it’s darn-near scary. That’s why the choice of dentist can be so important. Dr. Albert Bozart of Bozart Family Dentistry knows how forming good relationships with each patient is key. While textbooks contain knowledge needed to care for people’s teeth, Bozart states, “The textbook does not take into account the patient’s situation. The textbook fails to recognize financial or time constraints, personal desires, fear, etc.”

Like with most industries dealing with the public, knowing the customer is among the most important things about being successful. Bozart must be treating clients with the utmost care as they continue soaring on the readers’ poll and take another win for Best Dentist in 2018.

A North Carolina native, Dr. Bozart graduated from UNC Chapel Hill and from an Advanced Education in General Dentistry (AEGD) residency, which allowed him to study more complex and diverse patient cases while working with over 20 board certified specialists. “While UNC provided a solid academic foundation,” he admits, “the AEGD residency gave the clinical skill and confidence through treating difficult cases in all areas of dentistry.”

Dr. Bozart’s dental schooling was provided by a full military scholarship, and in return, he agreed to become a dentist for the US Army after graduation. “This turned out to be one of the best decisions of my life,” he tells. He even had the honor of treating soldiers at Fort Gordon and Fort Benning, in Georgia.

After his military service, Dr. Bozart set up shop in Wilmington with his family. His practice has grown to offer a comprehensive list of services with nine other dentists working at Bozart. Services range from basic cleaning and checkups to orthodontics, teeth whitening and implants. They also offer solutions for those of us who experience anxiety when visiting the dentist.

Another perk offered by Bozart Family Dentistry is a 0-percent financing option for those without insurance or those who have insurance but want to minimize out-of-pocket exposure. Some procedures can be expensive, and their financing option keeps health in tip-top shape for many—and without financial stress.

“This is the aspect of dentistry I dislike the most,” Dr. Bozart admits of financing. “I wish the business side of dentistry did not exist, like in the Army, but it is a necessary evil.”

Other dentists taking top place in our readers’ poll include Treman and Treman Family Dental Care (19%) and Salling and Tate (25%).


COMEDY COUTURE: Pineapple-Shaped Lamps, hosts of encore’s annual Best Of Awards Show, finally took home the coveted “e” for Best Comedy Troupe. Photo by Chris Brehmer Photography

COMEDY COUTURE: Pineapple-Shaped Lamps, hosts of encore’s annual Best Of Awards Show, finally took home the coveted “e” for Best Comedy Troupe. Photo by Chris Brehmer Photography


Mayfaire Town Center – 69votes

Mayfaire Town Center provides a much more elegant face than might be expected for a plaza sprawling along a road named Military Cutoff. But tourists and locals alike can find first-class food, entertainment and retail locations at Wilmington’s 2018 best shopping plaza.

Wanderers could easily spend days meandering through the pretty yellow-beige buildings that make Mayfaire feel more like a neighborhood than a place to spend money. It boasts more than 80 shops and 22 eateries—an eclectic mix that includes upscale chains like Victoria’s Secret, Williams-Sonoma and Ulta Beauty, but also local spots like the Gallery of Fine Art, STEM Labs (coming soon) and Coastal Urge.
“We provide a shopping haven where you can go with a diverse shopping list and find everything you’re looking for,” marketing director and specialty leasing manager Paige Coniglio says. “We provide customers with the best personal attention possible and offer experts who can help with any and all of their needs.”

In 2017, Mayfaire opened many new stores and restaurants. Sola Salon Studios is a new model for salons and beauty professional, one of a nationwide corporation. Southern Tide displays youthful, high-quality men and women’s clothing with a style that lives up to its name. Customers can visit Spring Pilates for classic pilates instruction, plus yoga, barre and TRX in group or private settings.

Symposium Restaurant and Bar provides a farm-to-table Greek-inspired dining experience perfected by Chef George Papanikolaou in his travels through Europe. Altar’d State is a trend-setting women’s fashion boutique that doubles as a modernized Christian shopping experience and coffee shop. And the Mayfaire H&M is the area’s newest branch of the high-fashion, low-price behemoth available internationally. Many more will come in 2018.

As a spacious outdoor mall, Mayfaire is more accessible and more fun to walk through than traditional shopping experiences. It combines the stylish offerings of a downtown with plenty of parking, as well as two bus stops, and stays open seven days a week. Shoppers can stop to smell the flowers, sit in the sun on a bench, or admire the fountains and pond that make Mayfaire feel like its own little utopia. The shopping center still has a finger on the pulse of the Wilmington community, often hosting big events that cater to students and other special populations. And, of course, adjacent to the Town Center is the Mayfaire Community Center, which features condos, apartment rentals and an office park, among other amenities.

While strong in retail and eating experiences, Mayfaire Town Center plans to expand its entertainment offerings in the coming year and the future. It already features a fabulous theater with big, comfortable seats and all the news releases, but Coniglio and the center’s staff want to do more.

“We continue to evolve with the demands of today’s customer by adding new dining and lifestyle options,” Coniglio explains.

encore readers also like to shop at Wilmington’s oldest shopping plaza, Hanover Center (21%) and Lumina Station (10%).


O2 Fitness – 50votes

O2 Fitness, encore’s 2018 Best Gym, has five locations in Wilmington: Mayfaire Town Center, Hanover Center, Longleaf Pine Mall, Racine Dr. and Porter’s Neck. The last three are new additions, after the Raleigh-based fitness company acquired former Gold’s Gyms in October and refitted them to join the O2 family of fitness centers.

O2 features all its clients could possibly need to stay in shape. The Hanover location, for example, occupies more than 28,000 square feet of space and boasts a plethora of cardio machines, weight training machines and free weights, indoor and outdoor turf areas, a cycling studio and separate yoga/stretching area. The Mayfaire hotspot has similar amenities, plus a cardio getaway theater, dry sauna and an “express room” with pre-programmed 30-minute workouts.

O2 is a spot to get fit in luxury for a non-luxurious price–the monthly membership rate is $54 and includes access to all O2 locations, including those in other towns, like Raleigh and Charleston. Members also get access to all the gyms’ dozens of daily fitness classes: yoga, pilates, Zumba, LesMills (Body Pump, Body Flow, Body Combat), cycling, step, total body conditioning, kickboxing, HIIT and more. The classes, which number more than 50 per week, differ at different gyms. Offerings abound between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m.–perfect for a before or after-work workout. The gyms stay open till 10 p.m. or later on weeknights, most of them opening at 5:30 a.m. or even earlier, with slightly shorter hours on weekends. And it’s easy enough to drop off your kids in the Kids Club areas, which offers select hours of childcare for only $5 per month on top of the normal membership.

O2 also retains a staff of professional personal trainers, equipped to help members reach peak physical performance, lose weight or achieve other goals. Each new membership includes two free personal training sessions. After the sweating is done, members can clean up in the locker rooms equipped with showers, complimentary towel service and hair dryers.

Finally, O2’s rewards program makes it easy to earn points and additional benefits. For actions like following the fitness centers on Twitter, referring a friend, completing a personal training session, achieving a fitness goal or celebrating a birthday, members can rack up points. They can then redeem points for discounts, free months of membership, free personal training sessions or a membership for a friend.

But the best part is the free trial, so that members get to see and test out all the gyms for themselves. Stop by any O2 location to set it up, and stay in shape with Wilmington’s best gym.

Other gyms strengthening the readers’ poll include Planet Fitness (38%) and The Fitness Squad (12%).

THE FINAL VERDICT IS IN... Making their first appearance on the Best Of poll is David and Associates Injury Attorneys—Stephanie Noodard, Kayla Perez, Paulina Alduyck and Holly Benton—for Best Lawyer 2018. Photo by Chris Brehmer Photography

THE FINAL VERDICT IS IN… Making their first appearance on the Best Of poll is David and Associates Injury Attorneys—Stephanie Noodard, Kayla Perez, Paulina Alduyck and Holly Benton—for Best Lawyer 2018. Photo by Chris Brehmer Photography


David and Associates – 41votes

Wilmington is home to many law firms, but none quite so beloved as David and Associates Injury Attorneys, which took home the 2018 Best Of win. And it’s no wonder: with a focus on folks in southeastern North Carolina, David & Associates offer same-day free consultation, rental car assistance, medical attention and assistance with damaged vehicles. After an accident, clients call the police, they call their significant others and then they call David & Associates.

The firm has been helping North Carolinians for more than 100 years, and it’s had a lot of practice making life easier after injury or accident. The support doesn’t come with confusing price tags. David & Associates are frank, straightforward and reasonable with their pricing systems.

David & Associates’ staff is composed of six practicing attorneys familiar with several areas of law. These include car accidents, work-related injuries and accidents, DUIs and other criminal offenses. The attorneys have helped more than 15,000 people. G. Philip David is a member of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum, the most prestigious group of trial lawyers in the U.S., limited to lawyers who have reached settlements of a million dollars or more. He is also a member of the North Carolina Advocates for Justice (formerly the NC Academy of Trial Lawyers).

The process is this: a client calls David & Associates. They’ll set up a free consultation and make sure the client gets the medical attention and accommodations they need. David & Associates have professional relationships with many insurance companies in the area, which means they can often settle a claim quickly, easily and fairly for their clients. When that doesn’t happen, the David & Associates’ team heads to court, where they are cool, calm, collected and results-oriented.

They also care about the people they help. They strive to be polite and warm, and make sure their clients always know what’s going on, whether they need to get the information across in English or Spanish. In 2018, the team looks forward to delivering the same great service and great outcomes they have for years.

Seay Law Firm (19%) and Murchison Law Firm (40%) also top the encore readers’ poll for 2018.


BEST OF HOUSE BAND: Striking Copper played the 2018 Best Of Awards Ceremony and rocked the stage throughout the night. Catch them on Apr. 7 at Jimmy’s at Red Dog’s. Photo by Chris Brehmer Photography

BEST OF HOUSE BAND: Striking Copper played the 2018 Best Of Awards Ceremony and rocked the stage throughout the night. Catch them on Apr. 7 at Jimmy’s at Red Dog’s. Photo by Chris Brehmer Photography


GREAT GOSH OF FURBALLS! Pups Play and Stay assisstant general manager Regan Carr poses with an “e” and a furry friend. Photo by Jessica Russell

GREAT GOSH OF FURBALLS! Pups Play and Stay assisstant general manager Regan Carr poses with an “e” and a furry friend. Photo by Jessica Russell


Pups Play and Stay – 37votes

It’s no secret Wilmington loves its canine companions, but there are times when we have no choice but to let others take care of them. It’s such times when we should call for Pup’s Play and Stay of Wilmington for any daycare, boarding and even grooming our pup desires. And since encore readers named Pups Play and Stay the Best Place to Board a Pet, you know your furry companion is getting all the care it deserves.

Pups Play and Stay is open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day of the week for pet drop-off and pick-up. And they make booking a reservation easy by providing a means to do so over the phone and online. You can purchase either a group daycare package or an individual session, depending on what your specific dog needs, as well. Group daycare lets your pup enjoy play with other dogs under the supervision of staff and an individual session provides them with individualized care from just the staff.

On top of boarding and daycare, Pups Play and Stay of Wilmington also offers a variety of grooming services to both dogs and cats. From a bath, brush, trim, and style, the business offers grooming at any degree you are comfortable with paying. They even provide free consultations to new customers to discuss your pet’s specific needs and levels of comfortability with grooming.

Alongside providing customers with a variety of quality services, Pups Play and Stay also employs a dedicated staff to work with your pet. Many of the staff have been with the kennel for several years and are loving pet owners themselves. “Every day I get to see some new doggy faces and get to learn about each dog,” explains Pups Play and Stay assistant general manager, Regan Carr. “My goal every day I work is to create some sort of bond with every dog I come in contact with! There is no better feeling than to be working with dogs all day long.”

encore readers also trust their furry friends to Atlantic Animal Hospital (28%) and Pet Paradise (35%).


Head to Tow Day Salon and Spa – 40votes

Owners Lynne and Lexanne founded the Head to Toe Day Spa & Salon over 17 years ago to create a relaxing, rejuvenating environment for clients. With 2018 marking their sixth consecutive win for encore’s best spa, they’ve done more than achieve this goal–they’ve defined it.

Head to Toe has a staff of more than 40 licensed professionals who include nail technicians, massage therapists, estheticians and hair stylists, many of them with decades of experience and all with a commitment to making clients look and feel their best. At Head to Toe, you can get the complete workup: begin with a body-melting massage that transitions into a fresh facial, follow with a deluxe manicure or pedicure, and finish with a trim, blowout or completely new ‘do. Walk out of Head to Toe feeling like a new person.

In a chic, luxurious, private atmosphere, Head to Toe is a conglomerate of high-tech, professional and customized services. In the salon, stop by for a cut, color, treatment or extensions. The nail spa offers manicures and pedicures. More professional detailing is available through waxing, facials and peels, body treatments, skin care, spray tanning, makeup, and eyelash extensions. Clients experience true relaxation between the individual massage rooms and the on-site sauna. Head to Toe also offers a variety of med spa services–body contouring, laser hair removal, laser treatment for spots and sun damage or tattoo removal.

The spa and salon goes beyond services–it provides experiences. Once you feel like a model, you can become one through Head to Toe’s partnership with Vanessa Popoca Photography. Head to Toe clients can expect a discount of $100 towards a sexy, confidence-boosting boudoir photoshoot. The spa also schedules a suite of bridal party services, whether that’s day-of wedding prep or an afternoon of relaxation before (or instead of) a bachelorette party.

Head to Toe has built its reputation for almost 20 years as a high-quality, one-stop beauty and relaxation stop with reasonable prices. It’s a place where loyalty matters, not only because clients love their stylists and massage therapists so much, but also because they offer a great loyalty program. Clients rack up a point for every dollar spent at the salon and spa, with 100 points redeemable for $3 worth of product or service. With the Deluxe Membership, available for a $39 fee, clients get 25 percent more points on every purchase.

Next time you need a “staycation,” drop by the ILM’s best relaxation experience.
Spas also relaxing and pampering are readers locally are Tanglez of Wilmington (31%) and Ki Spa Salon (29%).


Black’s Tire and Auto – 69votes

My dad always used to tell me the things worth spending your hard-earned money on are the things separating you from the ground: Shoes, mattresses, and tires. When it comes to the latter, Black’s Tire and Auto has your back. As a matter of fact, “Black’s Has Your Back” has long been their motto, but they say it’s more than just a saying. It is a belief about the importance of their customers and their commitment to them. If you visit any of their four Wilmington locations, on their front door you’ll read, “Through These Doors Pass The Best People In The World…Our Customers!”

Black’s carries just about any brand of tire you can think of, including Goodyear, Cooper, Hankook, Michelin®, BFGoodrich®, and more, They offer free tire rotations for the life of each tire purchased from Black’s, and they’ll inspect your current tires or battery for free. They also offer a wide range of other services, including tires, brakes, alignment, oil changes, dealer recommended flushes, state inspections, custom wheels, and more.

Black’s says they work hard to show our commitment to their customers by availability (regular hours and 24 hour roadside assistance), quality service at reasonable pricing, and service beyond the sale. They also have online appointment scheduling, which cuts down on your time spent in the waiting room.

Also on their website you’ll find a variety of deals, coupons, and rebates, including an offer to get up to $160 back on the purchase of four Goodyear tires. They even have an online “wheel visualizer,” which allows you to get an idea of what your ride would look like with updated wheels.

So next time your car is in need of some TLC, whether it be simple upgrades or emergency repairs, remember that Blacks Has Your Back.

Grissom’s Wheel Alignment (13%) and Mobiletech (21%) also take the lead for trustworthy auto mechanics in Wilmington.

TATTED UP... Brian Wren accepts the award for Artfuel Inc., who has taken home the “e” for seven years in a row now. Photo by Chris Brehmer Photography

TATTED UP… Brian Wren accepts the award for Artfuel Inc., who has taken home the “e” for seven years in a row now. Photo by Chris Brehmer Photography


Artfuel Inc. – 41votes

When it comes to engraving Mom’s name across a bicep, or enduring a transformation from that pesky ex-girlfriend’s initials into, say, a badass dragon you’ve always wanted across your shoulder blade, Artfuel, Inc. is who to trust for serious skin ink.

Owned and operated by Sarah Peacock and Dave Tollefson, the tattoo parlor at 165 Wrightsville Ave. has taken the coveted “e” for seven years in a row now. “We are always looking for better and strive to do so,” Peacock tells us of her business philosophy. “Without the support of the greater Wilmington community, we would be nothing.”

Their atmosphere puts everyone at ease as customers are surrounded by calm artistry, from the first greeting at the door to the engaging exchanges between the tattoo artists. “Everything we do, we try to give our clientele a good product, and a very relaxed and friendly experience,” Peacock continues. “It’s something that is reflected in our artists that work alongside us.”

Aside from providing always impeccable work from its staff, Artfuel welcomes guest artists frequently‚ many of whom are known worldwide. One to two guest artists take up shop at a time. Readers can check Artfuel Inc.’s Facebook page for updated info.

The parlor also hosts numerous art shows a year, from local painters, illustrators, photographers, and the like. Opening receptions are held with live music and grub from local eateries.

As well, Artfuel’s mission includes community and charity. For example, Peacock works with breast-cancer survivors, creating nipples for women post-mastectomy.

Other tattoo parlors on the poll are Jade Monkey (35%) and Hardwire (24%).


Sito Chiropractic – 38votes

As anyone with back and spine pain knows, a good chiropractor can be a life-saver. A bad back can keep someone out of work and from doing the activities they once enjoyed. With the help of physicians like Sito Chiropractic, though, a bad back does not stay a nagging problem that alters day-to-day life.
Sito’s motto is simple: “A place to well and stay well.”

The group of dedicated staff commits to getting patients back on their feet and staying on their feet. Their main focus is the identification of spinal misalignments or subluxation. Subluxations put stress on the body’s nervous systems and do not always present symptoms. With over 25 years of experience, the staff at Sito are experts in locating and treating issues.

Dr. Brian Heer at Sito grew up in New Jersey and graduated from Richard Stockton College with a degree in human biology. Heer then moved to Georgia to attend the Life University School of Chiropractic to obtain his Doctorate of Chiropractic. His main goal when helping patients is to expand health awareness and spread the message of lifelong wellness.

Dr. Ashly Smith attended UNCW for his bachelor’s in biology and graduated in 2004. He went on to obtain his Doctorate of Chiropractic from the National University of Health Sciences in Illinois. He also completed an internship at the university and worked at a family practice within the state and the Salvation Army Hospital of Greater Chicago before returning to Wilmington. Smith also became certified in the application of Kinesio tape and is also a member of the International Academy of Medical Acupuncture.

Sito Chiropractic provides myriad services, including adjustments in a variety of techniques, physical therapy modalities (like Smith’s application of Kinesio tape), decompression therapy, laser therapy, massage therapy, and custom orthotics.

With multiple five-star reviews and 21 years of providing Wilmington with the finest care possible, it is no wonder Sito won the Best Chiropractor award among encore readers, and not just for the first time. They also scored the most votes in 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2014.

Other chiropractors twisting onto our poll are from Active Care Chiropractic (31%) and Feel Better Now Chiropractic and Massage (31%).


Shoetique – 49votes

When putting together an outfit, shoes are as important as any other article of clothing. They tend to tie together the overall look. Such a thought is exactly why Michaela Batten opened her own women’s shoe store, Soul Shoetique.

Batten grew up right here in Wilmington before heading to New York City to attend Parsons School of Design. She graduated with a degree in design and management. After, Batten headed back South to Wilmington to open her own shoe store.

As a child, Batten always loved footwear. Such love carried on into adulthood and helped inspire her business. More than a mere shoes store, Batten enjoys having the ability to boost her customer’s confidence when finding the perfect pair of shoes. It’s what helped her win Best Shoe Store among encore readers.

“Shoes transform women,” Batten explains. “It puts them on a pedestal and gives them a confidence like nothing else.”

Soul Shoetique carries a variety of different of styles, as well as a variety of prices, so anyone can find a pair within their budget. From boots to heels, flats to sandals, wedges to platforms. They even carry kids shoes.

Batten’s shop also provides a selection of accessories for customers to match with their new shoe purchase. Jewelry, sunglasses, purses, scarves, T-shirts, and phone cases align racks and wall space.

Batten participates in what she refers to as “Soul-ful Sundays,” too, wherein her store transforms into a community hub. Local organizations, groups, charities and nonprofits can set up a table within Soul Shoetique for the day to discuss their mission and raise awareness with customers. Batten also donates 15 percent of proceeds made during the day to the cause. Interested organizations can email the shop at to find out more.

Soul Shoetique is located at 7110 Wrightsville Ave. B7 before the Wrightsville Beach bridge. Folks who can’t make it into the store in person can visit Soul Shoetique’s website,, too, as the shop offers both domestic and international shipping.

Coastal Kicks (30%) and Monkee’s of Wilmington (21%) also kick up their heels onto our readers poll in 2018.

BLOSSOMING GOLD: Airlie Gardens takes home the award again for Best Wedding Venue in Wilmington. Photo by Chris Brehmer Photography

BLOSSOMING GOLD: Airlie Gardens takes home the award again for Best Wedding Venue in Wilmington. Photo by Chris Brehmer Photography


Airlie Gardens – 47votes

A couple’s wedding day is one they never forget. For some it’s the cake, flowers or color scheme that matter most. For others it’s all about location, location, location.

Living in a beach town, we’ve got destinations for weddings in spades. From the river to the sea, there are dozens of venues perfectly capable of providing the most magical backdrop for a day to remember. However, Airlie Gardens has remained number one on our readers poll since 2014 for Best Wedding Venue.

Among its historical gardens are live oaks that overlook Bradley Creek. There’s a sculpture garden and the famed Minnie Evans Bottle House, hand-crafted by Virginia Wright-Frierson (the official artist of the 2018 Azalea Fest). Airlie Gardens is uniquely suitable for large and small outdoor weddings, but their Pergola Garden is the most sought after place for nuptials.

The lawn surrounding the great Airlie Oak (growing since 1545) is most popular for receptions. It can easily hold a crowd up to 300, in fact. We’ve entered wedding season, too, and Airlie expects dozens of events a month from March through October. In fact, they book about 18 months out in advance, so there’s little chance to get in for a last-minute spring or summer wedding.

Future brides and grooms can take a tour of the grounds to gather details from Airlie organizers. For couples who would like to secure the grounds for their special day, Airlie offers a rehearsal time the day before all ceremonies, golf-cart transportation day-of and an additional 2-hour bridal portrait opportunity.

Airlie does not restrict outside vendors in hosting events, but folks can inquire more at As well the gardens’ most recent weddings and featured vendors can be found on their wedding blog ( or on Instagram @airliegardensweddings.

Brooklyn Arts Center (28%) and Wrightsville Manor (25%) also checked off as popular weddning venues on the readers’ poll.


Dr. Holdsworth– 39votes

holdsworthDr. Jeremy Holdsworth is used to getting top marks from patients. He practices family medicine at Wilmington Health and boasts an almost five-star rating. He’s also taking home this year’s Best Doctor award, of which he is no stranger to receiving. He was the winner of the category when it debuted on encore’s poll in 2015.

Board Certified by ABFM in Family Medicine, with a medical degree from the University of Virginia, Dr. Holdsworth has been practicing for roughly 20 years. He treats diverse healthcare needs of children and adults at Wilmington Family Physicians (4141 Shipyard Blvd.), which joined Wilmington Health. They offer services in adolescent care, adult medicine, dermatology, gynecology, routine care, sports medicine, and urgent care, among others.

Prospective new patients can learn more about Dr. Holdsworth, and even watch his introductory video, at He speaks fondly of loving and excelling in math and science early on while growing up in Richmond, Virginia.

“After spending some time with my own doctor, I knew he was someone I wanted to be like,” Dr. Holdsworth recounts in the video. “I went back to Richmond for medical school and now have two kids in medical school . . . and we settled in [Wilmington] 10 years ago.”

Other doctors with standing appointments on our poll include Dr. Brian Lanier from Promina Health (23%) and Dr. Paul Kamitsuka from Wilmington Health Associates (38%).

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Encore Magazine regularly covers topics pertaining to news, arts, entertainment, food, and city life in Wilmington. It also maintains schedules and listings of local events like concerts, festivals, live performance art and think-tank events. Encore Magazine is an entity of H&P Media, which also powers Wilmington’s local ticketing platform, Print and online editions are updated every Wednesday.

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