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Best Of Wilmington

GOODS AND SERVICES: Best Of 2017 winners

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Perry’s Emporium—
48% votes

“It is always a great time selling an engagement ring,” tells Josh Perry, general manager of Perry’s Emporium. “We especially enjoy working with family heirloom pieces that are bringing love and happiness to another generation. Jewelry is all about emotion and memories that last forever.”

encore readers have agreed once again: Perry’s Emporium is indeed “where WIlmington gets engaged.” It’s solidified by happy clients and seven Best Jeweler awards, including the 2017 Best Of. “We’ve been voted best jeweler the past four years [in a row] by encore readers,” Josh clarifies.

Josh is part of a jewelry dynasty, so to speak, along with his younger brother, Jordan, and of course their father, Alan. The family patriarch, who co-owned a store in Charlotte with his brothers, moved to Wilmington in 1991 to open his Perry’s Emporium inside Independence Mall. Since, they’ve moved down the road to Barclay Commons, but their business model has remained the same: “Treat customers with utmost respect and provide a superior product at great prices.”

Alan Perry’s presence in Wilmington goes far beyond diamonds, silver and gold. In the last 25-plus years, Josh estimates Perry’s has donated close to one million dollars to the Wilmington community and charitable organizations. “My dad has been involved in the [Cape Fear] Literacy Council for as long as I can remember,” he tells. “He regularly works with First Fruits Ministries for the homeless. We give to over 50 charities every year and try to always mix it up a bit to help everyone [who] needs it.”

Since adding the Wedding Dress Shoppe across the way from their Barclay Commons jewelry store, as well as launching a Wilmington Wedding app, Josh says they’ve spent a lot time upping their social-media game. “My dad is an avid marketer and loves to use what he knows best: newspapers, TV and radio,” Josh says. “[However,] marketing to millennials is achieved much greater with Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, and our personalized app. We are always looking for that next new client to establish a relationship with for years to come.”

Also, the Perrys are looking for opportunities to expand, with their sights set on either upper Pender County or lower Brunswick County for future jewelry stores.

Runners up in the 2017 poll for Best Jeweler are Reeds Jewelers (33%) and Albert F. Rhodes Jewelers (19%). —Shannon Rae Gentry

DOGGONE WINNERS: The staff of College Road Animal Hospital, and owner Dr. Lanzi (center, with ward), win Best Veterinarian for the second year in a row. Photo by Chris Brehmer Photography.

DOGGONE WINNERS: The staff of College Road Animal Hospital, and owner Dr. Lanzi (center, with ward), win Best Veterinarian for the second year in a row. Photo by Chris Brehmer Photography.

College Road Animal Hospital—
46% votes

College Road Animal Hospital owner Dr. Phillip Lanzi, DVM, works hard with his staff to ensure their hospital is a stand-out among the many vets in the area. Lucky for them, win number two on the annual encore Best Of poll makes it a bit easier.

“The market for veterinary medicine in this area is very competitive,” Dr. Lanzi says. “We have strived to provide our clients with the best medicine and customer service with balancing cost.”

Their compassionate team of pet lovers make sure every sweet fur baby gets optimal attention. They offer monthly promotions (check out their current heartworm, Sentinel Spectrum and Feline Revolutions deals taking place online at, alongside convenient hours, to help them provide medical care seven  days a week. Patients can go to their clinic Monday through Friday, 7:30 a.m. to 11 p.m., Saturdays 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Sundays 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

They offer a plethora of services, from typical wellness and preventative care to nutritional counseling, behavioral medicine, to surgery, laser surgery, dental care, and more.  They even offer alternative therapies, like acupuncture. Plus, they do house calls and grooming.

“Our plans for the coming year are to continue to provide state-of-the-art medicine to our clientele while keeping current in the latest medical therapies and alternative therapies in veterinary medicine,” Dr. Lanzi promises.

More so, they’ve been reaching out to the greater Wilmington area in multiple ways since opening their doors in 1984. “We are involved in many aspects of the community from sponsoring youth athletics, mentorship programs for individuals pursuing a career in veterinary medicine, to supporting foundations such as She Rocks Cancer Research for Women.

“We are ecstatic as a hospital to be held in such high regard by our community,” Dr. Lanzi continues. “We hope to continue to strive forward, to keep us in this place in our profession.”

Other vets barking up the Best Of poll include A Country Vet (34%) and Atlantic Animal Hospital (30%). —Shea Carver

TANGLED UP IN WINS: Tanglez Salon and Spa scored three 2017 Best Hair Salon, Esthetician (Marcella Hardy), and Tanning Salon. Photo by Chris Brehmer Photography.

TANGLED UP IN WINS: Tanglez Salon and Spa scored three 2017 Best Hair Salon, Esthetician (Marcella Hardy), and Tanning Salon. Photo by Chris Brehmer Photography.

Tanglez Salon and Spa—
45% votes, 31
votes, 39% votes

The hair salon category in encore’s annual Best Of is hotly contested. It seems to vacillate annually among winners. In 2017 Tanglez Salon and Spa has taken the perfectly coiffed crown, along with awards for Best Esthetician (Marcella Hardy) and Best Tanning Salon.

“With skin cancer on the rise, spray-tanning has taken off,” according to salon owner Donnie Canady. “People are starting to think more about the long-term effects and resorting to safer alternatives.”

Denise Carver (pictured right, front, short red hair) is the lady ensuring beachy citizens always look golden and bronzed in a way that matches their skin tones. What does that mean exactly? Well, no orange Cheeto dust, for one. With experience in the business for 11 years, spending six at Tanglez, Carver ensures top-notch care.

The same can be said with their esthetician, Marcella Hardy, who has won for two years in a row now. Because of such success, Tanglez currently is offering a special on seasonal organic lavender and lemongrass facial.

“We believe our success comes from hiring the right people and providing consistent opportunities for growth,” Canady says. “Everyone from our bubbly front-desk staff to our creative team of stylists will tell you their job means more to them than just a pay check.”

Like every business, Tanglez has evolved over their eight years off Oleander Drive (beside The Wine Sampler). They’ve advanced their training program for new stylists and strive to make clients more like family. “We are proudly a diverse group of people and there is a stylist for everyone at Tanglez,” Canady promises. Whether in need of Balayage highlighting (“our most requested service—”a highlighting technique that mimics the natural pattern in which the sun would highlight the hair) or of a new makeup regimen, Tanglez offers it all.

“We have big plans for 2017,” Canady says. “We are really excited about is launching the Mirabella makeup line. We have always offered makeup application for special occasions and now our guests will be able to learn how to apply it themselves and take it home, too.”

Runners up in hair salon are Bangz (31%) and The Rockin Roller Salon (24%). Esthetician votes also go to Ken Grimsly of Bangz (31%) and Julia Canoutas of All About Skin Care (30%). Tanning salons Ultra Tan (28%) and Saule Tanning (23%) also scored spots. —Shea Carver

Stevenson Honda—
37% votes

Stevenson Honda of Wilmington’s general manager, Patrick Koballa, is an old pro when it comes to the Best Of awards. With 15 wins for Best Place To Buy A New Car, he’s confident encore readers recognize at least one attribute of their business: “Over the years, treating customers as we would like to be treated has enabled us to grow in the Wilmington community.”

However, buying and selling cars isn’t necessarily always a face-to-face endeavor these days. The Internet plays a large role in daily activities of selling and servicing vehicles, and Stevenson continues to adapt in this new salescape. Nevertheless, Koballa says he and his team work hard to keep each customer’s visit personalized.

“We offer quality products at competitive prices and strive to provide a quality, pleasant experience for every customer we encounter,” he says. “We hope to continue to grow in volume by properly taking care of our local customers that choose to do business with the Stevenson organization.”

Whether visiting in person at 821 S. College Rd., to see the latest 2017 CRV in Stevenson’s virtual showroom, or scheduling an appointment for an oil change at, the team at Stevenson always greets customers with the best in service.

They also take the wheel when it comes to local charities and supporting the Wilmington community. Stevenson works with Toys for Tots, plus they hold a Veteran’s Day photo contest, and work with Nourish NC, and Boys and Girls Club of Coastal Carolina. Since Hurricane Matthew, they’ve helped raise funds for NC flood victims. “We provide support to educational environments, and choose to support the community that supports us,” Koballa tells.

Runners up in the 2017 poll for Best Place to Buy a New Car are Hendrick Toyota of Wilmington (36%) and Jeff Gordon Chevrolet (27%)—Shannon Gentry

FACING ANOTHER WIN: Leon McKay (center, with award) and his staff provide alternative medicinal services to help alleviate many ailments and issues. Photo by Chris Brehmer Photography.

FACING ANOTHER WIN: Leon McKay (center, with award) and his staff provide alternative medicinal services to help alleviate many ailments and issues. Photo by Chris Brehmer Photography.

McKay Healing Arts—43
% votes

A study released in 2016 by San Francisco-based Castlight Health company ranked Wilmington as the top city in America for opioid abuse. While it’s been a major issue for local police and healthcare providers to tackle, it’s also one McKay Healing Arts has been monitoring. According to owner Leon McKay, MATOM, LAC, acupuncture can alleviate chronic pain and addiction that have led to the opiate epidemic.

“Acupuncture is effective for most types of pain and very safe,” he explains. “We wish people would think of using acupuncture earlier instead of medication first. We could possibly act as a reducing factor for addiction.”

Acupuncture can be used for almost any type of pain—especially migraines, arthritis, neuropathy, allergies and most chronic pathology. encore readers recognize the value of these nontraditional services, as they voted McKay Healing Arts as Best Alternative Medicine.

For new patients who are curious about alternative medicine, McKay stresses how acupuncture is not painful. To add to his almost two decades of experience as a certified acupuncturist, McKay studied Shaolin Lohan Hands Qi Gong and medical Qi Gong, as well as tai chi for arthritis, all of which are taught at McKay Healing Arts.

“[Acupuncture’s] effectiveness is astounding,” he says. “It’s cost effective and it’s very safe in the hands of a licensed acupuncturist who has years of experience. Qi Gong is easily learned with meditation-like results, which improve health.”

McKay is planning to add another practitioner to his team in 2017, as well as expand Qi Gong treatments at their Wrightsville Avenue location (

Also ranking in 2017’s poll for Best Alternative Medicine are Carolina Beach Community Acupuncture (31%) and Infinity Acupuncture (26%)—Shannon Gentry

BOOK WORMS: Gwenyfar Rohler and Brandi Laney pose with the Best Bookstore award for Old Books on Front Street. Photo by Chris Brehmer Photography.

BOOK WORMS: Gwenyfar Rohler and Brandi Laney pose with the Best Bookstore award for Old Books on Front Street. Photo by Chris Brehmer Photography.

Old Books on Front Street—46
% votes

What’s better than a bookstore with beer and wine? One with a Top Shelf Literary Loft above it—because after imbibing too many drinks and reading too many words, it’s really easy to climb the stairs from the store to the loft above, play a life-sized game of Scrabble, and crash in the Murphy bed for a good night’s rest. Then, in the morning, as coffee wafts through the air from the bookstore below, guests in the Literary Loft can merely stumble downstairs for caffeine to take a Literary History Walking tour of downtown Wilmington, NC, in all of its quirky glory.

That about sums up Old Books on Front Street—the winner of Best Bookstore for eight years. Old Books houses thousands upon thousands of reads, alongside specialty games, fun doodads—like famous author-quote buttons, Tarot earrings, dolls of the best caliber (Andy Warhol and one-of-a-kind trolls)—not to mention author signings, poetry readings, writers’ meetup groups, theatre rehearsals, and much more. It’s a hub of brainpower, entertainment and community outreach, all masterminded by Gwenyfar Rohler, who bought the store from its original owner, Mr. Daughtry in the early aughts.

“Marrying a business and creative endeavor is strange at best but equally inspiring,” Rohler says. “At Old Books, we are adjusting to having our nightly rental, The Top Shelf, open. It is themed around NC writers and features a life-size Scrabble board on the living room floor (yes, we have tiles for it!)”

Rohler renovated the third floor of her historical building last year herself. So every nook and cranny is thoughtfully crafted, and highlights NC authors and the literature borne of the area. As well she founded, wrote and hosts the Literary History Walking Tour to advocate for the literary arts in Wilmington every Saturday at 2 p.m.

“It is basically what I had been putting my friends through for years,” Rohler says. “As we would walk or drive through town, I would wax poetic about arcane aspects of Wilmington and literary history. We have so much here, and it irritates me endlessly that the South—North Carolina, especially—seems to have an image of illiterate philistines. Some of the most beautiful literature added to the American cannon comes from here. Highly successful commercial writing flourishes here. Debate and discussion of the issues of society have been an integral part of Wilmington since before the Revolution, and of course, close to my heart is our deep entanglement with the theatrical arts. Thetour lets us really open up that information to people, and make the stories and characters come alive as we visit the locations that commemorate them.”

Last month, Old Books had a surprise visit from CPAN Book TV. The channel will air a special Wilmington feature the weekend of Mar. 18 and 19, which highlights Rohler, her bookstore and literary tour.

Aside from housing James Jarvis on piano every Sunday, 3 p.m., the store holds major events throughout the year: Couplet, an annual poetry festival, Bloomsday, to honor James Joyce, Banned Books Week, every fall, and more.   

“Personally, as a working writer, managing a bookstore is really important to me,” Rohler tells. “It is in many ways a living, breathing manifestation of creativity and collaboration.”

Other stores taking votes include Barnes and Noble (36%) and Pomegranate Books (18%)—Shea Carver

Palate Shop and Reserve—36
% votes

For the first time ranking on encore’s Best Of readers’ poll is the Brooklyn Arts District’s very own Palate Bottle Shop and Reserve. Operating on North Fourth since December 2014, Palate houses over 10 coolers worth of wine and beer, along with shelves lined tall and wide with the best brands—over 1,000, for sure.

“Wilmington loves IPAs, lagers and pilsners, without a doubt,” manager Josh Wittman says. “We’ve done some educational things to help expand people’s knowledge into other items, such as Belgian beers; Palate’s are expanding. We love value wine at Palate and really focus on amazing bottles that don’t break the bank.”

There is no better way to enjoy a pint or glass than cozying up to one of their many fire pits during a cool, breezy fall night, or lazing about outdoors while live music plays over a bright pink and purple springtime sunset over the Cape Fear River, only a few blocks away.

“We’ve  become a gathering space for the community,” Wittman tells. “It is humbling and amazing to be part of birthdays, memorials, weddings,  informal business meetings, community activism rallies, and fundraisers.”

Palate owner Kevin Rhodes has played on ILM’s music scene for years. So live entertainment always was part of the larger picture for the bottle shop. “We started with the concept for ‘day music,’ and we love it,” he says. “Why wait until late at night? We will continue weekend afternoon and early evening shows. But, please leave the pups at home; kids are always welcome.”

Palate hosts various specialty nights, like Wine Down Wednesday, a free wine tasting from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., and Turntable Tuesday, where bartenders spin vinyl and ask customers to bring their own. They have beer tastings on Thursdays, live music on weekends, celebrate Oktoberfest annually, and often host DJs and hold oyster roasts. Coming up on Mar. 15, they’re having a beer dinner (tickets available soon).

“We are getting better all the time and grateful for everyone’s patience in our learning process,” Rhodes says. “We’ve tried to provide a great atmosphere, great curated selection of products, knowledgeable staff and continued with events throughout the year.”

Just as well, the shop owners and staff act philanthropically and for the greater good. Currently, they are working toward raising funds for local nonprofit Nourish NC, which helps feed children across the area. “This organization speaks to the basic need for kids to have nourishment in order to live and learn. Ever been ‘hangry’?  Well, a child with food in his or her stomach won’t be.  Please, donate at the register.”

Other bottle shops ranking on our poll are Hey Beer (34%) and Bombers Bev. Company (30%)—Shea Carver

Lamaine Williams takes Best Personal Trainer win in 2017. Photo by Chris Brehmer Photography

Lamaine Williams takes Best Personal Trainer win in 2017. Photo by Chris Brehmer Photography

Lamaine Williams—47
% votes

LaMaine Williams is getting ever-so close to being in the double-digit club of encore Best Of awards. With eight wins for Best Personal Trainer, including in 2017, more and more Wilmingtonians will want to “Train With LaMaine.”

“I feel Train With LaMaine is a permanent fixture [in Wilmington] because the name represents hard work, consistency and dedication to my craft,” Williams tells. “No playing around. I expect a lot out of my clients [and] this includes homework.”

Though Williams is always pushing clients to make achieve their goals and major body changes, he’s gone through some big changes of his own. First starting at all-ladies gym Body Forum in Wilmington, he now trains men and women—though most of his clientele is still female—and does all of his sessions at The Fitness Squad, located at 6309 Boat House Rd.

Williams has been a one-on-one personal trainer for 18 years, and though he’s always finding new ways to challenge himself and his clients, he sticks to the platform that works. So folks won’t find him leading groups, bootcamp or other types of classes. In his one-hour sessions, Williams is building personal relationships and understanding of what individual clients want and need.

“My training sessions are like night and day from person to person and workout to workout,” he describes. “Their needs are different day to day. For example, if frustrated, we box to get out some frustration. If sad, we use essential oils and go outside. Every client deserves to be treated as an individual.”

Williams says his exploration and study of gymnastic strength and flexibility has brought new life to his training style, which is known to be fast paced and very aggressive. “Whether we are building muscle, getting tone, working on flexibility or mobility—I have to get results,” he promises.

Nevertheless, mindfulness is coming up more and more in Williams’ routine these days. Though he admits it’s still a concept he’s getting used to as a high-energy person when it comes to working out, he’s learning to teach balance. “Put away the cell phone, go outside and enjoy nature,”  he advises. “Walk and slow your thoughts down. That’s a two-for-one deal.”

Folks can follow Williams on Facebook or read testimonials from local clients like WECT’s France’s Weller at To set up a free consultation with Williams, call 910-297-3488 or email him at

Also keeping folks fit on our 2017 poll for Best Personal Trainer are Anita Harrell with FitMo (27%) and Joe Ferrari with 24 Fit (26%). —Shannon Gentry

BARKING UP THE WINNERS’ TREE: Nikki Beall, her daughter Hunter Osborne, and boyfriend Cary Benjamin accept the award for Beall’s downtown store, Von Barkee’s Dog Spa and Bakery. Photo by Chris Brehmer Photography.

BARKING UP THE WINNERS’ TREE: Nikki Beall, her daughter Hunter Osborne, and boyfriend Cary Benjamin accept the award for Beall’s downtown store, Von Barkee’s Dog Spa and Bakery. Photo by Chris Brehmer Photography.

Von Barkee’s Dog Spa and Bakery—36
% votes

“We love dogs!” Nikki Beall exclaims. “As I am saying that, I am thinking of Oprah on the Weight Watchers commercial where she is excitedly yelling, ‘I love chips! I. LOVE. CHIPS!’”

Such vivacity and Beall’s adoration for animals comes through at her business, Von Barkee’s Dog Spa and Bakery—winner of Best Dog Groomer for 2017. The staff’s genuine love for animals and community helps keep their services top-notch for human and doggie clients alike. “We are constantly improving our facility and honing our craft so we can provide our clients with excellent service and continue to grow as pet-care professionals,” Beall says.

Von Barkee’s Dog Spa makes every pooch feel special, whether they’re having their nails trimmed and painted, or their hair cut and brushed, or their skin treated with a luxe blueberry facial. “We have some pretty lavish spa treatments for dog—deep conditioning treatments, feather extensions and more,” Beall says.

They also service kitty cats for feline lovers, and they work hard to gain trust in their clients, especially ones who may have some trepidation with first entering the spa. The staff’s calming energy helps allay their fears. “Sometimes just taking a moment to have a little snuggle session with a scared pet and giving them a treat really works wonders to calm a nervous pup!” she explains. “A lot of our clients are regulars and they notice their dogs are calmer the second and third visit; the dogs are happy to come in and see us!”

However, making sure the animal is ready for grooming should be a part of every pet owner’s rearing plan, i.e. teaching him or her to stand still in order to be safely groomed. “Grooming is vital to your pet’s health for many reasons,” Beall notes. “But a misconception we deal with daily is you don’t need to do any brushing or maintenance at home, or it’s a groomers job to teach your pet to cooperate for grooming. If they have never been taught to stand or even be brushed, it can be a very stressful experience for all involved. I mean, it’s a spa day, but imagine if you were a little kid and came in with dreadlocks and your parents wanted a stranger to brush them out a couple of times a year or buzz them off with some loud weird tool you have never seen? You probably wouldn’t see that as an enjoyable experience.”

Located in the heart of downtown, Von Barkee’s is thrilled to be among many shops that are dog-friendly. Wilmingtonians know first hand how accepting the town is to pups, as they’re seen sitting beside owners at outdoor cafes or even keeping them company at local bars. From such, Von Barkee’s started a pup pub crawl, where the animals and their humans enjoy some brews (brews for humans only—doggies get water) and pleasant interactions. “The biggest challenge for me has been trying to decide what our focus should be; I have a million plans for Von Barkee’s,” Bealls explains. “I started out baking a lot of treats and offering dog sitting, as well as grooming and doing the pub crawls. Realistically, I need to pare it down and focus on one thing at a time because, initially, there was only me, and I just couldn’t do everything. Now, I have an amazing staff, and I’ve been able to really put the work into other aspects of the business and solidify our direction which will be grooming, treats and specialty products, along with a few events a year.”

Aside from grooming, Von Barkee’s sells specialty and healthy eats for pets, including grain-free treats and biscuits, along with tarts, birthday cakes, puppy truffles, and more. Beall will be expanding recipes this year and launching a line of pet products this summer.

Other dog groomers garnering votes include Ali’s K-9 Clips (33%) and Sea Peace Pet Grooming Studio (31%). —Shea Carver

Riverfront Farmers Market—51
% votes

After two years of serving Wilmington culinarians and locavores in the old Wachovia building parking lot at the corner of Princess and Water, the Riverfront Farmers Market will return to its home all along Water Street, thanks to the completion of the downtown renovation project. The season will open on April 17 with 48 vendors to serve consumers.

“There is a balance of about three-quarter farm and/or food vendors and one-quarter artisans and crafters,” manager BJ Ryan says. “Farm and food products are represented by 25 to 30 vendors, some seasonal in nature, but the majority participate regularly. The arts and crafts vendors alternate weekends, so with about 20 vendors there are around 10 each Saturday.”

New this year will be Panacea Brewing Company’s homemade kombucha, as well as arts vendors like Crunchy Mamas, Jordan Nason Photography, Linda Flynn Art, The Pepper Mill Shop, Lativa Accents & Art, Package Deal Crafts, and Cape Fear Enrichment Program. Returning to much popularity will be The Porch Dawg, selling their homemade fur-baby treats, and hopefully after two years of not having peaches because of the weather, Piney Woods Farm will have a better season at the market.

“We sell fruits and vegetables that are locally-grown, which can vary based on weather and other growing conditions,” Ryan explains. “We hope to have a variety of greens and lettuces, broccoli, cauliflower, beets, radishes, carrots, peas, Brussels sprouts, cabbage—early crops. Later in the season, there should be strawberries, blueberries, tomatoes, squash, eggplant, cucumbers, beans, corn, melons and other seasonal produce.”

Herbs and plant growers are onsite, too, selling varieties to spiff up any garden with native plants, annuals, perennials, orchids, and more. As well, folks will find seafood, meats, goat cheeses, honey, and eggs.

“The move back onto Water Street is most exciting,” Ryan continues. “We will have music a minimum of once a month.  The Stick ‘em Up Duo will play on opening day beginning at 10 or 10:30 a.m.  Folkstone String Band plays on May 6. Any area musicians that are interested in playing should contact us through the Facebook page.”

Plus, they are upping their marketing this year by doing Facebook giveaways. Folks can follow “Riverfront Farmers Market” on social media, including Twitter and Instagram.

Other markets taking votes on the poll include Poplar Grove Farmers’ Market (25%) and Carolina Beach Farmers’ Market (24%). —Shea Carver

Paw Beach Pet Resort—45
% votes

Paw Beach Pet Resort, operated by Pet Paradise, takes home another award as Best Place to Board a Pet. Not just offering a safe, clean and fun space for cats and dogs, but also daycamp, grooming, pool play, and climate-controlled suites for overnight visitors. Paw Beach Resort’s manager, Wendy Hebenstreit, describes it as “the ultimate boarding experience.”

“The attentive staff is passionate about pets and will go the extra mile to ensure that your pet has a safe and enjoyable time,” Hebenstreit adds.

Serving roughly 100 animals a day, there are 25 employees at Paw Beach who’ve all gone through an extensive two-week orientation and training program (including CPR) before being entrusted with furry family members. They are not only trained to monitor pet activity, such as looking for signs of bloat after meals, but to conduct guest personality assessments to better understand and and place them in appropriate play groups.

“As pet owners ourselves, we know how emotional and difficult the decision is to leave your fur baby somewhere outside the comforts of your home,” Hebenstreit says, “which is why we offer new guests a complimentary day of day camp for them to get acquainted with the resort and staff. . . . [to] talk with the staff and ask any important questions that you need answered before leaving your pet with us.”

A typical boarding day at Paw Beach starts with guests’ own private and spacious climate-controlled suites with resort-provided bedding. Other amenities include extra playtimes, treats, spa days, and outdoor, indoor and private webcams—so pet parents can check in. “Whether it’s making a splash in our swimming pool or cuddling with our staff,” Hebenstreit states, “Paw Beach promises to create a memorable stay for your pet and provide the ideal home away from home.”

While Paw Beach has exciting news coming up in April 2017 (so stay tuned), they will also be involved in “Life is Short, Make a Splash” campaign this summer. They’ll host a Facebook contest for nominations and voting for a charity beneficiary of $10,000. Learn more at Wacky Wednesdays will start this fall, wherein pets can dress up and Paw Beach will donate $1 from each bath to a local charity.

Folks should also note Paw Beach is busiest around the holidays, so check early for boarding packages at Pricing varies depending on service, packages and size of pets.

Runners up in the 2017 poll for Best Place to Board a Pet are Pups Play and Stay (28%) and Atlantic Animal Hospital (27%).  —Shannon Gentry

Blue Moon Gift Shops—55
% votes

Seventeen years ago, Blue Moon Gift Shops opened on Racine Drive to provide Wilmington one of its first multi-vendor arts and crafts markets. Walking through its 8,000 square feet will allure shoppers into 100 or more cozy retail booths, where handmade items, from jewelry to art, clothing to home decor and more, are sold.

“We have always supported artists and mentored local small businesses,” Blue Moon manager Sandra Peruzzi says. “That is our mission statement.”

Thus far, it’s working like a gem, as Blue Moon has continued on its winning streak, scoring Best Gift Shop for nine years in a row now. It’s all about top-notch customer service, according to Peruzzi. “Listening to our customers is of utmost importance. Coupled with quality shops that have beautiful handmade products, it keeps our customers returning.”

Happy buyers enjoy the rotation of vendors in the physical market and online. They consist of places like Aunt Kerry’s Pet Shop, which sells homemade doggie treats and goodies for pets, as well as Bella Lynn Naturals high-quality skin-care products, and Mitzy Jonkheer Jewelry.

“We are continuing improving our Strawberry Moon Gourmet Market that is relatively new,” Peruzzi says.

Essentially inside Blue Moon, it consists of gourmet NC foods, like “Gourmade” pickles, homemade marinara, nuts, spices, sauces, cookies, preserves, and the like.

The also host monthly sales at various vendors. Currently folks can find Guttersnipe Press T-shirts and Foy’s Joys silks scarves on sale, or Emmi-Lu’s Baby Boutique has 50 percent off select items.

Blue Moon essentially a one-stop shop for one-of-a-kind gifts for any holiday or birthday, and also for end-of-the-year teacher gifts or Mother’s Day items. They sell furniture, pottery, hand-blown glass, coastal decor, lamps, photography, and so much more. They also offer custom ordering and complementary gift wrap.

They’re always accepting vendor applications for budding entrepreneurs who want to branch out without necessarily having monstrous upstart costs. Blue Moon makes it easy, by providing an established storefront for a new business or even a satellite location for an existing one, not to mention a strong online presence, experience sales staff who monitor the booths seven days a week, coverage of overhead costs (phone, utilities, sales tax, etc.), year-round ad campaigns, and more! Each application goes under jury review for consideration.

Other gift shops wrapping up a spot on the poll include Dragonflies (25%) and Crabby Chic Home (20%). —Shea Carver


VOLUNTEER MOONDOGGIES: Surfers Healing stacked our Best Of party and fundraiser at Brooklyn Arts Center with the best volunteers. Photo by Chris Brehmer Photography.

Sweetwater Surf Shop—43
% votes

Starting in 2007, Sweetwater Surf Shop began collecting their Best Surf Shop awards, and through 2017, they’ve managed to cull eight. The family-owned and -operated business is run by Danielle Bourgeois, along with her dad and sister. 

“We bought the store in 1995, but Sweetwater has been in business since 1976,” Bourgeois clarifies. “We carry all the major Surf brands: Billabong, O’Neill, Quiksilver, RipCurl, Reef, Hurley, and many other small up-and-coming brands”

Naturally the store offers a gnarly collection of boards, from short to long, as well as wet suits and surf accessories. Currently, they’re stocking their shelves with spring and summer arrivals, just in time for warmer months.

While they pride themselves on the best in customer service, the surf shop also does community outreach. Being more than a retail store and entrenched in the organizations that make a difference worldwide really appeals to the Bourgeois family.

“We are involved with Hope From Helen,” she says, “which is a non-profit auction held every December to benefit local and global charities.” The nonprofit has raised over $500,000 since it started in 2005 to benefit causes such as the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF), American Cancer Society, PAWS Place, New Hanover Humane Society, Surf Aid, Life Rolls On, Buddy Pelletier Surfing Foundation, Surfers Healing, Sea Biscuit Wildlife Shelter, and others.

“We also donate to many local schools, charity fashion shows and other events,” Bourgeois tells.

Other shops catching a wave onto our poll are Hot Wax Surf Shop (30%) and South End Surf Shop (27%).  —Shea Carver

VROOM-VROOM: The guys from Auto Wholesale have fun with their Best Place to Buy Used Cars win for 2017. Photo by Chris Brehmer Photography.

VROOM-VROOM: The guys from Auto Wholesale have fun with their Best Place to Buy Used Cars win for 2017. Photo by Chris Brehmer Photography.

Auto Wholesale—45
% votes

With over 25 years in automotive experience, Paul Tracy and his brother Dan Tracy opened Auto Wholesale in 2002 with hopes of showcasing the best pre-owned vehicles in the market. They take only late-model used cars in super condition and offer them at he most competitive prices, with help of customer financing and the best interest rates from banks and credit unions. Their business took off—so much they had to relocate only four years into action.

“Changing location in 2006 to 6003 Market Street [meant] we could an even better selections of vehicles,” Tracy says. “We still have the same great staff, great vehicles and a fantastic buying experience.”

Auto Wholesale moves 30 to 40 cars every week in Wilmington. Hondas and Toyotas typically tend to be the most requested because of how dependable they are and how long they last. “We offer a no-haggle buying experience,” Tracy says with pride. Essentially, that means customers aren’t exposed to wheelin’ dealin’ salesmen. “Our customers deal with the same person from beginning to the end of the buying experience.”

Aside from selling cars at the best prices, Auto Wholesale also has a service center for customers. They provide customer loyalty discounts, honest service and state-of-the-art equipment to keep vehicles in top condition. Whether customers need an oil change or A/C service work, or typical tune-ups and tire changes, Auto Wholesale has it covered with quality mechanics and technicians.

Other places to buy used cars on our poll include Bruce Cavanaugh (32%) and Bob King Automall (26%). —Shea Carver

Airlie Gardens—52
% votes

There are many venues perfectly capable of providing the most magical backdrop to celebrate lovers’ unions. But only one comes in at the top for brides and grooms everywhere: Airlie Gardens.

Now taking the category every year since it started (2014), Airlie as a wedding venue offers historical gardens, mighty live oaks, views of Bradley Creek, a sculpture garden, and the famed Minnie Evans Bottle House, hand-crafted by local artist Virginia Wright-Frierson.

“Our Pergola Garden is the most popular ceremony location,” says Nicole Herron, administrative technician for weddings and events. The lawn at the Airlie Oak—the tree which sprouted in 1545 nonetheless—takes top billing for the reception locale. Many parties have taken place under the oak—about 30 a year give or take—from March through October, the high-time season for weddings.

“We book 18 months out,” Herron tells. “For brides wanting prime spring dates.” Should brides choose to utilize Airlie, they can secure two or three spots on the grounds for their special day. “We offer a rehearsal time the day before all of our ceremonies, golf-cart transportation day-of and an additional two-hour bridal portrait opportunity to all of our brides.”

To help the bride and groom decide on Airlie, they offer tours and walk-throughs while dallying over details of the contract, to ensure all questions are answered. Airlie does not restrict outside vendors in hosting the event either—which makes for a variety of weddings.

“One of our favorite weddings involved local progressive folk/bluegrass band, The Midatlantic, leading a parade of guests to a reception on the Oak Lawn with their music,” Herron says. “When they got to the Oak Lawn, The Midatlantic had learned and performed ‘Hava Nagila,’ and guests began the Hora—or chair dance—to open up the reception. It was so much fun to see all the guests celebrating the newlyweds and having a blast on the dance floor. We also had a bride have the UNC Clef Hangers perform an a cappella Beyoncé song while she walked down the aisle—that was a lot of fun!”

Brooklyn Arts Center (29%) and Wrightsville Manor (19%) also took slots on the readers’ poll. —Shea Carver

Mayfaire Town Center—73
% votes

It’s no surprise when it comes to the best shopping center in town, folks are trekking to Military Cutoff to scoop up wares and eat some delightful grub at Mayfaire Town Center. In fact, they’ve been crowning the multiplex the crème de la crème for 13 years now since opening in 2004. In 2017 it’s continually growing and rounding out its final phase this year.

“The evolution of Mayfaire has worked to fulfill our broad customer base, offering residents a destination where they can go and find everything on their shopping and dining list,” marketing director Paige Somervell says. “Visitors and residents can stroll through our village-like streets and discover a treasure trove of stores, restaurants, hotels, and events.”

Currently, 28 tenant reside in its community center and 75 in its town center. Recently, they’ve seen the addition of Fuzziwig’s Candy Factory, Duck Donuts, UltraSkin Wax Center, Clean Juice, EpicFit 365, Palmetto Moon, and H&M open. More are slated for the final phase, but Somervell is sworn to secrecy until the leases are signed.

“CBL and Associates Property is committed to being a part of the community,” Somervell explains. “We are dedicated to enhancing the original vision of the live, work, shop and play concept.”

The “play” part is made possible thanks to the numerous events Mayfaire holds annually. Coming up on April 1 and 2, they will hold the Coastal Carolina RV and Boat Show, and of course they will welcome the Easter bunny for photo ops with kids, April 1 through 15. On April 29, they will host the 7th annual Coastal Run/Walk for Autism. From May 1 through 7, they will house the will-call ticket area for the Wells Fargo Championship, and May 13 and 14 they will hold the Mercury Marine Boat Show. As is the case annually, Santa will make a visit to their village beginning November 18 through Christmas Eve.

Other shopping plazas taking votes on the poll include Hanover Center (15%) and Lumina Station (12%). —Shea Carver

PAMPERED BY THE BEST: Let Lynn and Lexanne Gibson show you the best spa treatments at their award-winning Head to Toe Day Spa, which scored Best Spa and Best Nail Salon 2017. Photo by Chris Brehmer Photography

PAMPERED BY THE BEST: Let Lynn and Lexanne Gibson show you the best spa treatments at their award-winning Head to Toe Day Spa, which scored Best Spa and Best Nail Salon 2017. Photo by Chris Brehmer Photography

Head to Toe Day Spa—43
% votes, 
45% votes

Twenty-four years ago, Lynn Gibson decided to open her own business with just one employee: herself. Head to Toe Day Spa opened in Wrightsville Beach. Its success was such that since 1993, the company has expanded four times. Today, numerous employees work for the spa, including Lynn’s sister Lexanne. The family business is going strong, as the sisters and 56 employees give far more than 100 percent to their customers.

“Our business model is focused on doing honest work, always listening and developing new friendships with our guests.”

Lynn also utilized a consulting firm that specializes in growing the spa industry. The partnership created changes and growth she once thought unimaginable. She started with a state -of-the-art salon plan, kept growing employees, and setting goals. “The results in the past few years have been extraordinary,” she tells. “We have never been so happy to be able to grow with our town and reach out to so many.”

Today they serve over 2,600 people a month. They guarantee satisfaction, no matter if getting a facial, massage, hair cut, tan, pedicure or manicure, or one of their med-spa treatments. They recently teamed up with Dr. James Maultsby to offer new and up-to-date procedures in the beauty industry, like Soprano XL for hair removal or Harmony Laser for sun damage and dark spots.

“Dr. Maultsby and his experienced staff are bringing Wilmington skin care that is on the next level,” Lynn tells. “With two nurse practitioners and two medical estheticians, the team combines for over 50 years of experience.” 

They do monthly specials for services and retail, which folks can access via their monthly newsletter. Plus, they do referral discounts, and last-minute fill-in appointments can by accessed for 50 percent off if contacting the spa at the right time.

Their options span every department, though they scored wins for Best Spa and Best Nail Salon. They’re adding new treatments constantly, from nail services to waxing, eye-lash extensions, to makeup applications.

“We specialize in bridal parties and can accommodate large groups,” Lynn promises. “We work with top of the line products like Obagi, Elta MD, Latisse, Norvell, Neocutis, Skin Deep, Redken, Pureology, to just mention a few.”

The Gibson sisters also give back to the community as much as they can. Head To Toe donates to various local charities, schools and events on a monthly basis. “We encourage all employees to understand that making a difference by donating their time and compassion is always on our mind,” Lynn tells. “We take great pride in our giving back to local community and believe it is a main part of building the business to where it is.”

Other spas ranking the poll include Ki Spa (31%) and Tanglez Salon and Spa (26%). Nail salons painting the poll include Tanglez Salon and Spa (30%) and Bangz Hair Salon and Spa (25%). —Shea Carver

Intracoastal Realty—57
% votes

Though we made it through the housing market crash in 2008, rising back to satisfactory numbers in homes sold has been an ongoing effort locally. However, living in a coastal region where folks seek to retire or relocate has been helpful in the uprise. Now, some nine years later, the housing market in Wilmington is on fire, according to Best Real Estate Company, Intracoastal Realty—which has been serving the ILM market since 1976. Intracoastal saw over 3,000 transactions in 2016 alone.

“It’s a ‘seller’s market’ for those with homes priced below $400,000,” Lake Slacum, VP of marketing at Intracoastal, tells. “In other words, there is not enough inventory of homes for sale to keep up with the demand of the buyers.  It’s all about supply and demand!”

Slacum says the luxury market is performing well, too. However, it’s still hovering in the “buyer’s market” range because of the amount of inventory surpassing demand.

Whether buying or selling, customers often think going about the process solo is easy. Not so, according to Slacum. Having a real-estate agent really helps understand the process—which isn’t about money first and foremost. “In most transactions, it’s important to understand that the buyer does not pay the real-estate agent,” Slacum explains. “The commission is paid by the seller. Secondly, a top-notch agent will make the entire process much less stressful (lots of legal paperwork to manage) and will provide an advantage in a competitive seller’s market.”

Advice from real-estate agents also helps lessen the stress of the process. They can hone in on the best location for the buyer’s wants and needs. “Choose location over anything else!” Slacum proposes. “Intracoastal Realty has exceptional agents and support staff.  The company is fully committed to training, education, marketing, technology, and in providing incredible support to our agents.”

Their persistence to offering the best has led to their growth as well. They will open a midtown office and one at The Pointe at Barclay this year. Plus, they’ll launch new marketing and tech products in coming months. They also give back to the community at large through charities and fundraisers.

“We make donations of money, time, and resources to civic organizations, disaster relief funds and local chapters of national health organizations,” Slacum says. “Further, we work closely with UNCW, Cape Fear CC, and Brunswick CC to offer scholarship program opportunities to deserving students. Finally, there is the Teacher’s Fund, which our owner and CEO founded that helps kindergarten through 5th-grade school teachers buy supplies and learning aids they so desperately need.”

As far as predictions go for the coming year, Slacum says it all points to maintaining and growing a robust housing market. “Economists are projecting an improving economy, which will start to influence interest rates higher,” Slacum tells. “Rising rates will eventually lead to reduced buying power and fewer buyers; therefore, the time to buy or sell is now.”

Coldwell Banker Sea Coast Advantage (24%) and Keller Williams Realty Wilmington (18%) also rank on the poll. —Shea Carver

LIKE A TIDAL WAVE OF GRATITUDE: Grocery coordinator Katie Berry and grocery buyer Eric Edwards of Tidal Creek Co-op graciously accept the award for the local cooperative for Best Health Food Store 2017. Photo by Chris Brehmer Photography.

LIKE A TIDAL WAVE OF GRATITUDE: Grocery coordinator Katie Berry and grocery buyer Eric Edwards of Tidal Creek Co-op graciously accept the award for the local cooperative for Best Health Food Store 2017. Photo by Chris Brehmer Photography.

Tidal Creek Co-op—36
% votes

Though there were talks of Tidal Creek Co-op opening doors in the downtown area, Wilmington’s oldest community-based food cooperatives has signed another two-year lease for their Oleander Drive locale. It’s where they’ve built a foundation of about 1,700 owners—as well as additional general shoppers—and it’s where they’ve secured another win for Best Health Food Store in encore’s poll.

Co-op ownership not only means having a stake in the entire grocery store, including its all-natural café, but it means supporting local products, farmers, economy and community. Tidal Creek’s marketing coordinator, Shaylah Paul, credits their popularity to their buying standards, which of course emphasize sourcing local. Cottle Organics, Red Beard Farms, Humble Roots Farm, Moore Brothers Beef, Meg Shelton, and Nature’s Way are a few purveyors shoppers can find there right now.

“I think it resonates with our shoppers that when they shop at Tidal Creek they’re investing in their local economy,” Paul offers. “That feeling, along with the friendly and welcoming atmosphere of the store, makes the experience of shopping here really unique and enjoyable.”

Seeing as Tidal Creek Co-op has been operating for more than 30 years, they have a lot of history to build upon in the Port City. And despite the influx of national health-food chains, a la Whole Foods just down the road, and growing availability of organic products offered at other grocery stores, Paul says they plan to continue their “tradition of partnering with other local businesses and organizations to make Wilmington a place of social consciousness and environmental activism, with a strong, sustainable, local food system.”

Tidal Creek continues to offer more community-oriented activities, too. Lots of events on their front deck and lawn are planned for 2017, including a weekly beer tent, music series and Spring Garden Party on Sunday, March 19, from 3 p.m. – 6 p.m.

“Everyone is welcome here,” Paul adds. “Not only are we a grocery store specializing in organic food and special dietary needs, but we are a community that embraces a culture of acceptance, diversity and inclusion.”

Folks can learn more about Tidal Creek Co-op, how to become an owner or to see what events are coming up by surfing

Runners up for Best Health Food Store are Whole Foods (34%) and Lovey’s Market (30%). —Shannon Gentry

Ivy Cottage—68
% votes, 56% votes

Looking for the perfect gift for a wedding that’s perhaps more unique than the same ol’ same ol’ found on every bride’s registry?  Head to Ivy Cottage. Their selection of fun, antique glassware will make every bride and groom look forward to cocktail hour.

Need an interesting piece of antique jewelry for Mom’s birthday or Mother’s Day? Head to Ivy Cottage for one-of-a-kind rings, necklaces, bracelets, earrings, and more.

Need furniture or garden wares or antique [fill in the blank here] for your home to accentuate the perfect balance between modern and old-school style? Ivy Cottage is the place to go.

Ivy Cottage has scored Best Antiques and Best Consignment/Resale for Home Decor for more than a dozen years now on encore’s poll. In fact, since each category began, they’ve been the sole winner. Owner Drew Keller bought the store a few years ago and its more than 9,000 consignors who keep it stocked with all the best finds. Three buildings make up Ivy Cottage, all of which offer a unique shopping experience to Wilmington consumers.

“We still don’t have barcodes,” Drew says of the store’s cozy and friendly customer service that ensures each and every person who walks through the door is given detailed attention. “Plan on spending the day [when shopping with us.] It takes that long to get through all the buildings. Plus, you can eat lunch at Indochine [winner of Best Thai, Best Restaurant Overall, Best Outdoor Dining and Best Atmosphere.] We share the parking lot.”

The items they get in fluctuate daily. They’re priced competitively, yet also decrease over passing of time in order to constantly move inventory. However, their famous “Half Off the Half Off Room Sale” takes place the third weekend of every month in Cottage One. Items are 75 perfect off—and that’s on everything marked under $100 before the sale. “Sometimes we include more in the sale, so like us on Facebook or join our email list for updates,” the staff notes online (

“There is really nothing like us close by for comparison,” Drew adds. “We are constantly tweaking and trying to appease both consignors and customers.”

Plus, when shopping Ivy Cottage, all money stays in the community since consignors often live here. “We are the definition of ‘shopping local,’” he promises. “We mail 1,000 consignment checks a month, with 90 percent within a 50-mile radius.”

Other consignment stores cashing in on the numbers are Home Again (24%) and Uptown Market (20%), while antique shops include Cape Fear Jewelry and Antiques (18%) and Zartiques (14%). —Shea Carver

Alpha Mortgage—57
% votes

Buying a house does not rank high on encore’s list of “Least Stressful Things To Do.” However, encore readers say Alpha Mortgage is the place to go when readying to settle down with a mortgage or refinance one in Wilmington. Better yet, they make the process painless.

Alpha has a baker’s dozen of Best Mortgage Company awards for excellent service and on-time closings. And the market couldn’t be better for buyers right now, according to Alpha Mortgage’s marketing director, Joey Milam.

“Interest rates are still at historic lows in comparison to rates of 10 or 20 years ago,” he says. “There are also a number of loans that allow buyers to purchase with little or no money down.”

Since opening their doors in 1983, they’ve closed thousands upon thousands of loans for homeowners: approximately 25,000 since the early 2000s and more than 2,000 in 2016 alone. Alpha is already ahead in closings from this time in 2016.

“We expect 2017 to be an incredible year for the real-estate and mortgage industries,” Milam adds.

Milam admits folks misconceive the mortgage process, often times thinking it takes months to close a loan. The reality is: Alpha Mortgage can get buyers approved and closed in as few as 15 business days. Clients need proper documentation and of course good credit helps.

“If you haven’t gotten a mortgage in the past few years, know the requests for supporting documentation will likely be more than in the past,” he advises.

Their website,, showcases dozens of staff members and offers free rate quote.

Runners up in the 2017 poll for Best Mortgage Company are TowneBank Mortgage (23%) and Movement Mortgage (20%). —Shannon Gentry

Cape Fear Wine and Beer—45
% votes

Maaike Brender à Brandis, co-owner of Cape Fear Wine and Beer, says nowadays it’s not all that uncommon to see 300-ish beers at beer joint like they have on a given day. “Although there are beer spots with more than 300 beers, for us it’s always about quality over quantity,” she explains. “Combined with the fact that our drafts and bottles are constantly rotating to reflect the current seasonals available on the market, we have a widely recognized list.”

Ain’t that the truth! While Brandis credits their 14-year longevity to experience and savvy staff, CFWB was also just featured in nationally distributed Draft Magazine’s “Where to drink next: Wilmington, North Carolina” back in November. They also took home another win for Best Beer List this year. True, their diverse collection of suds spans all styles and brewing regions worldwide—but lately their patrons’ tastes have gone bitter. “IPAs are huge sellers [right now],” Brandis clarifies. “Single, double, fruit-infused, unfiltered, it doesn’t matter—if it’s hoppy, it’s bound to move. . . . We also pour tons of sour ales. We have so many we’ve created a separate list for just sours.”

This year CFWB has also been tapping into the free Untappd app provides, which not only allows instantly accessible to customers but helps them keep their beer list updated to the minute. “Untappd says we have the fastest rotating draft selection in the world,” Brandis observes. “Untappd has been a large part of the success of our beer list, as well as Andrew Love, our graphic designer. His company, Love Art Media, has worked with Untappd to synchronize our beer and wine lists with our website, Facebook and our Untappd page.”

“People love that they can have as little or as much information about a beer at their fingertips,” Bennett adds. “We also keep easy-to-read tablets at the bar for folks to view our online beer list. Another great thing is we use a lot less paper this way.”

When Brandis and Bennett first opened their doors, there were few craft beer spots in ILM. Restaurants and bars came and went over the years but, like many small business owners, they hard work and persistence paid off. Now they welcome recent boom in breweries, bottle shops, bars and restaurants—with strong beer lists to boot. “We have stiff competition,” Brandis admits, “but we’re very happy to be in such good company.”

CFWB’s award-winning beer list, upcoming events and more can be researched at

Serving up suds for Best Beer List on our readers’ poll include The Brewer’s Kettle (32%) and Bombers Bev. Co. (19%). —Shannon Gentry

Hilton Riverside Wilmington—37
% votes

Whether housing tourists in transit, family and friends of wedding parties, or weekend visitors, encore Best Of voters recommend Hilton Wilmington Riverside. Picked as Best Hotel, the Hilton not only offers a complimentary shuttle to and from ILM Airport, their riverfront accommodations welcome thousands from across the country each year.

Hilton Wilmington Riverside opened in 1971, so they were do for an upgrade when they redesigned roughly 272 guest rooms and 20,000-square-foot meeting space in recent years. Head over to their website ( to take a virtual tour of rooms and facilities.

While folks can have dinner at Ruth’s Chris and full bar, conveniently located downstairs of the hotel, they’re also in walking distances of downtown’s best in Italian to burgers, Southern fare to French cuisine. Not to mention local shopping and craft beer destinations. However, for those not planning to leave their rooms for a while … wink, wink … room service is available.

Visitors can stay connected with free wireless internet throughout the hotel, as well as myriad of business services: business center, express mail, meeting rooms, notary public, photo copy and printer services, video conference capabilities and more. Their expansive and flexible meeting space, wherein dozens of local organizations hold events annually, is also a perfect fit for visiting companies.

Families can relax poolside, even if they’ve forgotten necessities like cribs or high chairs—Hilton     has them. It’s never too early or too late for a workout in their 24-hour Fitness Center. As well, regardless of accessibility needs, Hilton Wilmington Riverside accommodates all visitors as a service pet-friendly facility and public areas/facilities accessible for physically challenged patrons. Anyone looking for rates or to book a room this vacation season may visit or stop by their Facebook page.

Local Wilmington voters also recommend visitors stay at Blockade Runner (36%) and Holiday Inn Resort in Wrightsville Beach (27%). —Shannon Gentry

Adam and Eve—51

Sexual exploration via lingerie, toys, games, oils and flavored lubricants is becoming less and less taboo topic of conversation these days. What consenting adults do in their bedrooms—or any other room for that matter—is their business. Adam & Eve is in the business of making a couple’s night in fun and sexy—and they do a pretty good job of it, according to our readers’ poll. Adam & Eve is taking home encore’s award for Best Adult Store for the 10th time this year.

“We have been in Wilmington for 10 years now,” Adam & Eve CEO Jason Hoke says. “We always put our customers first. Excellent customer service is key.”

Adam & Eve’s national franchise has been around for four decades, providing everything from lingerie to gifts for bachelor and bachelorette parties to instruction manuals and games for couples. There’s even a collection for couples seeking adventures in bondage, including cuff, collars, spankers, nipple clamps and more. Hoke says they’ve been able to offer more to a growing customer base who are no longer limited by misconceptions about the store and its offerings.

“The biggest change we’ve seen since opening our doors is the perception of the public,” Hoke explains. “It only takes one visit to see that Adam & Eve is a beautiful, discreet, upscale, no-judgement establishment with a helpful and well-informed staff ready to assist our customers.”

Adam & Eve have informative staff and other resources to help guide customers in their shopping, too. “This year we will be hosting several in-store seminars and events for new and existing customers to enjoy and explore what we have to offer,” Hoke adds. Folks will need to call or check in on their Facebook page for announcements.

Their shop on Market Street can also host private parties and events. However, for those who’d like to keep their shopping more discreet and private, they need only visit

Other shops making it on encore’s 2017 poll for Best Adult Store are Priscilla McCall’s (27%) and Sweet Vibrations (22%). —Shannon Gentry

THE BEST BLOKES: Bloke Apparel crew (L to R) Larkin Peoples, Michael Vinson and Matthew Angell take home another award for Best Men’s Clothing Shop, 2017. Photo by Chris Brehmer Photography.

THE BEST BLOKES: Bloke Apparel crew (L to R) Larkin Peoples, Michael Vinson and Matthew Angell take home another award for Best Men’s Clothing Shop, 2017. Photo by Chris Brehmer Photography.


Despite recent winter temps and ever-so brief snowfall, Bloke Apparel owner Michael Vinson says a lot of his customers are planning for the warmer weather ahead. Their “hot” items these days are literally for the forthcoming spring and summer days.

“Many of our new arrivals are inspiring a desire for a tropical getaway with the use of lightweight and breathable fabrics,” he explains. “Also, the floral print is very popular for this season, and we have some very wearable options in the store right now. Even our backpacks and accessories from Herschel Supply Co. are clad in resort inspired patterns.”

Staying ahead of changing weather, trends and styles has been Bloke’s recipe for success since opening their doors in 2010. They’ve since moved from their original Military Cutoff location to downtown’s Princess Street, where Bloke’s vision and store identity is a perfect fit.

“The culture-seeking community of downtown is undeniably energizing,” Vinson tells, “and we are excited to grow alongside of our expanding neighborhood. The new shop is full of character and allows for an optimized shopping experience that matches the style of our product selection.”

Bloke’s focus on unwavering and transparent dedication to providing high-quality goods, atmosphere and customer service, has garnered a handful of Best Of awards throughout their tenure. They’re taking home Best Men’s Clothing again for 2017.

    Bloke has lots of top-notch styles and products coming into the casual men’s shop this year. “We are very excited to announce that we will be expanding the Bloke label with more branded and custom merchandise,” Vinson adds. “We look forward to sharing our new designs in the seasons ahead.”

Shoppers should also note Bloke’s sale room is always rotating with inventory and amazing deals. The best way to stay up to date on what’s new and exciting at Bloke is to follow them on Instagram @BlokeApparelAndSupply, or shop online at

“We sustain a constant dialogue with our customer base on their wants/needs in order to be able to provide an optimal product assortment that holds relevancy to our community, Vinson adds. “We really love what we do at Bloke.”

Wilmington men also fill their closets with threads from Thomlinson Sales Company (30%) and Gentlemen’s Corner (29%). —Shannon Gentry

Dr. Chris Cosgrove—43

Dr. Chris Cosgrove is a North Carolinian born and bred, who was raised in the foothills of Hendersonville. He moved to the Piedmont region of Chapel Hill to attend UNC for his undergraduate in biology and to continue medical school. Since 1995, Dr. Cosgrove has been practicing internal medicine.

“I started as a hospital-based internist,” he tells. “I started the first hospitalist program in this region at Cape Fear Hospital in 1997. In 2000 our practice grew to include New Hanover Regional Medical Center when Cape Fear was purchased.”

He continued doing hospital work until 2006 when he met Dr. Andre Leonard. They decided to open their own outpatient practice at Intracoastal Internal Medicine (4114 Shipyard Blvd.).

“Our practice has tried to combine the old style of medicine with a strong patient-doctor relationship together with the latest technological advances in patient care, including electronic medical records and patient portals,” Dr. Cosgrove says. “Additionally, we have been fortunate to acquire excellent staff that make the patients at ease and make the providers’ jobs so much easier.”

Dr. Cosgrove thrives on making patients and their families a priority through sickness and in health. “I do my best to help them be the best that they can be,” he says. He treats well adults and those who may have troubles with chronic illnesses, such as hypertension, COPD, coronary artery disease, stroke, diabetes, peptic ulcer, diverticulitis, pneumonia, among others.

“One of my favorite sayings is, ‘If you listen hard enough,  patients will eventually tell you what is wrong with them,’” he notes. Thus truly listening is the most important part of his job in order to identify proper diagnoses and appropriate treatments.

Hours to Internal Medicine are Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., with walk-in lab hours available Moday through Friday, 8 a.m. to noon, and Monday through Thursday,  1 p.m. to 4 p.m.

Other doctors scoping out the poll are Dr. Sandy Brannin (32%) and Dr. Jeremy Holdsworth (25%), both of Wilmington Health Associates. —Shea Carver

IN FOR THE WIN: The Cruisers Car Wash and Detail Center crew clean up well when it comes to accepting their 18th win for Best Car Wash. Photo by Chris Brehmer Photography.

IN FOR THE WIN: The Cruisers Car Wash and Detail Center crew clean up well when it comes to accepting their 18th win for Best Car Wash. Photo by Chris Brehmer Photography.

Cruisers Car Wash and Detail Center—53

A few week’s ago, Wilmington saw the strangest merge of seasons. On Feb. 25, we experienced 80-degree weather in what was supposed to be the dead of winter—and it lasted a good week or so. And then came Mar. 12, closer to the beginning of spring. Snowfall. As the flowers bloomed and spread their green pollen everywhere, white, icy flakes fell upon it, and made our cars a hot lime-green guiltmare for Mother Nature to reflect upon after her day of clear binge-drinking. And then all of Wilmington bolted to Cruisers Car Wash and Detail Center for a good cleansing of their vehicles the very next day.

And so goes the rigamorale of automobile upkeep in a coastal town. If it’s not some wacky weather, it’s the salt air that makes our rides more dirty than we like and in constant need of washing. Owned by Clayton Gsell, Cruisers has been keeping cars, trucks, vans, motorcycles, and anything with wheels, spic and span with four locations (three in Wilmington—with one self-serve wash on Shipyard—and one in Southport) to serve them.

“Wilmington is a friendly town and we create an atmosphere where customers can relax while we pamper their vehicle,” Gsell has told encore. “We have a great relationship with our customers and for that reason we want to exceed their expectations every day. It’s an environment of mutual respect and we work diligently to earn and keep it.”

Gsell always keeps on top of the equipment to make sure it’s the best, and he has added biodegradable soaps and conditioners to all stores. Plus, the locations recycle 80 percent of water used, as to avoid waste. Whether going in for a wax, carpet shampooing, detailing or even headlight restoration, every vehicle will come out shiny, like new. And always the staff will greet with a smile and a halping hand.

Buff Masters (25%) and Splash n Dash (22%) round out the nominations. —Shea Carver

RESALE GOLD: Stephanie Denning and Gina Wilkins accept their 2017 win for Fairy Circle, Best Consignment/Resale Shop—Clothes. Photo by Chris Brehmer Photography.

RESALE GOLD: Stephanie Denning and Gina Wilkins accept their 2017 win for Fairy Circle, Best Consignment/Resale Shop—Clothes. Photo by Chris Brehmer Photography.

Fairy Circle—43

When Fairy Circle opened its doors in 2002, it was in a humble shop off Wrighstville Avenue. Today, some 15 years later, it has grown into two stores: one in the Monkey Junction area off College Road, and the other near UNCW off College Road. The size of their inventory has essentially grown 10 times the amount of what it was.

“We adapt to the ever-changing fashion trends,” owner Stephanie Denning says, “and receive feedback from our customers and consignors, and listen to their suggestions for carrying the latest styles.”

With over 8,000 square feet to shop, they carry a slew of brands, from BCBG to Lucky Brand, Michael Kors to Calvin Klein, Lilly Pulitzer to H&M, Prada to Joe’s Jeans, French Connection to Theory, Kate Spade to Citizens of Humanity, and so much more.

“We’ve grown and adapted to meet the demands of our clientele,” Denning continues. “We also support the community by carrying local products and donate unsold items to a variety of charities.”

Aside from stocking treasured finds for everyone’s closet—teens, college students, young professionals—they sell soy candles, incense, The Naked Bee lotions and balms, locally crafted jewelry and more. Better yet, they haven’t stopped growing. Denning has plans to continue Fairy Circle’s growth by scouting an Ogden location this year.

Currently, the store is accepting spring items from consignors, so hold the jackets for the end of summer when they begin taking fall wear. Consignors should make sure clothing is in tip-top condition, and folks can drop by anytime without an appointment.

“With warmer weather coming up, sundresses and our new swimsuit section have gotten a lot of attention,” Denning tells.

Following the store on Facebook means keeping up to date on their $1 days and huge clearance sale events. They also post new arrivals on the page—and they get hundreds daily—so if a top designer comes in, shoppers will find out on the fly.

Other consignment shops saving bucks for readers on our poll are Plato’s Closet (29%) and Clothes Mentor (28%). —Shea Carver


New baby.

Thinking of you.



Just because…

For whatever occasion, Julia’s Florist has been arranging the most beautiful bouquets for its customers since 1989. Essentially that means, for more than 25 years, folks have been smelling the sweet roses of a family-owned and -operated institution that keeps winning encore’s Best Florist category to no avail; 2017 marks win number 14 for the company.

Owner Dana Cook—who bought Julia’s from its original founder in 2008—takes pride in assuring customers have original, creative, and fresh flowers and plants to grace their special occasions. Julia’s delivers from Leland to Carolina Beach, Wilmington to Rocky Point and beyond, whether going to one’s home, a church, community center, office building, nursing home or college. “We love this award and want to win it every year!” Cook has told encore. “Whatever the occasion or moment, [our arrangements have] to be perfect. If there is anything special, imaginative, or personal that a customer wants created, we make it happen. We like turning wishes into reality.”

Julia’s has evolved over the years. With Cook utilizing her business expertise, which started on the West Coast in the ‘80s, Julia’s launched a business-to-business program last spring, and offers an enhanced wedding and event division. They also provide gifts beyond flowers, whether customers are in need of perfect cards, bath products, vintage ornaments, garden mugs and more.

But it’s the simplicity of working with beauty that most captivates the business owner. The smells, sounds and touch of flowers is a glorious subject to be faced with daily—even when it means dealing 5,600 stems for Valentine’s Day alone.

“Let’s be frank, why wouldn’t someone love working with beautiful flowers?” Cook asked. “Every day we help people all over the country send an immediate dose of heart-felt emotion to friends and loved ones. Man, it doesn’t get much better than that.”

Other florists blooming into the top are Fiore Fine Flowers (21%) and Verzaals’ Florist (15%). —Shea Carver

Once Upon a Child—48

There’s a deal everyday when shopping at Once Upon a Child (OUAC) because of their already low prices on anything from gently used clothes and Halloween costumes, to baby gear, like high chairs, walkers, exer-saucers and Pack n’ Plays.

“We’re a one-stop-shop for all your kids needs,” OUAC’s general manager, Vikki Cook, tells. “Our store is easy to shop because of our amazing organization, clothing is organized by size and color.”

Lots of encore readers agree with Cook, as they’ve voted OUAC as Best Kids Clothing Store for the seventh time this year. Whether families are looking for clothes for kids to wear to school or the park, they can often find quality threads at a deal. Everything is 70 percent off retail prices every day. “We also always offer a military discount to honor men and women who serve or have served our country,” Cook adds.

Frequent shoppers should note OUAC’s Customer Appreciation Cards, too. For every $10 spent or sold, customers get a stamp. (Psst: Sundays are double-stamp days!) Full cards get 20-percent off a future purchase, excluding new items.

OUAC is always looking to buy products as well. They offer cash on the spot in exchange for gently used kids’ brand name clothes, toys, books, equipment, and furniture. Simply gather it up, and they’ll make an offer hard to reject! They list their most wanted items online at, which currently include high chairs, swings, jump-a-roos, strollers, and playards.

Cook credits her friendly staff and great customer service for their series of wins. And while OUAC is always striving to serves its community in way of affordable clothes and other children’s items, Cook says they’ve been on the receiving end of Wilmington’s generosity as well.

“Last year we had a storm hit our store, a microburst, and we had to be closed for almost a month due to all the damage,” she tells. “We had a large outpouring from the community with people offering to help! It was definitely a challenge, but we were grateful no one was hurt, and all the damage was just material things.”

Shoppers can see what’s hot on the wracks at Once Upon a Child by visiting their shop at 4719 J New Centre Dr.

Carter’s (26%) and Kid to Kid (25%) are also where folks like to shop for their kiddos. —Shannon Gentry

PUT THE NEEDLE ON THE RECORD: Matt Keen, Gravity Records owner, scores another win for Best Record Store 2017. Keen also fixes and refurbishes broken turntables for vinyl lovers. Photo by Shea Carver

PUT THE NEEDLE ON THE RECORD: Matt Keen, Gravity Records owner, scores another win for Best Record Store 2017. Keen also fixes and refurbishes broken turntables for vinyl lovers. Photo by Shea Carver


Gravity Records—56votes

In 2016 encore spoke with Karl Kuehn, one part of ILM’s three-piece indie-rock/punk trio Museum Mouth, about the significance of vinyl culture and local record stores to artists like them. “It’s ridiculously important to us,” he told. “Before we signed with Rory/Equal Vision we didn’t really have the ability to [distribute] our records to bigger retailers, so shops like Gravity [Records], Nice Price in Raleigh and Lunchbox records in Charlotte were the only way to get our music into people’s hands that weren’t physically at a show to buy it from us.”

People like Kuehn also appreciate vinyl as a fun way to consume music, such as getting a tangible record with groovy colors and design. “I’m on a quest to put out the prettiest record of all time,” he said of Museum Mouth’s series of blue and pink/magenta albums.

The vinyl reboot we’ve seen in the past 10 or 15 years has not only kept the lights on at Gravity Records for 13 years, but local enthusiasts have now voted Matt Keen’s store Best Place to Buy Music for the 11th time.

“We truly appreciate all of the love and support of the Wilmington community,” Charlotte White, Gravity’s self-proclaimed Best Employee, says. “[We] have some huge things in store for 2017! . . . Statues made from melted records. Ice sculptures of each employee. Win more awards.”

White, who also spearheads social media and sales, says they have fun and listen to a lot of great records to keep the best in stock for customers. Even if they don’t have it, they’ll see if they can order it for customers. Some of their most popular-selling artists as of late have been Infinity Crush, Museum Mouth and Prince. “[We] love local music,” she adds. “Prince isn’t from Wilmington but we wish he was!”

Aside from lots of new and used vinyl coming in every week, Gravity is playing host to more and more music and comedy shows as of late. Most recent performances were See Through Dresses and Truth Club on March 21 and Kississippi, Prince Daddy & the Hyena, and Infinity Crush on March 26.

“We hope to host all of the detectives from ‘Law and Order’ (‘SVU,’ obviously) this summer,” White quips. “Tickets will be sold in the parking lot across the street where one million people almost crash their cars into each other every day.”

National Record Store Day also is just around the corner on Saturday, April 22. The best way to keep up with the haps at Gravity is to follow them on Facebook and Twitter, where they announce latest arrivals, random discount specials and more.

Wilmington music fans also like to shop for tunes at Yellow Dog Discs (29%) and Angie’s Records (15%). —Shannon Gentry

Transplanted Garden—35

Spring has sprung, y’all! Perhaps it’s hard to tell at times, as the temps jump from 80 to 30, but it’s here (as if readers couldn’t tell from the pollen covering everything!). Folks with green thumbs are gearing up for planting season. At least they should be, according to Tom Ericson and Allen Sabin, co-owners of The Transplanted Garden.

“Because of our climate, you need to plant before the heat of summer comes on,” Ericson explains. “Heat, not cold, kills more plants. We also need to feed, feed, feed the plants. Sandy soil holds little to no nutrients, so feeding once in the spring is like feeding your kids once a week. It just doesn’t work!”

Ericson’s sage advice is not without merit. He helped open the South 16th Street store in 2000 and has lost track of how many times his garden center has won the award for Best Local Garden Store. However, he is certain they offer the best quality plants, pottery and advice, which continues to place them at the top of encore’s readers poll in 2017.

“We get people that stop in for the first time that tell us they have driven by forever,” he tells. “They are always amazed at the selection when they finally do stop. So, stop driving by!”

With any downturn in the economy, it seems gardening and garden supplies always take a hit, but spring is always a different story. It’s definitely Transplanted Garden’s busy season and and it’s tough keeping plants in stock.

“We have a relatively small location, and it seems plants go out faster than we can get them in some days,” Ericson explains.

They even have to cut back on the occasional classes and lectures they organize for garden clubs. “From March through Mother’s Day there is just no time for that,” Ericson confirms.

They do offer planting instructions and pruning tips on their website at Their newsletter carries weekly specials, new arrivals, and tips, like how and when to stay ahead of insects or be on the lookout for them. Folks will learn about organizations skills, too, like when to tend to the garden, per fertilizing and pruning.

Also sprouting up on our readers’ poll for Best Local Garden Store are The Plant Place (34%) and Farmers Supply Co. (31%).—Shannon Gentry

Island Passage—42

When it comes to making sure women are the best dressed on the block, Island Passage keeps scoring the wins year after year. 2017 is no exception, as they begin to assess their product lines and what they’re offering to keep all threads up to date.

“We take into account our customers opinions and requests and try to meet them by adding new brands and styles,” owner Kristyn Prentice tells.

The store has something for every age and every budget across multiple looks. “We pride ourselves in ensuring that everyone is able to find something special for their closet at Island Passage,” Prentice continues. “We believe fashion and style should be accessible to everyone.”

While they offer multiple looks, from jeans to shorts, dresses to skirts, blouses to tees, over the last few years, Prentice notes they’ve upped their dress game.  “We have become known for our dress selection from casual beach styles to the perfect dress for a night out,” she tells. “We also strive to offer styles that speak to our contemporary Bohemian style that is Island Passage.”

For spring and summer, shoppers can expect to see various shades of pink and blush emerge. They’re also bringing in various vibrant tropical prints. “These seem like obvious trends, especially for our location, but this year it’s all about refined and modern silhouettes,” she explains.

Island Passage also believes in giving back to the community. They have announced “A Year Giving Love,” wherein they are devoting three months each to three charities. “We will kick off with PEAR animal rescue on April 1,” Prentice tells. “We will offer a 15-percent discount when a customer donates $5 during April, May and June. After that we are doing web fundraising for Martha’s Kitchen and Sunset Park Elementry.”

Other women’s clothing stores dressing the poll are Edge of Urge (36%) and Monkee’s of Wilmington (22%). —Shea Carver

BOZART FAMILY DENISTRY SCORES AGAIN: Kelly Colwell accepts the award for Best Dentist. Photo by Chris Brehmer Photography.

BOZART FAMILY DENISTRY SCORES AGAIN: Kelly Colwell accepts the award for Best Dentist. Photo by Chris Brehmer Photography.

Bozart Family Denistry—54

When it comes to teeth cleaning or dental work in general, folks often have much apprehension about dentist appointments. But the kind and gentle dentists and dental hygenists at Bozart Family Denistry are slaying fear left and right to ensure patients are happy and healthy when leaving the office.

“We’ve found fear can be broken down into this helpful acronym: ‘false evidence appearing real,’” Dr. Bozart explains. “So what we’ve learned is understanding is usually the best weapon to allay fear of the dentist—or any fear for that matter. We take time with the patient to slow down, explain the procedure step by step, answer any questions that they may have regarding those steps, and setting the right expectations for whatever that procedure may entail along the way. Once people understand the facts, the false emotion of fear, which is almost always based on false assumptions, tends to melt away.”

And if that still doesn’t help, well, Xanax will. But, first, Bozart goes for education and understanding. They also have a highly trained staff who work toward quality care, and keep up to date with the latest technology and medical innovations in the dentistry world, like their 3D panorama X-ray machine or their CEREC machine to help create custom-fit crowns.

“We’ve been hard at work, building an in-house, fully functional dental lab as a part of our most recent Monkey Junction expansion,” Dr. Bozart says. “[Its] creation will help us maintain some of the highest quality control standards, as well as unparalleled convenience for our patients. Instead of outsourcing items, such as implants, crowns and dentures to non-local labs, mostly based in China—where quality control standards can be mediocre at best—we’re now able to control the entire process from the initial consult, through to the procedure and follow up visits.”

Total control of the dental process, from beginning to end, helps patients receive top-notch results and ultimate convenience. As does their Easy Pay program, which Dr. Bozart created when he opened the office 11 years ago. They do in-house, 0-percent financing, thus helping all patients, not just ones with insurance. Folks can pay as little as $50 a month for a service. But that’s not the only way in which they reach out to others. They work with nonprofits and youth programs, too.

“We believe once you’ve been blessed with success in business, such as we have, it’s our obligation, as well as our greatest joy, to give back to those less fortunate in the community who helped to create our success in the first place,” Dr. Bozart tells. “Each year we support dozens of worthy causes in the Wilmington area. From our local high school athletic programs, to working with special needs children with the great folks at Miracle Field, and more.”

Yet, their biggest give-back event annually comes from their “100,000 Holiday Smile Makeover.” They have hosted it every Christmas for three years now and receive thousands of application annually. They choose someone whose dental needs are great but can’t be afforded from unfortunate circumstances. “Applicants are dealing with anything ranging from battles with cancer, to domestic abuse, and everything you can imagine in-between,” Dr. Bozart says.

“It’s our greatest joy each and every year to be able to give people the ability to smile again, some of which haven’t done so in years,” Dr. Bozart says. “After all, giving the gift of self-esteem during is the gift that keeps on giving year after year.”

Other dentists taking spots on the poll are Salling and Tate General Denistry (24%) and Sandra Miles Denistry (22%). —Shea Carver

Two Men and a Truck—62

In 2015 Wilmington city officials predicted New Hanover County’s population to increase by 56 percent between 2010 and 2040. As more housing developments, townhomes and apartment complexes continue to pop up, more people are likely to need help moving into them. Enter: Two Men and A Truck, who encore readers have awarded again as Best Moving Company.

Two Men and a Truck’s general manager, Nicole Utz, says they’re truly honored and we grateful for the win each year. “We truly work and live by the company’s mission and core values,” she says, “[which includes] The Grandma Rule: to treat everyone the way you would want your Grandma to be treated.”

Founded by Brig and Jon Sorber in in Lansing, Michigan, Two Men and a Truck now spans over 32 states. Aiding Wilmingtonians in their moving needs, the company offers customizable options to make the process as convenient as possible—from packing upon request to having the option to unload only.

“We offer a full range of services for residential and commercial customers,” Utz tells, “including moving, packing, unpacking, local, internal, long distance, climate control storage and free on-site estimates. Our crew is trained to handle specialty items such as pianos and safes.”

Two Men and A Truck’s interior design warehouse provides receiving, inspections, climate-control storage, delivery and installation services. While customers are always welcome to stop by their office to purchase from a full line of packing material, the company’s website offers free moving quotes as well. Plus, folks can find moving tips, checklists and even a guide to moving with kids.

“Our busy season starts to gear up in April and continues through October,” Utz adds. “We strongly suggest scheduling your move three weeks in advance.”

Aside from serving thousands of individuals, families and businesses, Two Men and a Truck have settled into the nonprofit community as well. Last September 2016, their Wilmington locale participated in the NHRMC Foundation Caring for Kids Radiothon, wherein they helped raise funds for new medical equipment. Their annual spring Movers for Moms campaign is just around the corner, too. They collect and deliver goods to the Domestic Violence Shelter of Wilmington prior to Mother’s Day. For more details and updates, folks can visit

Also helping people move forward with their lives and belongings are Few Moves (20%) and Miracle Movers (18%). —Shannon Gentry

THE WINNING RUB: Mary Beth Redman strikes a pose with her “e” for Best Massage Therapist 2017. Photo by Chris Brehmer Photography.

THE WINNING RUB: Mary Beth Redman strikes a pose with her “e” for Best Massage Therapist 2017. Photo by Chris Brehmer Photography.


Mary Beth Redman—41votes

Mary Beth Redman once told encore that as a child she enjoyed gymnastics, but as a result, received frequent therapeutic massages for sore muscles, aches and pains. Then, frequent and seemingly untreatable migraines as a teenager eventually led to seeing a family massage therapist.

“The massage therapist incorporated craniosacral therapy into my sessions,” Redman remembered, “and over time my migraines became less frequent and painful.”

Redman took to the alternative-healing method and earned her credentials as a licensed massage and bodywork therapist at Miller-Motte Technical College. She has worked as a massage and bodywork therapist in upscale spas and salons since 2007. After a decade in Wilmington she now owns her downtown private practice, Mary Beth Redman Massage Therapy. Her journey has also landed her at the top of our readers’ poll year after year for Best Massage Therapist, including 2017.

“I am passionate about massage because I can sincerely help people overcome and deal with the stresses that come along with everyday life,” Redman said after 2014’s win in the same category. “It’s hard to stop and take a breath sometimes; we get lost in life and forget to take care of ourselves.”

For clients, Redman focuses on anything from increasing energy to improving mental clarity and concentration, to relieving muscle tensions and stress. She takes a therapeutic approach toward every massage for maximum benefit and incorporates hot stones, hot towels and aromatherapy into each session for no extra charge. Added benefits Redman has noted for patients include: improved posture and sleep, removing toxins from the body and increased circulation, mobility and flexibility. Whether deep-tissue or sports massages, prenatal or hot stone, aromatherapy or reflexology, Redman also tailors her service to each individual’s need. Meaning no “cookie-cutter massages.”

Folks can find more about Mary Beth Redman Massage Therapy on Facebook or email

Other massage therapists on the poll include Back in Motion’s Gregg Policari (30%) and Denise Tague at Relax! Massage Therapy (29%). —Shannon Gentry


Tin Pen Alley—42votes

Every week Ten Pin Alley on College Road welcomes 1,500 to 2,000 bowlers to give a spin in their lanes. And among them are 12 leagues they host each week, all of whom play morning, noon and night. With such traffic into Ten Pen’s multi-entertainment complex (they also host Breaktime Billiards with regulation tables and a game room, as well as a bar and lounge, with a full-service restaurant), it’s no wonder the bowling alley took the trophy as 2017’s best.

Bought last year by Jim and Margaret Grago—each of whom have enjoyed the sport for more than 25 years—Ten Pin is now a family affair. Their sons help manage the complex and run the pro shop. “Our oldest son, James, is a member of the Public Bowlers Association (PBA) and is on staff with Brunswick,” Margaret tells. “Our middle son, Joseph, holds the highest score bowled at Ten Pin Alley with an 846 and is on staff with Storm.”

Since taking over the business, they’ve upgraded their equipment to make it the only commercial complex within a 300-mile radius offering state-of-the-art alleys. They have new SPL Select Bowling Lane approaches with new XLi EDGE Pinspotters, Harmony Ball Returns and BES X, the world’s only Bowler Entertainment System. Not to mention they’ve updated the interior with new paint and carpets. In essence it’s helped them drum up new business.

“From May 26 through 29, we will host the XtraFrame Wilmington Open, a National PBA Title Tournament,” Jim says. “This is the first of its kind in Wilmington with a prize fund of more than $20,000. Ninety-six of the best bowlers in the world will be at Ten Pin to compete in this live streamed PBA event.”

Though the pros aren’t the only folks drawn to Ten Pin. In fact, weekends are their busiest where all levels of bowlers come for  their rock ‘n’ bowl experience. They have four 12’ video screens to help put on a mind-blowing sound and light show. “We’re also one of the very first bowling centers in the USA to install AMF’s new LED pin deck lighting that allows us to control the color of the pins during our rock n bowl,” Jim adds. “These new bright LED lights will change colors after a certain event happens with the pins. For example, get a strike and the pin deck will turn purple or throw a gutter and the pins turn red.”

More so, if competitors down a few lanes are lagging behind, bowlers can chat with them through lane chatter, which sends a text message between friends. With 37,000 square feet of fun taking place, the 24 lanes and 28-table pool hall are the perfect spots to host an event or party, too.

Also striking the poll are Cardinal Lanes Shipyard (37%) and Beach Bowl (21%). —Shea Carver


Artfuel, Inc.—36votes

When it comes to engraving Mom’s name across a bicep, or enduring a transformation from that pesky ex-girlfriend’s initials into, say, that 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 six 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, Brian Wren, Jesse Collins and Michael Caldwell. “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.

Other tattoo parlors on the poll are Jade Monkey (33%) and Hardwire (31%). —Shea Carver



This year’s Best Shoe Store walked onto encore’s poll after quite a long journey. (Mind the puns on your way down this read.) While Journeys shoe store at Independence Mall is known for mostly teen-oriented surf-and-skate-inspired clothes, shoes and accessories, this national chain stems from a long history of retail. Jarman Shoe Company was originally founded by James Franklin Jarman and William Hatch Wemyss, in 1924’s Nashville, TN. Their company grew faster than a toddler’s foot and became General Shoe Company in the 1930s, which began opening factories in towns across the South in the ‘50s before it became Genesco—known today for Lids, Deer Stags, Dockers and Journeys.

Journeys’ footwear for teens and young adults was first opened by Genesco in December 1986. Today they’re known for carrying the latest styles sported by Converse, Puma, Adidas, Roxy, Timberland, Rainbow and countless others. They also have since expanded their reach with Journeys Kidz for children, Underground by Journeys (carrying more brands like Nike, Vans and Puma) targeting young men and women, as well as Shï by Journeys just for women about 20 to 35 years of age.

The footwear options aren’t limited to any one store, either. Folks who prefer rummaging online can find any products, brands and sizes for men, women and kids at Plus, there’s an entire sales page.

Also kickin’ up on our poll for Best Shoe Store this year are Coastal Kicks (35%) and Monkee’s of Wilmington (29%). —Shannon Gentry


02 Fitness—45votes

Healthy lifestyles and fitness is a journey—a marathon, not a race. There are routines. There are meal plans. There are lapses and even failures. It’s a journey some folks can’t or don’t want to take alone, and having the right gym—the right support system—matters. There’s where O2 Fitness comes in. From weights and an array of cardio equipment, to dozens of free group classes and personal trainers, O2 offers award-winning services. “From the front desk to our skilled trainers, [our staff] pride themselves on being friendly, accessible and encouraging,” says chief marketing officer Doug Warf. “We know our members join O2 Fitness for its convenience, classes and equipment. We hope that we can help you ditch the excuses and visit us often to help you achieve your fitness goals.”

Between their Hanover Center and Mayfaire facilities, O2 currently serves more than 8,800 Wilmingtonians—many of whom voted them Best Gym in 2017. “And we have plenty of room to accommodate new members into our O2 Fitness family,” Warf adds.

O2 members have access to both Wilmington facilities, as well as any of the 11 clubs in the Triangle and 11 locations in South Carolina’s Lowcountry. They have more than 50 complimentary group-fitness classes per week at a variety of fitness levels. “We partner with Les Mills to provide high-energy classes like Body Combat, RPM Cycling and Body Pump,” Warf lists. “We have also created our own yoga, pilates, barre and dance-workout classes that have quickly become member favorites. And of course, we offer Silver Sneakers to our senior members that are looking to build balance and flexibility.”

There is no limit to how many classes members can attend, and for a $5 monthly upgrade parents can bring their children (ages 6 weeks to 13 years) to O2’s Kid’s Club while they workout. “Our standard O2 Fitness membership is designed to be as all-inclusive as possible,” Warf assures.

O2 employs more than two dozen personal trainers between their two Wilmington clubs, as well as roughly 200 staff members. From the moment folks scan in, everyone is there to elevate the fitness club experience by helping members reach goals and pushing them to work a little harder than on their own. “Each member also receives two Personal Design sessions where you work with a personal trainer to identify your style and readiness while crafting a plan for your fitness goals,” Warf details. “Our personal trainers provide intensely specific training for their clients but they are also happy to help any O2 Fitness member with questions about form, nutrition or simply how to operate one of our many exercise machines.”

Anyone can learn more about O2 Fitness facilities, membership, classes and more at

Folks also are achieving their fitness goals at Planet Fitness (35%) and Gold’s Gym (20%). —Shannon Gentry



In the fall of 2009, MobileTech owner and ASE master-certified technician David Friend started a humble one-bay garage at the spillway of Carolina Beach Road and 3rd Street. “In the spring of 2011, I quickly found myself with five employees in a 16-bay garage that we still reside in at 1022 Market Street,” Friend remembers. After years of touting affordable and quality repairs, parts, services, and warranties, Friend’s company has expanded into a second location. His 16,000-square-foot facility at 5929 Market St. also houses a 1,200-square-foot hands-on training center for automotive pros. Now, the pros have taken home the gold on encore’s 2017 reader’s poll.

MobileTech prides itself in customer service; feedback and ratings from social media are front and center throughout their website. They offer affordable service, but one they refrain from calling “cheap.”

“Webster’s dictionary defines ‘cheap’ as ‘inferior quality,’” Friend tells. “We try to let our customers have the last word about us. We think customers and what they have to say speaks volumes. . . . keeping [them] on the road with a fair price and meeting their expectations of quality and customer service is and will always be the hardest challenge to face.”

MobileTech offers routine maintenance and major repairs, all backed by a three-year/36,000-mile nationwide parts and labor warranty. In addition to being ASE certified, their technicians and service advisors are required to obtain at least 40 to 150 hours of training a year.

“With the changing landscape of the automotive industry and amount of expected growth in hybrid technology, telematics/self-driving training is more and important than ever!” MobileTech has a special hybrid shop at their second locale for plugins, electric or alternate-fuel vehicles. Dubbed “Wilmington Hybrids,” the extension of their shop is the area’s first and only independent facility to specialize in hybrid repairs, services and diagnostic strategies. Several technicians, including Friend, have received ACDC-qualified hybrid master technician status.

“We specialize in Asian and European vehicles, specifically Honda, Acura, Toyota, Lexus, BMW and Mini,” Friend adds. “Though, we do not limit ourselves to any one type of vehicle. As the push to create a safe, economical and fuel-efficient vehicles becomes harder and harder each year, many manufactures share ideas, patents and information.”

Right now MobileTech’s oil changes are starting at $24.99 and include tire rotation. MobileTech also has all major brands and includes free tire rotations, wheel balance and road hazard repairs for the life of all tires purchased with them. Whether in need of major 30k-, 60k- and 90k-service or in-between-between check-ins, they’re good for using high-quality fluids, parts and filters. Their hybrid facility offers a free Level 2 charger station anytime, too.

Folks feeling as charitable as MobileTech, may opt to donate their service discounts to any charity of choice. MobileTech also donates their time and monetary support to The Carousel Center for Abused Children, NHRMC’s Radiothon, Lower Cape Fear Hospice, The Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation Cape Fear River Watch, Toys for Tots and more.

Custer Auto Repair (28%) and Grissom’s Wheel Alignment (26%) are also providing praised auto services. —Shannon Gentry

POPPIN’ THE WIN: The Back in Motion crew came to the Best Of Beach Ball decked out for their win. Photo by Chris Brehmer Photography.

POPPIN’ THE WIN: The Back in Motion crew came to the Best Of Beach Ball decked out for their win. Photo by Chris Brehmer Photography.


Back in Motion—45votes

For five years consecutively, Back in Motion has taken home the Best Chiropractor award. 2017 is no different, as their close and careful attention to alternative healthcare needs allows them to remain at the top of their field in the only treatment that doesn’t require drugs or surgeries.

“We adjust spinal areas to release the pressure off the nerves, which allow the body to heal from within,” Dr. Gina Policari states. “Chiropractors are an integrative part of everyone’s ‘healthcare’ needs!”

Though, like all healthcare industries, they’ve undergone a few hits with insurance regulations and changes over the years. However, they’re quite proactive in ensuring they help all patients regardless of insurance status. 

“If someone does not have insurance or has high-deductible insurance, we do keep our fees low enough for anyone to receive chiropractic care,” Policari tells.

Back in Motion has served the great Wilmington area for 19 years now. They offer customers the option between and female or male chiropractor, including Dr. Mike Rosen. As massage therapy can be booked from Gregg Policari, Missy Cannan and Natalie Pridemore.

But chiropractic adjustments still are the top priority from patients, “whether manipulation is done by hand or done with a hand held chiropractic tool can and does work well for ailments,” Dr. Policari says. “Chiropractic has always been known to help with neck and back pain, but chiropractors can also help with sinus issues, allergies, TMJ pains, carpal tunnel syndrome, shoulder issues, knee, and also ankle issues and pains.”

The practice will be adding laser therapy to help patients with chronic joint pains this year.

Other chiropractors twisting and turning onto the poll come from Sito Chiropractic (32%) and Active Care Chiropractic (23%). —Shea Carver


Shipman and Wright—39votes

Best Law Firm was just introduced onto encore’s poll last year. Shipman and Wright LLP took home the inaugural award in 2016 and will hold onto it for 2017. Since 2006 Gary Shipman has been given nods on our poll for his powerful law advice and representation. Not to mention, he’s been recognized as one of the Best Lawyers in America since 2007.

Shipman, who graduated from UNCW and studied law at Campbell University, founded his law firm more than 30 years ago. He picked up partner William Wright, also a fellow UNCW and Campbell University alum, in 2000. As with the past 30-plus years, their motto remains: “Look out for the best interest of the client.”

With their team of lawyers they have litigated countless cases across NC. Their specialties are in personal injury, medical malpractice, medical devices, detective products liability, wrongful death, estate taxes and tax planning, class action, family law, business/corporate, real property, condemnation, construction, homeowners’ associations, whistleblowers, and appellate advocacy. Shipman and Wright also covers sports-related business ventures, such as negotiating contracts for professional athletes and coaches, or litigating complex business disputes.

Their website,, houses client testimonials and live-chat options for folks who have questions about their services. They also routinely update their news page with some of their latest cases, such as in “Peace at Last, for the Walden Pond Pet  Cemetery.” Shipman and Wright filed a lawsuit on behalf of several of pet owners, whose pets buried in the Walden Pond Cemetery on Market Street were in danger of being moved for development of the property. In July 2016 former Judge W. Allen Cobb Jr. granted Shipman and Wright’s Motion for Summary Judgment and now pets buried at Walden Pond Cemetery remain.

Other law firms ranking the poll are Goolsby Law Firm PLLC (38%) and Rountree Losee LLP (23%). —Shannon Gentry



Having started over a century ago in 1906, Finkelsteins Music Co. is a Port City landmark and institution. Located at downtown’s corner of Market and Front streets, it began as a general store and eventually throughout the years evolved into a jewelry shop and award-winning musical instrument mecca. Locals have voted Finkelsteins 14 times as Best Place to Buy Musical Instruments.

“After 111 years in business we have seen many changes and embrace new challenges,” says store manager David Summerlin. “We offer wonderful customer service and have an experienced staff to help you with all your musical needs. . . . We would like to thank the community for supporting us all of these years and voting for us in this category.”

One of the greatest ongoing challenges a music store faces these days is the digital world. Virtually anything can be acquired online with a quick search and a few clicks: instruments, tuners, accessories, songbooks, lessons—all of which Finkelsteins offers right here in Wilmington. However, they price-match online rates and can place special orders for all musicians. And while they do offer online shopping themselves at, they can offer each shopper a unique and tangible experience in house.

“Keeping up with technology and the digital world [is tough],” Summerlin admits. “[But] being a brick-and-mortar store, we pride ourselves on being able to offer our services and hands-on approach for people.”

While guitars are always trending, another popular market item as of late has been the ukulele.

Finkelsteins’ staff (who are also trained musicians) remain dedicated to being the most up-to-date on products, which is why they continue to boast great customer service and various classes.

“On a daily basis we offer music instruction on multiple instruments,” Summerlin explains. “We also host the Martin Guitar Company with a clinic. There will also be a blues clinic here during the Cape Fear Blues Festival [from June 23-25]. . . . [We] look forward to meeting many new faces.”

Finkelsteins Music Co. will welcome new products coming out in 2017. Folks can stop by their store at 6 S. Front St. throughout the week, Monday-Saturday, 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., or online at

Also strumming a tune on our readers poll are Music Loft (30%) and Guitar Pickers (17%). —Shannon Gentry

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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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