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Consumer Culture: Critics' Picks

Best of Charlotte 2005

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BEST NEW STORE (OPENED IN LAST 12 MONTHS)

Earth Fare

Earth Fare, the Healthy Supermarket -- it's about damn time. Now if only this Asheville-based chain could open a few more stores and bring its goodness to those of us living outside Ballantyne, maybe we could all be a little healthier.

12235 North Community House Road. 704-926-1201.

BEST NEW STORE Earth Fare - CATALINA KULCZAR

BEST CLOTHING STORE

Anthropologie

TJ Maxx and Value Village were the runners-up here, evidencing what kind of budgets our critics work from. But don't assume Anthropologie, one of SouthPark's newer additions, is necessarily too expensive. The sale room (located in the store's back-left corner) is crammed from all angles with awesome bargains. The store's style can be generally described as shabby chic turned sexy -- such a nice break from the J. Crew and Abercrombie and Fitch look, which Charlotteans kind of need to give a break.

SouthPark Mall. 704-442-9454.

BEST HAIR SALON

Bang Bang

This year's winner just squeaked out a victory, with 10 salons receiving votes. Bang Bang in Plaza-Midwood gets the honors, and its legions of fans ought to be pleased. It's one ideal example of how radically things have changed inside Charlotte's old mills. Behind its red brick exterior, Bang Bang explodes with fluorescent color, feathers, funky furniture and even a Chihuahua (at least when one of the critics stopped by). Its patrons range from denizens of the alt-culture scene looking for an eye-popping 'do to folks who just want a good cut (we know one person who cites being able to get a beer while there as the top perk).

1318 Central Avenue, Suite A1. 704-334-1285.

BEST HEALTH CLUB

Bally's

Three locations in the Charlotte area full of countless people who can bench more than you. If they're not inspiration to make you keep coming back, try the exercise classes, a session with a personal trainer, the state-of-the-art equipment or, if all else fails, the saunas and hot tubs.

Various locations.

BEST PLACE FOR A NEW SENSATION

Serenity Health Care

Where colonic therapist Bobbie Pallante does her thing, squirting warm water up people's butts. If it's good enough for celebrities like Janet Jackson, Oprah and Matt Damon, then you too should open yourself up to the cleansing and purifying wonders of colonic therapy. Pallante has been cleansing people's insides in Charlotte since 2000, and she always has room for one more.

6901 Idlewild Road. 704-713-7145.

BEST HAIR SALON Bang Bang - CATALINA KULCZAR

BEST PLACE TO FIND YOUR INNER GEEK

NetPlay Café

This gaming center off Pineville-Matthews Road allows people to "frag" (i.e., kill) the guy next to him or a player across the globe via a plethora of video game systems. The gaming center is ironically located next to Bally's Fitness -- never before have pimply, pale, chain-smoking gamers crossed paths with toned and tan fitness buffs with such frequency.

8700 Pineville-Matthews Road, Suite 360. 704-319-9094.

BEST INDOOR RECREATION FACILITY

Inner Peaks

Ray's Splash Planet, longtime favorite for those who love the smell of chlorine trapped in a building, was edged out this year for a more "gripping" experience. Inner Peaks has been drawing Charlotte-area climbers to its wall-scaling playground for years. It's the best thing around when you can't make it all the way over to the mountains.

9535 Monroe Road, Suite 170. 704-844-6677.

BEST FLEA MARKET

Metrolina Expo

Yet again, simply the best. A unanimous pick.

7100 Statesville Road. 704-596-4650.

BEST AUDIO/VIDEO STORE

Best Buy

The name just might say it all here. Salespeople know the huge stock a lot better than you do, so next time you need some speakers small or large, just go straight for one of them and submit your request. It's pretty much guaranteed they'll have what you need. Another big box store was the runner-up: Circuit City.

Various locations.

BEST INDOOR RECREATION FACILITY Inner Peaks - CATALINA KULCZAR

BEST COMPUTER STORE

Apple At SouthPark

Even the most devout PC aficionado will find something they absolutely can't live without in this bastion of technology. The glowing aura surrounding the sleek flat-paneled screens inside makes the store virtually sensual, explaining the hypnotized look of everyone trapped inside. Or maybe they're just stunned by the efficiency of the store's "support team," who will gladly help you work out the bugs in your computer before you resort to smashing the infernal contraption against the nearest wall. Evidently, the latest trend is for newlyweds to register here, so their guests can buy them monogrammed iPods.

SouthPark Mall. 704-364-2205.

BEST PLACE TO BUY CDS

Manifest

Pretty much any form of entertainment played on electronic devices can be found here. The new CD section is as plentiful as any other outlet in town, including the big boxes, but it's the extras that set Manifest apart. The used CD and DVD sections are tremendous, there are frequent in-store performances by local artists, the staff mixes broad knowledge with the right amount of stand-offishness, and all that is accented by a variety of life-size pop culture cardboard cut-outs. Nothing else like it, and definitely the best. Visit the store and experience first-hand why Amazon is not the answer to all your used CD needs. CD Warehouse and Record Exchange were the distant runners-up.

6239 South Boulevard. 704-552-8448.

BEST PLACE TO BUYS CDS Manifest - RADOK
  • RADOK
  • BEST PLACE TO BUYS CDS Manifest

BEST PLACE TO BUY DVDS

No Winner

When it comes to new DVDs, some local stores don't offer enough low prices (e.g., Borders), while others don't offer enough of a selection (e.g., Best Buy). Consequently, your best bet is shopping online, either through Amazon.com's Marketplace or, better yet, at www.deepdiscountdvd.com, which not only offers the lowest prices but free shipping, to boot.

BEST BIKE SHOP

Bicycle Sport

This 20-year-plus establishment takes Best Bike Shop. Your kids' first two-wheelers and pro cycles live side-by-side at Bicycle Sport, now at its new home down the street from its previous Myers Park location. The shop is bright yellow and blue, with boards full of info on area trips in front, an expert repair shop in back, and all the gear you could need in between. This won a close one over The Bike Gallery.

2916 Selwyn Avenue, Suite A. 704-335-0323.

BEST HARDWARE STORE

Blackhawk

Evidently relocating their headquarters and a few thousand employees to the area hasn't totally won our hearts yet, since Lowe's just barely lost this race to hometown favorite Blackhawk. This Park Road Shopping Center anchor looks like the old hardware store you used to visit with your dad on weekends, and it has that great old hardware store smell, too. Take a look around, though, and you'll realize it has a good dose of female sense. Inside, a shopper will find kitchen equipment, home décor, party accessories, garden accents and, of course, a wealth of hardware, all supervised by a plentiful, friendly and helpful staff.

Park Road Shopping Center. 704-525-2682.

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