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Goods & Services – Best of 2011

by The Staff on July 14, 2011

Best Shopping Plaza

Stuyvesant Plaza

Western Avenue, Albany

This upscale plaza offers a variety of great shops and eateries—many locally owned, like the Book House and Circles—as well as a U.S. Post Office. Unlike some baby boomers, Stuyvesant Plaza (circa 1959) seems younger than ever.

Best Downtown Shopping

Great Barrington, Mass.

We can think of other downtowns that specialize in antiques, nightlife or small-town quaintness, and at least one that starts to get really hoppin’ around this time of year, but Great Barrington is just about the only one in the region where you can spend an entire day checking out dozens of interesting and varied shops, galleries and restaurants without ever stumbling into a chain.

Best Emerging Downtown

Hudson

Hudson’s Warren Street is the 518’s hidden cultural treasure. As more businesses—restaurants, bars, cafes, etc.—continue to fill in the space around the celebrated galleries and antique stores, the area is beginning to feel like less of a weekend destination for NYC folk and more like one of the region’s most livable downtowns.

Best Woman’s Clothing Store

Circles

Stuyvesant Plaza, Albany

High-end fashion lovers frustrated with the Capital Region’s sparse offerings will find relief at Circles, where hard-to-find items from top designers abound. This growing boutique features a beautiful array of women’s–and now men’s!—clothing for every taste and style, as well as a to-die-for cosmetics department. From shampoo to stilettos to Seven jeans, you’ll leave feeling as if you’ve found a touch of Manhattan right here in Albany.

Best Jewelry

Elissa Halloran

229 Lark St., Albany

Elissa Halloran Designs is a perennial best pick, and it’s not only because we adore her bold, colorful designs in precious and semi-precious stones and reworked vintage odds and ends. A veritable hodgepodge of funky yet affordable jewelry, accessories for home and body, art, books, tchotchkes and vintage and consignment clothing, the shop is as warm and charming as it is offbeat, kind of like the lady herself. Elissa and her staff are helpful and unerring in their suggestions and advice, making this a great go-to place for gift shopping. Just looking at the oft-changed store window is like a gallery visit, but don’t just look—stop in and browse.

Best Men’s Clothing

Mark Thomas Men’s Apparel

5 Metro Park Road, Albany

Best Men's Clothing: Mark Thomas Men's Apparel Photo by Martin Benjamin

Sometimes you only get one chance to make good impression. Why not do it looking really good in a suit from Mark Thomas Men’s Apparel? This is a store that harkens back to another era where service and quality meant everything. They specialize in suits, casual wear, seasonal clothing, accessories and shoes. Don’t worry if you’re on a budget, Mark Thomas caters to all budgets. Owners Mark Goldfarb and Tom Fagan also are two of the finest gentlemen you’ll ever meet. Let them fit you into a Corneliani or Jack Victor suit. Look in the mirror and you’ll be blown away how good you’ll look.

Best Optician

Buenau’s Opticians

228 Delaware Ave., Delmar

Buenau’s is every four-eyes’ dream come true. They offer comprehensive in-office eye exams, specialty services for hard-to-fit patients, and a truly spectacular selection of stylish frames that make glasses a statement, not just a necessity. Their friendly and knowledgeable staff will help you find the perfect pair to highlight your pretty peepers.

Best Antiques (picker)

Coxackie Antique Center

12400 State Route 9w, West Coxsackie

We think discovery is at least half the fun when it comes to antique-hunting—unearthing that one perfect treasure, be it exactly the accent you were looking for or a long-since forgotten toy that washes you with nostalgia. And the Coxackie Antique Center’s dusty 15,000 square feet, filled with offerings from 100 vendors, is our favorite place to go pickin’. We’ve caught many a fine antique dealer digging there, but you can check it out yourself and avoid the middleman.

Best Antiques (Picked)

Warren Street

Hudson

But if you prefer your antiques curated in exquisite museum-style for your perusing, Warren Street in Hudson is the best destination for the funky and the refined.

Best Bookstore

Book House

Stuyvesant Plaza, Albany

Our perennial winner continues to hold its own against the big-box and cyber behemoths, thanks to the comfortable and beautiful space, helpful and literate staff, and a carefully curated collection of books on just about every topic under the sun.

Best Bar and Bookstore

Spotty Dog Books and Ale

440 warren St., Hudson

OK, Spotty Dog is probably the only bar-bookstore in the area, but why is that? Books and beer are a perfect match, and Spotty Dog has struck a deft balance between catering to both literary and libational interests. What’s more, it’s become a great place to see live music.

Best Used Bookstore

The Book Barn

200 Troy-Schenectady Road, Latham

The Book Barn’s vast and constantly changing selection, coupled with the best prices in the area, earned them top honors. We have yet to walk out empty-handed.

Best Used Textbooks

Mary Jane Books

215 Western Ave. (at Quail Street), Albany

The oldest and the best. Mary Jane Books helps area college students beat the high price mark-ups at those official college bookstores. Visit the conveniently located college neighborhood store, and look for the blue book bus. Now in Cobleskill, too.

Best Kids’ Bookstore

The Little Book House

Stuyvesant Plaza, Albany

A great kids’ bookstore should feel reflect the fun, magic and mystery that books can unlock for a child, and the Little Book House is just such a wonderland. With a playhouse, reading nooks, and the best selection of children’s books in the area, all to kid-scale, the Little Book House is not only a great place to shop, it’s a place to nurture a lifelong love of reading.

Best Kids’ General Store

I Love Books

380 Delaware Ave., Delmar

This quaint book and gift emporium as something for everyone, but it caters best to the kiddos (or the kid in you). With books, toys, games, gizmos, and old-fashioned candy jars, there’s just no better place to spend your allowance.

Best Toy Store

Tom’s Toys

297 Main St., Great Barrington, Mass.

A child’s paradise with a well-thought-out selection of amusements—some of them educational! The puzzle selection is excellent. And best of all, it’s a really fun store just to be in.

Best Comic Shop

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Best Comic Shop: Aquilonia Cards and Comics

Aquilonia Cards and Comics

412 Fulton St., Troy

Comic-book folk are sensitive folk. (We know firsthand, trust us.) Suffice it to say that Aquilonia provides the attitude-free kind of service that will help you fully satiate your comic-book curiosity with helpful recommendations and friendly conversation. They also have a full selection of Magic: The Gathering cards and hold weekend tournaments.

Best Video-Game Store

Pastime Legends

292 Lark St., Albany; 37 Mohawk Ave., Scotia

It doesn’t matter if you want new games for your Xbox 360, or cartridges for your dusty Nintendo Entertainment System—Joe and Emily at Pastime Legends provide the friendliest service around. They are also involved in their communities; they host gaming nights at Proctors and are involved with local art galleries. They will even go head-to-head with you for the high score on one of the game machines set up in their stores.

Best Tattoo Shop

Dead Presidents Lounge

1092 Madison Ave., Albany

The best ustom tattoo designs can be found at Dead Presidents Lounge. Five talented tattoo artists are in-house, all with unique styles to suit any taste. There is nothing these talented artists can’t do; from simple one-color designs to vibrant, detailed creations. Remember to check out the monthly gallery shows showcasing local talent.

Best Community Music Store

Musica

17 N. 4th St., Hudson

“To create more music in the world” is Musica’s stated objective. Not content to be merely the best music store in town, this repeat winner reaches out to its neighbors with showcase performances, benefits, impromptu jams, lessons, inspiration and advice. Is it coincidence that the Hudson scene is booming since Musica moved to town? We don’t think so.

Best Used Records

Last Vestige Music Shop

173 Quail St., Albany

Last Vestige are the music masters, with thousands of LPs, 45s, new vinyl, CD’s and more. Extensive local section. The savvy staff can help you find what you’re looking for, and point you to a record player where you can sample that used vinyl.

Best Musical Instrument Store

Parkway Music

1777 Route 9, Clifton Park

With the recent move to a larger store, Parkway has become the mecca for musicians in the Capital Region. The most impressive selection of gear in the area, and the most knowledgeable staff. Throw in great service, lessons and repairs, and you have all you need. Musically speaking.

Best Art Supply Store

Arlene’s Artist Materials

47 Fuller Rd., Albany

Amateur, student and professional artists will all find a wide variety of materials to fulfill their creative endeavors. You can find supplies at Arlene’s that you can’t find anywhere else, from paints to architecture design materials, to custom hand-made paper. Don’t forget to check out their custom framing and their great student discount.

Best Flower Studio

Anthology Studio

469 State St., Schenectady

Not your average studio, Anthology mixes art and design to create exquisite, contemporary flower arrangements with exotic flowers and plants. Their elegant creations don’t stop there; Anthology will design unique installations for your special event. Go to Anthology to celebrate the chapters in your life and the small moments in between.

Best Large Appliance Store

Cocca’s Appliances & Home Electronics

158 Railroad Ave., Albany

Fridges, washing machines, air conditioners—Cocca’s has the best selection, best service and greatest deals around. And that unbeatable three-year warranty.

Best Home Theater

Hippo’s Home Entertainment

Stuyvesant Plaza

Head for the chain if you think you can get the best buy, but you’ll be sacrificing the best service and installation. A repeat winner.

Best Kitchen Supply Store

Different Drummer’s Kitchen

Stuyvesant Plaza; 374 Pittsfield Road, Lenox, Mass.

Still the best (and better than the national chains). This regional independent chain (there’s also a store in Northampton) is a cook’s paradise with well-made merchandise at reasonable prices. And the Stuyvesant store has cooking classes.

Best Neighborhood Market

Cardona’s

340 Delaware Ave., Albany

If your family is from the Capital Region, chances are your grandmother shopped at Cardona’s. We know ours did. And since then the neighborhood market has managed to grow without compromising their old-world traditions, community, or flavors. And mama mia, those flavors!

Best Food Market

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Best Food Market: Guido’s Fresh Marketplace

Guido’s Fresh Marketplace

1020 South St., Pittsfield, Mass.; 760 S. Main St., Great Barrington, Mass.

Never mind those national chains with market-tested words like “Fresh” and “Whole” in their names—Guido’s is the real deal, with the best, freshest produce you’ll find anywhere, and much of it local during the growing season. Add that both locations offer terrific meat and seafood sections, bakeries, delis, and bulk and packaged foods, and wine, and that pretty much completes the one-stop food-shopping experience.

Best Food Co-op

Honest Weight Food Co-op

484 Central Ave., Albany

Fresh local meats, treats and produce, the area’s largest organic selection, aisles of bulk bins, delicious prepared foods and a cheese selection to die-for. Plus a friendly community. What more could you ask for but a bigger space, and they’re working on that.

Best Farmers Market

Schenectady Greenmarket

City Hall area, Summer; Proctors, Winter

This is the best all-year-round farmers market. You can find great produce, artisan breads, gourmet specialties, dairy products, wine, arts, crafts and more. Plus live performances and the various attractions already offered by the “new” downtown Schenectady.

Best Bakery (Italian Bread)

Perreca’s Bakery

33 North Jay St., Schenectady

After a hundred years, you’d think they’d get it right. They got it right decades ago, and Perreca’s turns out bread daily from a simple recipe designed to be baked in a coal-fired oven that never goes out. You’ll find it in area specialty stores, but why not seek it in its own storefront? Then you can dine at Perreca’s more recently established restaurant next door.

Best Bakery (Locavore)

The Placid Baker

250 Broadway, Troy

Baker Chris Syne knows that food doesn’t come from a truck, and he takes the time to make sure his ingredients come from the ground, and from people he knows. His sandwiches are layers of local, and he is a perfectionist who understands flour more intimately than the average eater could even guess. Come get wowed by his chicken salad on a beautiful bun, and finish it off with a pistachio cookie. Find him at his storefront or the Troy farmers market each Saturday, where he’s busy selling bread and keeping friends with the farmers that grow the great stuff he uses.

Best Asian Supermarket

Asian Supermarket

1245 Central Ave., Albany

Whoa. That’s what we say every time we walk past the crate of jackfruit and into Albany’s newest and biggest Asian food megamart. Boasting a wild selection of produce, aisles of noodles and sauces you’ll find nowhere else, and a downright creepy live fish section, this place is the closest thing Albany has to a proper Chinatown.

Best Wine Store (Selection and Price)

Empire Wine

Target Plaza, Colonie

Don’t let the amazing prices fool you—this is also an excellent wine store, with a great, thoughtfully chosen selection. A repeat winner.

Best Wine Store (Service)

Nejaime’s

444 Pittsfield Road, Lenox, Mass.

There’s a great selection of wine (and don’t overlook the delicious cheeses, olives, bread, etc.—one-stop shopping for your Tanglewood picnic!) in all three Nejaime’s locations in Berkshire County; we particularly like this store because Jim Nejaime presides, and after he’s helped guide you through the grapes a couple of times, he’ll know exactly what bottles to suggest the next time you’re in.

Best Wine Store (Locavore)

The Wine Seller at Harmony House Marketplace

184-190 Remsen St., Cohoes

The buy-local movement has been bottled, and it’s for sale at the Wine Seller. Everything selection at this vinter is crafted in the Empire State. And their regular wine tastings will convince even the most selective connoisseur of the quality of New York vineyards.

Best Wine Store (Neighborhood)

Capital Wine

Lark and State streets, Albany

An adorable space, owned and operated by neighborhood folk, and staffed by neighborhood folk. Capital Wine is a Center Square gem. Terrific wine selection, knowledgeable staff and display windows that draw you in. Stop in for one of their wine tastings.

Best Beer Store

Oliver’s Beverage Center

105 Colvin Ave., Albany

This is the store for someone who doesn’t just like to drink beer, but savors beer—and a lot of different kinds of beer. Hundreds of different kinds. Best of all, you can buy by the single bottle and fashion your own trip around the world.

Best Gym

Best Fitness

Albany, Schenectady

What constitutes a great gym? Location, layout, staff, trainers, equipment, classes, clientele, energy, cleanliness and personality. Best Fitness is outstanding in all of the above. And they are going green. When did you ever hear of a gym being socially conscious? It’s a very reasonably priced gym, offering something for every level of fitness training.

Best Community Center

Sidney Albert Albany Jewish Community Center

340 Whitehall Road, Albany

With cultural programming, community classes, summer camps, senior programs, a state-of-the art fitness center, three pools (indoor and out), sports leagues, a farmers market and the area’s largest child-care center, the JCC truly is a fine community resource. A repeat winner.

Best Bicycle shop

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Best Bicycle Shop: Downtube Cycle Works

Downtube Cycle Works

466 Madison Avenue, Albany

The Downtube Cycle Works has been voted best bike shop by readers and critics alike for as long as we can remember. A great local bike shop that has been under the same ownership since it opened in 1972, the Downtube offers incredible service and has a great selection of road and mountain bikes, helmets, lights, bike bags, bicycle parts, and bike repair services.

Best Skate Shop

Seasons

211 Lark St., Albany

On June 21, National Go Skateboarding day, we saw those RUN ALB T-shirts everywhere. Seasons has done more than equip Albany’s growing skateboarding community; it’s become the cultural center. Whether you need new trucks or kicks or just want to rap about skating videos, Seasons is the place.

Best Gas Station

Petrol 9W Co.

(9W, Glenmont)

It may be across from a Super Wal-mart plaza, but this gas station as the run-down nostalgia that you’d expect to find in a far-flung small town, at the beginning of a horror flick or two-thirds of the way through an Americana road novel. Plus they have cheap gas. And if you fillerup, you can earn yourself a free, ramshackle, “white cup slushie.”

Best Consumer Promotion

Fuel Advantage

Price Chopper/Sunoco

If you already shop at Price Chopper (and many of us obviously do), then the discounts on gas at area Sunoco pumps are truly amazing—especially if you have a family and you buy a lot of groceries! Wait till your discount is up to three bucks a gallon, pull up to the pump in your Chevy station wagon (or Honda minivan, whatever), and it’s the ’70s all over again!

Best Business Juxtaposition

Northern Lights and Northway Church

1208 Route 146, Clifton Park

A premier music club next to a Christian church. The wine of youth vs. the blood of Christ. Jesus the Redeemer vs. Rotting Jesus. These opposites do not attract.