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Best Shopping

Downtown Saratoga Springs

It’s not the region’s only fully functioning downtown—smaller towns such as Chatham and Great Barrington come to mind—but it’s got the most packed into a relatively compact area. And there is much more to it than the chain stores taking over the lower portion of Broadway. From the many stylish boutiques to small indie stores offering sporting goods, musical instruments, gourmet foods, cards, toys, antiquarian books and much more, this is a shopper’s paradise, all the more so because you can stop and refresh yourself at any of several dozen restaurants, bars, coffee shops and ice-cream joints right in your midst.

Best Women’s Clothing (Day to Night)

Main Street

Main Street, Great Barrington, Mass.

Nowadays, it seems you have to go to several different specialty retailers in order to get everything you need for your wardrobe. Evening gala, one stop; office wear, another; and so on. Main Street in Great Barrington takes much of that running around away, by offering sporty casuals, sophisticated business wear, and sumptuous showstoppers all in one well-stocked boutique. Patrizia Luca and Barami figure strongly here, but there’s also a growing stable of hot young designers, making Main Street also that unique mecca for both mother and daughter, and every stylin’ one in between.

Best Women's Clothing (Funky): Rockabella.

PHOTO: Leif Zurmuhlen

Best Women’s Clothing (Funky)


441b Broadway, Saratoga

Who knew that starchy Saratoga had the hippest clothing? Tucked into a sliver of a boutique close to Putnam Market, Rockabella is home to a funky collection of inexpensive tees and accessories, as well as pricier must-haves like Lucky Seven and Miss Me jeans, Steve Madden shoes, and adorable party dresses by designers like Arielle. Shopping has never been so much fun.





Best Jewelry

Elissa Halloran Designs

229 Lark St., Albany

Simply put, this is where we get our jewelry. This is where we take our boyfriends and point to things and bat our eyes and say, “Isn’t this pretty?” Elissa Halloran’s jewelry is elegant and classy—unless you want something funky and bold, and it’s that too. With each piece you pick up, Elissa will be right there to tell you the materials used (“That’s freshwater pearl and garnet, with sterling sliver”) and to help you pick out just the right thing for yourself or as a gift. And now, with her airy, colorful new shop a couple doors down from her former basement locale, she has a little room to spread out, and that means more comfy shopping for us.

Best Men’s Clothing

Mark Thomas Men’s Apparel

5 Metro Park Road, Colonie

Now open three years, Mark Thomas Men’s Apparel is a high-end, high-quality haberdashery where the customer is treated like a friend and the shopping experience is actually fun. Owner Mark Goldfarb, partner Tom Fagan and Steve will make you feel like a millionaire even if your budget is limited. Suits start at $299 and all tailoring/alterations are free. Featuring such labels as Palzileri, Corneliani, Jack Victor and Coppley and shoes by Cole Hann, Magnanni and Johnson and Murphy, Mark Thomas will have you looking great whether its an amazing suit and tie or hard-to-find designer jeans and a short-sleeve summer shirt. They also carry the best cologne we’ve ever used, called Tino Cosma. Your significant other will love you when you slash a little of this on.

Best Men’s Shoes

Saratoga Shoe Depot

385 Broadway, Saratoga Springs

Now open for 20 years, this Saratoga retail institution is still the best in the region for high-quality men’s shoes. They have great lines like Bourne, Ecco, Johnson & Murphy, Bostonian, Birkenstock, Merrill, Teva, Tsubo, Keen, Clarks or Doc Martens. For cool and hip or high-end stylish, Saratoga Shoe Depot does not disappoint.

Best Bike Shop

Down Tube Cycle Shop

466 Madison Ave., Albany

A perennial winner for the great selection of bikes (specializing in Trek, LeMond, Seven Cycles and Gary Fisher) and bike-related gear, and especially, the friendly and knowledgeable service that is without equal.

Best Home Electronics


Stuyvesant Plaza, Guilderland

Why pay $50 to take the family to the movies when Hippo’s can create a home theater in your own family room? Imagine your home completely wired to see who’s at the front door, watch the kids playing in the backyard and check in on the sleeping newborn upstairs. Imagine a TV so thin and vibrant it looks like a picture hanging on the wall. Audio sound so clear you’ll think you’re at the show. This is what home electronics has become, and Hippo’s can make your imagination a reality. Oh, and if you’re looking for just a plain old TV or DVD player, they have that too.

Best Runners Boutique

Fleet Feet Sports

155 Wolf Road, Colonie

Some say customer service is dead; well, don’t tell that to Charles Woodruff and his staff. The only thing they take more seriously than running is properly fitting their customers. The knowledgeable staff will painstakingly measure your feet, consult with you on the type of surfaces and appropriate shoe and video your gait—all this just for a pair of sneakers. The importance of this service is immeasurable. Tremendous selection of the best shoes available as well as running garb and other accessories.

Best Pet Supplies Store

Pet Supplies Plus

1225 Western Ave., Albany

When Fido and Fifi are in need of food and supplies, this is the place. The staff here always are very knowledgeable, which was reassuring recently, what with all the problems regarding the bad pet-food supplies. The staff here were very forthcoming about what was what, and helped us to make good decisions about what to bring home to our furry friends. The selection is the best around and the prices are better than any of the chains.

Best Sporting Goods Store: Goldstock's.

PHOTO: Martin Benjamin

Best Sporting Goods Store

Goldstock’s Sporting Goods

98 Freeman’s Bridge Road, Scotia

They boast that they are America’s oldest ski shop—and we’re not going to argue because they have been around since Edison was playing with light bulbs in that area. The knowledgeable staff will fit you properly, and they’ll fit your budget. They also boast the largest fly-fishing department in upstate New York; now that might be a bit of a stretch, but their selection and knowledge are formidable. The greatness of this place is it’s longevity and ability to stay with the trends. They have a full selection of everything your sporting heart can desire.


Best Wine Shop (selection)

All-Star Wine & Spirits

Latham Farms, Latham

Some wine stores are strong in quality, some are strong in selection, but this one is strong in both categories. Choose from a huge variety of names: Cakebread, Stag’s Leap, Caymus, Conn Estates, St. Francis, and too many more to name. Aisle after aisle, rack after rack, bottle after bottle, the selection is incredible. Looking for that hard-to-find rare wine? Chances are they can get it. Need a gift for a real wine snob? This is the place. Even if you want a quality wine for less than $10, you can find it here.

Best Wine Shop (Neighborhood)

Capital Wine & Spirits

Lark and State streets, Albany

Great neighborhood atmosphere, great wine, great people to sell it to you. That, and we can walk there from our office. ’Nuff said.

Best Beer Store

Oliver’s Beverage

105 Colvin Ave., Albany

Year after year, we keep looking for a beer distributor with a better selection and a more knowledgeable staff, but we can never find one. Oliver’s is it. Trust us, we know beer.

Best Florist

MFT Design Studio

85 Lexington Ave, Albany

Established in 2002, and formerly of the Center Square neighborhood, MFT (short for my favorite things) continues to be on the cutting edge. With a clientele that reads like a who’s who of Albany, Chris Grigas’ and Donald Matthews’ continued success is a credit to their combined character, work ethic, and artistic eye. The sometimes surprising (but always on-point) juxtaposition of form, color and texture is what makes MFT’s aesthetic so distinct and pleasurable. Whether your taste is a single stemmed zen-esque floral statement or an opulent monochromatic arrangement, each piece is designed with not only the client in mind, but the integrity of the shop owners as well. Available for any special occasion, and for the equally important no particular occasion.

Best Cigar Store

Habana Premium Cigar Shoppe

1537 Central Ave., Albany

We don’t like to boast of this habit, yet the occasional cigar soothes the troubled soul. And clears the room quickly. Unless you’re upstairs at Habana Premium, where there’s a smokers’ clubhouse. Scotty is always bringing in new and interesting cheroots, with promotional events to introduce them, and you’ll find something for every budget in this incredibly friendly place.

Best Tobacco/Gift Shop

Orion Boutique

169 Jay St, Schenectady

To take a stroll down Schenectady’s famed Jay Street is to take a step back in time. Particularly if you venture into a store where people have been gathering for nearly 40 years to talk politics, see friendly faces, and to buy an array of items that compliment the current, or not-so-current, counterculture of the day (wink, wink). Orion has a little bit of everything, from their impressive cigar selection to their handmade jewelry and gifts, smoking paraphernalia, T-shirts, tapestries, posters, candles, books and more. Orion Boutique remains the No. 1 stop for the total mind expansion. If you don’t believe us, just ask the knowledgeable staff. Dig it.

Best Holistic/Wellness Store

Peaceful Inspirations

384 Kenwood Ave., Delmar

Still on that metaphysical journey? The bumpy ride can be eased by Anne DeClue’s gem of a store. Like a beacon, her knowledge of all things nondenominational and her sincerity can guide you through. Now in its second year, Peaceful Inspirations continues to grow and evolve on it’s own path to enlightenment. Always carrying the latest and greatest in yoga supplies, drums, and books for adults and children, jewelry, fair-trade items and more, this is definitely one stop you won’t want to miss. It’s the perfect place to relax, unwind and just . . . be.

Best Art-Supply Store: Arlene's Artist Materials, Inc.

PHOTO: Leif Zurmuhlen

Best Art-Supply Store

Arlene’s Artist Materials, Inc

57 Fuller Road, Albany

Arlene’s is still our favorite supplier of all things artistic. From exotic Japanese papers to custom framing, if you’ve got a hankerin’ for self expression, Arlene’s got the fix. Family-owned and -operated for more than 40 years, it’s your one-stop art-supply shop!



Best Tattoo Shop

Full Effect Tattooing

460 Broadway, Troy

Your body is a temple, but how long can you live in the same house before you redecorate? Well, these days, it doesn’t seem to be very long at all. Don Demers, owner (and former Lark Tattoo artist) opened up shop in Troy just a few years back with Full Effect Tattooing, then added artist Brian Kimball (also of Lark Tattoo), and the two have been leaving their clients inked, satisfied and amazed ever since.

Best Musical Instrument Store

Parkway Music

1602 Route 9, Clifton Park

Some things never change.

Best Community Music Store


45 Hudson Ave., Chatham

A throwback to the Main Street shops of the past rather than the soulless box stores of the present, Musica is all about community inclusion and the loud joy of making music. There are voice and instrument lessons, open mics for teens, in-store concerts, expert repairs and a big brown dog to greet you. The store is a celebration of all things musical, a place for the community to learn, practice and play music with each other. The 9-year-old girl with a ripped cork on her clarinet is treated with the same respect as the hotshot electric guitarist. Stroll in at any time and you might be treated to an impromptu yodeling session, a passionate gear discussion (humbuckers vs. single coil?) or a rowdy fiddle tune by some touring Scots. Want to play a harmonium? Musica has a book. And a harmonium. And a shruti box. And a cura cumbus from Turkey. And now a “Best Of” for a third time.

Best Martial Arts Training (Wing Chun)

Russell Cichon

1237 Central Ave., Albany

When you find a legit teacher in the crowded field of martial-arts training, consider yourself lucky. Russell Cichon is one of those teachers. Cichon carries with him decades of training in a pure lineage of this legendary Chinese martial art (his teacher is Ip Ching, son of famed Yip Man). His school is welcoming and challenging, and he is generous with his time and knowledge. As anyone who has passed through this Albany studio knows, studying under Sifu Cichon is a rare treat.

Best Martial Arts School (Mixed Martial Arts)

Empire Martial Arts

4 Walker Way, Colonie

Master instructor Alan Condon has had years of experience teaching Muay Thai kickboxing and Carlos Machado Jiu Jitsu. Condon can help you shoot for your cage-fighting dreams or just give you a chance to unwind while you punch the mitts or learn an Omoplata or Kimura.

Best Personal Trainer

Judy Torel

Judy Torel will kick your butt and have you coming back for more. The reason? This Albany Region physical-fitness guru loves what she is doing and it shows. Torel has spent years studying how body fitness and mental health affect one another, and she brings that knowledge to everything that she does. Whether it’s with her indoor cycling class, one-on-one “lifestyle therapy” sessions, or that last set of squats, she’ll show you how to get the body that you deserve. All that she’ll ask in return is that you sweat—a lot.

Best Bookstore

The Book House

Stuyvesant Plaza, Albany

We love this bookstore. We could spend hours browsing through its homey aisles (and we have). A staple in this region, it has survived the invasion of the large retail chains and the siren song of the Internets. And we are so happy it has; we would be lost without our Book House.

Best Used Bookstore

Dove and Hudson

296 Hudson Ave., Albany

If you love books, the way they smell, the way they feel, all those words, then you will find a home here at this Center Square institution. Come for the Chaucer, stay for the Bukowski.

Best Children’s Bookstore

The Little Book House

Stuyvesant Plaza, Albany

You know where we’ll be this weekend to pick up the final installment of the Harry Potter series. That’s right—the Little Book House. But we don’t only love it for it’s Harry Potter-inspired release parties; we love how the educated, well-informed staff know every book that’s in the store, and for what age they’re intended, and which to recommend. They carry educational, well-regarded books, the kind that give you the satisfying feeling that by reading them, kids’ brains really are being nourished. We like that.

Best Comic-Book Shop


412 Fulton St., Troy

There is no easier place in the Capital Region to buy comic books then at Aquilonia. Owner Bob Lupe is an affable chap who is always ready to help you explore your taste in the graphic novel and discover your superhero preferences. Along with a superb subscription service and a competent selection of back issues, you will find a friendly environment, full of interesting conversation between customers from all walks of life. If for no other reason, stop in to listen to cops, lawyers, writers, artists and businessmen discuss the color of Spiderman’s costume and Iron Man’s love life.

Best Record Store

Last Vestige

173 Quail St. Albany

Last Vestige never really had much competition in the vinyl department, but this year there’s hardly any competition in the realm of independent music retailers. We thank our lucky stars that we still have the opportunity to go hunting for vinyl in Vestige’s familiar racks. If the store ever disappears, you might find us in your garage or attic on weekends digging through your old records. And that would be uncomfortable for both of us.

Best Supermarket

Tie: the Latham and Slingerlands Price Choppers

873 New Loudon Road, Latham; 1395 New Scotland Ave., Slingerlands

They’re enormous, and that isn’t always a good thing (it does suck when you’ve meticulously shopped from aisle one all the way to the other end, only to realize you forgot one thing that’s back in aisle one), but these two Choppers have just about everything you could imagine a supermarket to have (what’s next—an in-store tattoo service? Bowling lanes?). The Starbucks coffee and gourmet hot foods are just fine, but what we really like about these stores, besides their exhaustively stocked shelves, is their large natural-foods selections. Presumably, they’ve been bracing for the arrival of Whole Foods for a while now.

Best Fresh Food Market

Guido’s Fresh Marketplace

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

Both of these spacious (but not overwhelming) markets dazzle with copious and dependably fresh produce (which is pretty much all they sold way back when they opened the first Guido’s as a produce stand). Today, they’re full-fledged markets featuring fresh fish, all- natural meats, bakery bread and other fresh baked goods, a deli counter, and aisles of thoughtfully chosen, minimally processed packaged foods. There’s no other market quite like Guido’s in the region, which is why they’re perennial winners.

Best Co-op

Honest Weight Food Co-op

484 Central Ave., Albany

Still the best for all things natural and healthy. Love the bulk grains and nuts, the fresh local produce, the Meadowbrook Dairy milk, and oh, the cheese. Never have we been so tempted by cheese. Every visit, a new variety is thrust in our faces, beckoning us. . . . Where were we? Oh yeah, co-op. Best co-op. Whether you’re a member or not, Honest Weight can be a cornerstone of your healthy food lifestyle.

Best One-Stop Neighborhood Grocery

Cardona’s Market

340 Delaware Ave., Albany

Since their recent remodeling, there’s more room for the variety of cold cuts and cheeses and prepared soup and butcher-cut (hormone-free) meat, fresh produce, whole-bean coffee and much, much more, including many homemade items like pizza and sandwiches and desserts. And the meatballs, made every day by 92-year-old Augusto Cardona.

Best Farmers Market: Troy Waterfront Farmers Market.

PHOTO: Shannon DeCelle

Best Farmers Market

Troy Waterfront Farmers Market

The Troy farmers market, housed in the lot of Hedley Park Place in the warm months and in the downtown Atrium in the cold ones, is as much about tapping into a sense of community as it is about picking up your weekly supply of organic tomatoes. It is impossible to walk through the crowds of familiar faces without running into at least a half-dozen friends, and it is equally impossible to not get swept up in the smell of fresh pesto or the folk music of guitarist Tom Winslow. Starting your day with this family-friendly and peaceful market will get you in the right frame of mind for a great weekend.



Best Natural Foods

Dean’s Natural Foods

911 Central Ave., Albany

This friendly and inviting shop boasts a knowledge staff, reasonable prices (you’ll be hard pressed to find anyone selling Vitamin Water for less), and shelves of conveniently labeled hard-to-find items. Right off the bus line in Albany, in Westgate Plaza, everything about Dean’s is convenient.

Best Asian Market

China Supermarket

91 Colvin Ave., Albany

This is where we go when we need ingredients for homemade sushi, spring rolls, chop suey and more. There’s a great selection of produce, fresh fish, and a whole lot of things we can’t exactly identify.

Best Land-Line Service


There’s probably no point to this plea, but cell-phone users: Too many of you are getting hosed. Repeatedly, and with malice aforethought. You should demand the kind of service from your cell provider that those of us who still love our land-line service get from Verizon. Service? It hardly ever goes down. Every call is clear (unless one is talking with someone with a bad cell connection). And the billing is a hell of a lot easier to decipher. And there’s this, for you so-called liberal types: Verizon land-line workers are unionized. Most cell-phone workers, including Verizon’s, are not. OK, you can now go back to being dazzled by your fuzzy cell-phone pictures and annoying ring tones.

Best Mechanic

Derek Walsh

Capital Tech, 169 Jefferson St., Albany

Ah, Derek. Everyone we know goes to him, including us. And he comes through for us every time with reasonable prices and top-notch, efficient work. We love that his shop is conveniently located right on Jefferson, across the street from the Palais Royale (not that we have drinks while waiting for our cars to be fixed or anything). We love that Derek personally knows the majority of his customers. And that million-dollar grin doesn’t hurt things, either.


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