Goods & Services 

The Best of Richmond

Best place to buy an unusual gift

In its eighth year of business, the No. 1 bazaar of the odd and the mod is Mongrel in Carytown.

Owner Stan McCulloch says his top three sellers are also his tackiest — pink yard flamingos, edible penis pasta, and pink plastic watering cans shaped like elephants. Mongrel also offers cards and wrapping paper as unique as the gifts, making this store a last-minute shopper's paradise.

Defending champ and Carytown rival Lane Sanson Home Eclectique fought hard but lost the title, placing a close second.

One lone voice insisted that Lowe's is the best place to find something unusual. We can understand that logic. A load of timber is a rather odd gift.

Best tattoo parlor

"Mama" may not be your first choice for a tattoo, but if you have a burning desire to be branded in ink, Red Dragon Tattoo Studio is where you'd go. There was no competition in this category. Owners Robbie and Billy Eason and their 11 tattoo artists ink Richmonders in permanent indigo — and all the colors of the rainbow. "Tattooing has really changed over the years," says Billy Eason. "It's an art form and is now respected as such." Still some body parts should remain dye-free, says Eason. The Red Dragon won't do hands or faces. But most body parts get the stamp of approval. "You'd be surprised, a lot of people have tattoos on their rears," says Eason matter-of-factly.

Best florist

With locations throughout Richmond, Vogue Flowers & Gifts is Richmond's go-to florist for everything from congratulations to "just because." President Steve Papoulakos says his company is known for delivering "unique European" arrangements. "Our designs are airy, flowery, very natural," he says. "When [customers] say 'I know where this arrangement came from' that's the best compliment we could get." While Papoulakos says each arrangement gets individual attetion, that doesn't slow his company's ability to deliver en masse: Last Valentine's Day, Vogue moved 100,000 roses.

Carytown's Tom French placed second; The Flower Market & Garden Centers and Coleman Brothers Flowers also are popular with readers.

Best place to buy a pair of shoes

Who buys 15 or 20 pairs of shoes at a time? Apparently, more than a few Richmond women, who are well-known for their binges at Saxon Shoes, where the mind-boggling display of more than 100,000 pairs celebrates the fetish for footwear. It's no surprise that black and navy flats still reign as the most popular choices in Richmond, but more adventurous shoppers head to second-place winner City Shoes for colorful platforms and fresh leather slides and sandals. Shoe Forum gets a third-place nod for its prices and designer selections.

Best day spa

Relax. This isn't going to hurt a bit. In fact, it's going to feel very, very good. Whether it's a deep tissue massage, foot reflexology or a hydrating aloe body wrap, Nesbit The Complete Body Salon at 2311 W. Main St. is the place you most like to be pampered. With spas popping up these days in seemingly every establishment with a barber pole, Nesbit tries to keep one step ahead of the trends. Customers are becoming very educated about the spa culture, says owner Nesbit Hatch. So now, Nesbit is about to launch into LaStone Therapy, which uses heated and cooled lava rocks on the body and Raindrop Therapy, which uses essential oils applied to the body. Face Works by Michelle and Austin's were knotted up tightly in second and third places, respectively. One of our proletariat readers responds to this category, "You have to be kidding." To which we reply, "Please pass the essential oils and heated lava rocks."

Best interior designer

If the best looking rooms in Richmond don't look like any others, there's a good chance they're the designs of Robert Rentz, who goes after a different look for each client, whether here or in Israel, California or New York. He has a way of bringing out clients' personalities in creating eclectic and comfortable surroundings, and runs a showroom for those who want to choose their own art, lighting and upholstery. Runner-up is Barnett Adler, whose design firm Maison specializes in hand-painted walls, sumptuous fabrics and the kind of star-quality decor that appeals to affluent, creative clients.

Best plastic surgeon

It's not surprising that the gregarious Dr. Kelman I. Cohen shares high praise from Style readers as Richmond's best plastic surgeon. This native New Yorker, who grew up in New Hampshire, has practiced here for his entire 27-year career. Today, Cohen continues as full-time faculty member at VCU's Medical College of Virginia. He is also in private practice with Dr. Douglas Rowe at Aesthetic and Reconstructive Surgery, P.C. where he limits his practice to cosmetic surgery and breast reconstruction.

"A number of patients are not suited to plastic surgury," cautions Cohen. "Ten to 15 percent have some other physical or personal problem. I tell them to wait until the crisis is over."

Dr. Michael S. Godin, who tied for top place as best plastic surgeon, divides his time between MCV, where he is an assistant professor of otolaryngology (ear, nose and throat), where he specializes in reconstructive surgury for cancer reconstruction, gun-shot wounds and motorcycle accidents. In his private practice, the Los Angeles native, who has practiced here for six years, specializes exclusively in facial plastic surgery. "I can usually do what they want to be done," he says, once he gets a sense of his patients' expectations. "But if someone comes in with a picture of Kim Basinger, I can't do that," he laughs.

Best car salesman

Dick Strauss drove away with the trophy for this new category. He deserves a tip of the hat just for being in the car business for more than 40 years. Strauss says he never beats the public over the head with an obnoxious ad campaign, relying instead on the soft sell and a bit of humor to keep the customers coming back. But being the best in sales also means hitting the most marks. Located on Midlothian Turnpike, Strauss' dealership sells Ford, Isuzu and Suzuki. With the flair of a fast-talking, car-lot-walking salesman, Strauss says, "we have a product line that fits everybody's pocketbook."

Best place to buy funky jewelry

From enameled pins covered with animals and beach scenes to three-dimensional clocks, Cocoanuts is the place most readers go when they're looking for the funkiest jewelry - or home accessories- in town. Glass jewelry, gold and silver mixed jewelry and real stone jewelry cram the cases and clocks and mirrors cover the walls. Earrings are particularly popular, says Wendy Garrett, although you'll find plenty of trinkets to decorate your neck, wrists and fingers. "We try to cater to everybody," she says. "We have customers from 18 to grandmas and grandpas." While Cocoanuts will custom-make jewelry, you can go to Bangles and Beads, the second-place winner, and make your own funky earrings and necklaces. The store sells beads in addition to costume and antique jewelry made by professionals.

Best place to buy festive clothes

Although it has been open for less than three years, Lex's of Carytown has quickly moved to the top of Richmond's shopping list as the best place to buy festive clothes.

A favorite with everyone from prom-goers to wedding guests, shoppers can count on lots of personal attention from the outgoing owner Lisa Mears, who knows how to be tactfully honest when asked, "Does this dress make me look fat?"

Mears has her finger on the pulse of all that is hip and trendy and delivers the latest fashion trends in this jam-packed boutique. And because trends change so quickly, Mears tries to keep prices down. It's possible to spend less than $100 on a fully accessorized outfit here. Mears also never stocks more than a dozen-and-a-half of any one item, so you're guaranteed not to see yourself coming and going.

Coming in second place is Halcyon, the mainstay vintage boutique on Robinson Street, and Levy's, the huge and hugely popular women's boutique known for it's fantastic end-of-season sales.

Best place to get a haircut

Once again, Nesbit The Complete Body Salon tops the poll. With 19 stylists filling up 17 chairs, the Main Street salon has won your loyalty with shear talent. (We couldn't resist.) Owners Nesbit Hatch and Michael Wood focus their efforts on making Nesbit the kind of salon you aren't terrified to walk into. You know the kind — with the stylists who seem to size up your current 'do with an unspoken sigh, where the Euro-pop music piped in makes you feel tragically unhip and where numerous assistants buzz around you offer you a sparkling water, wash your hair, dry your hair, walk you to the chair ... Aaaah! Who to tip?

Nevermind all that at Nesbit. First and foremost, Hatch says, is the desire to create "a friendly atmosphere, a place where [customers] are no longer intimidated. ... Hair is more than just technique. The invisible part is the most essential: how you are treated. Would you want to come back?" Indeed, you do.

Best financial adviser

"You're kidding."

That's how financial adviser Randy Cost reacts to being told that people in Richmond think he's the tops. "Oh my gosh, I am stunned," he says. "I'm still taken aback that anybody is paying attention."

What they are paying attention to is Cost's no-nonsense, straightforward financial analysis and advice every morning on WWBT Channel 12. He also does segments on the 5:30 p.m. news on Mondays and Thursdays. Cost, 41, is a broker with IJL Wachovia who has been doing the Channel 12 segments since 1990.

He attributes his popularity — once he accepts it, that is — to his "fourth-grade brain" which enables him to communicate the complexities of the stock market and global financial issues without resorting to I'm-smarter-than-you-are brokerspeak. "Everybody else wants to sound smarter," Cost says, adding an admission his broker brethren probably don't want you to know about the job: "It ain't that tough."

Best thing we should have asked

You suggest that we could have asked about the best pizza, the best local band, best nickname for the governor (we like his spellcheck name, Jim Glimmer), best way to get rid of a toll booth, best place to meet women, best thing about Style (suck-up), best kept secret in Richmond, best-looking woman (puh-lease) or best person not to live in Richmond (Slobodan Milosevic?). But the No. 1 response to this category was best public sex spot.

"Wow, I'm so honored," says Best Public Sex Spot. "I really didn't expect to win this."

Sex Spot, who won this category by a slim margin over best pizza and best band, feels the community should have a place to call its own when it wants to get busy outside the privacy of home. "People should be able to scrump wherever and whenever they feel like it," says Sex Spot, as a half-clothed couple does the nasty while partially obscured by a tree stump and some high pokeweed. "I'm providing a service. I'm giving back to the

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