Shopping Awards: Readers' Choice

 (Photograph: Michelle Nolan)
1/17
Photograph: Michelle NolanBEST STORE MASCOT NEIL PATRICK HARRIS THE CAT, DOGGY STYLE It’s been a big year for Neil Patrick Harris. The actor. The How I Met Your Mother star is again nominated for an Emmy. But we’d argue that it’s been an even better 2010 for NPH the cat. First of all, this kitty has the sense to not appear in the live-action Smurfs movie. And, according to the commenters on our online ballot, he’s also a hero. The black-and-white feline allegedly pulled Michael Kuhl out of a burning car, saved Sue Gorski from a rabid grizzly bear and, according to Mary Scott, is our only hope of surviving the impending zombie holocaust. Consider yourself warned. 2023 W Division St (773-235-9663, doggystylepetshop.com). —Kevin Aeh Other nominees Cricket the dog, Embellish Boutique; Isabella the bird, Brownstone; Maude the dog, Paper Doll; Norton the dog, George Lowell
2/17
BEST FLORIST A NEW LEAF Surely, many of the readers who voted for this Old Town flower shop (there’s also a location in the Loop) have fantasized about hosting a special occasion in its Wells Street event space. We’ve walked by the glowing windows on a warm Saturday night and contemplated becoming wedding crashers, just to hang out in the joint. Down the street at the shop’s main outpost, you’ll find a huge selection of wild and garden flowers, tropical flora and sylvan plants, plus a staff that’s expert in making beautiful, artful, ikebana-inspired arrangements. It’s great to receive flowers, but A New Leaf makes shopping for them equally romantic. 1645 N Wells St (312-642-1576, anewleafchicago.com); 312 S Dearborn Ave (312-427-9097).—Kevin Aeh Other nominees Asrai Garden, Cattails, Fleur, Stems
3/17
BEST BIKE SHOP JOHNNY SPROCKETS The Broadway location of this cheekily named shop is filled floor-to-ceiling with bicycles. The spectrum of options—cruisers for just-past-training-wheels pedalers to featherlight rides for obsessives in logo-covered tights—hangs from the rafters and lines up along two levels of floor space. Brands include Giant, Masi, Surly, Niner and Specialized. If you somehow don’t find what you seek, the shop takes custom orders. Even if you’re not in the market for a new set of wheels, let your tires suck up some free air from the pump outside the store. 3001 N Broadway (773-244-1079, johnnysprockets.com); 1052 W Bryn Mawr Ave (773-293-1697).—Jessica Herman Other nominees Boulevard Bikes, Ciclo Urbano, Rapid Transit, Working Bikes
4/17
BEST DENIM SHOP DENIM LOUNGE When it comes to jeans shopping, variety is of utmost importance. The ass is No. 2. Thankfully, we have Denim Lounge in Roscoe Village (a miniature version exists inside the Gold Coast’s Madison and Friends, as well). The store offers casual basics—Ella Moss, Splendid, etc.—for the whole family and a centerpiece collection, lining the length of a blue wall, that fills three shelves with 20 high-end denim lines, including DL1961, Fidelity, Hudson, J Brand and Paige Premium Denim, for $120 and up. And because any denim purveyor worth his salt knows it’s all about a good backside, a row of butt mannequins showcases the jeans’ back-end business. For further analysis, a virtual fitting room connects four hi-def cameras to flat-screen TVs, so you can thoroughly check yourself out. 2004 W Roscoe St (773-935-2820, madisonandfriends.com/denimlounge).—Jessica Herman Other nominees Blue Jean Bar, Cityblue, DNA 2050, 1969 Jean Shop
5/17
BEST LINGERIE STORE G BOUTIQUE There’s no shortage of penis-shaped paraphernalia (just wait till you see the phallic deli sandwiches at the in-store bachelorette parties) in the “accessories” section of this Pepto-Bismol pink shop. But when it comes to variety here, it’s all about the sexy skivvies. Styles by brands such as Cosabella, Le Mystere and Only Hearts run the gamut from Marie Antoinette–style corsets and lace chemises to va-va-voom leopard-print bras and garters. Looking to beef up your bedroom education? The schedule of how-to seminars covers everything from giving great blow jobs to posing for pinup portraits. 2131 N Damen Ave (773-235-1234, boutiqueg.com).—Jessica Herman Other nominees Enchante, Isabella, Underthings, Wildflowers
6/17
BEST AFFORDABLE FURNITURE STORE ROY’S FURNITURE Finding a new, reasonably priced sofa that’s either (a) not from IKEA or, (b) scored off Craigslist is a near-impossible task. Which is why folks who shop at this Lincoln Park locale tend to become Roy’s evangelists. The nearly three-decade-old furniture showroom features furnishings from more than 40 vendors at deeply discounted rates. Dining tables start at $169 and sofas begin at $499—not to mention, the second-floor clearance area always offers additional deals. A few extra perks: custom-ordered fabrics and six months of interest-free financing. 2455 N Sheffield Ave (773-248-7878, roysfurniturecompany.com).—Jessica Herman Other nominees Affordable Portables, Nadeau Imports, Right-on Futon, Rubin’s
7/17
BEST SEX SHOP PLEASURE CHEST Sleazy and dodgy are two words that often come to mind when one thinks of sex shops. But those descriptions couldn’t be further from the truth when it comes to the West Lakeview outpost of this chain (locations also exist in New York and Los Angeles). Thanks to the parking lot out front, shy, self-conscious types can discreetly pop in and out. Late hours (it’s open until 11pm most of the week, midnight on Thursday, Friday, Saturday) are ideal for when dates go better than expected. The staff here is non-judgmental and hands-on—not in a creepy way. Bonus: free lube samples. 3436 N Lincoln Ave (773-525-7151, thepleasurechest.com).—Kevin Aeh Other nominees Batteries Not Included, Early to Bed, Egor’s Dungeon, Tulip
8/17
BEST BOOKSTORE THE BOOK CELLAR This Lincoln Square spot is more than a bookshop; it’s also the perfect place to linger over hard-to-find magazines with a steamy latte and a grilled cheese, take your date for a glass of wine, join one of eight book clubs or meet your favorite Chicago author (Sam Weller, Elizabeth Crane, Ben Tanzer) at a reading. But those who do come for page-turners have an easy time filling their canvas tote bags with great reads. The mix of mainstream, small press and locally published fiction and nonfiction caters to a wide range of tastes. And the always-reliable staff picks are hard to beat. 4736 N Lincoln Ave (773-293-2665, bookcellarinc.com).—Jessica Herman Other nominees 57th Street Books, Myopic, Quimby’s, Women and Children First
9/17
BEST TOY STORE UNCLE FUN Strolling the aisles of this Lakeview novelty emporium is like taking a walk down memory lane—for you or Granddad. Where else can you find Sigmund Freud and Jesus action figures, New Kids on the Block travel mugs, Slinkys and bobble heads of just about every pop culture character ever? That’s the thing about the wacky products in this shop: They don’t do much but make you laugh and reminisce. And that’s why Uncle Fun is so popular. 1338 W Belmont Ave (773-477-8223, unclefunchicago.com).—Kevin Aeh Other nominees Galt, Pumpkin Moon, Timeless Toys, Toys et Cetera
10/17
BEST MUSEUM GIFT STORE MCA STORE Where else can you find both a duct-tape necktie and a dense stack of contemporary art tomes? The common denominator among the highbrow and lowbrow wares in the MCA’s gift shop is a high quirk factor. Mundane items become extraordinary with unexpected twists—a water-powered alarm clock, a coffee mug sporting a mustache. The jewelry case stocks pieces composed of safety pins, rubber bands and LED lights. A teddy bear doubles as a lamp base. The eclectic selection makes one-stop holiday shopping a breeze. 220 E Chicago Ave (312-397-4000, mcachicagostore.org).—Jessica Herman Other nominees The Modern Shop, Museum of Science and Industry, Spertus Shop, Swedish American Museum
11/17
BEST PET ACCESSORIES BARKER & MEOWSKY Most pet stores have twee, punny names. This self-proclaimed “paw firm” just might take the cake. Having a clever name is only part of Barker & Meowsky’s charm, though. Shoppers (and their pets) flock to this Lincoln Park meow-tpost for its selection of carriers, bowls, leashes, squeaky things and more. And it’s not just about your four-legged friends here. Obsessive humans also can load up on a variety of pet-themed accessories—art, T-shirts and jewelry—at the woof-tique. Okay, we’ll stop now. 1003 W Armitage Ave (773-868-0200, barkerandmeowsky.com).—Kevin Aeh Other nominees Dog-a-holics, 4 Legs, Ruff Haus, Sam & Willy’s
12/17
BEST STATIONERY SHOP PAPER DOLL Who says letter writing is a lost art? Certainly not the people who cast (okay, electronic) ballots for this quirky greetings and gift shop. In addition to witty cards by lines such as Snow & Graham, Hello Lucky and La Familia Green, the Wicker Park boutique stocks artist-designed T-shirts, journals, scented candles and customized wedding stationery. Give condolences to Maude, the house pug that narrowly lost our Best Store Mascot trophy. 2048 W Division St (773-227-6950, paperdollchicago.com).—Kevin Aeh Other nominees Foursided, Greer, Hazel, Orange Beautiful
13/17
BEST COOKING STORE THE CHOPPING BLOCK No offense to Paula Deen, but there are only so many recipes and techniques you can learn by watching the Food Network. That’s why epicurious Chicagoans craving hands-on experience sign up in droves for classes at the Chopping Block. The popular supplier of professional cookware and gourmet ingredients has an expert staff and a cornucopia of culinary classes. Students flock to the Lincoln Square and Merchandise Mart locations for daily, single-lesson crash courses in knife skills and more dish-specific education, such as Chicken 101, Steakhouse DIY and Cupcake Boot Camp. Home chefs stop in for items such as microplane graters ($13), dough scrapers ($6) and Le Creuset French ovens ($185). 4747 N Lincoln Ave (773-472-6700, thechoppingblock.net); Merchandise Mart Plaza, suite 107 (312-644-6360).—Kevin Aeh Other nominees Cooking Fools, Northwestern Cutlery, Woks ‘n’ Things, Wooden Spoon
14/17
BEST SHOE STORE LORI’S SHOES Shoppers with a weakness for footwear find Lori’s either a blessing or a curse—depending on the status of their bank account. The Lincoln Park emporium (there are two suburban locations in Highland Park and Northfield) stuffs a sizable space with American and European designer shoes, all marked 10 percent to 30 percent less than department-store prices. The selection includes everything from classics to trendy brands such as Jeffrey Campbell, Corso Como and Boutique 9, not to mention dozens of Italian exclusives. Better yet, you’d be hard pressed to find a physical shoe shop with a more complete e-commerce site, replete with weekly blog posts to keep you informed on the latest fashions. 824 W Armitage Ave (773-281-5655, lorisshoes.com).—Jessica Herman Other nominees Akira (State Street), City Soles/Niche, House of Sole, St. Alfred
15/17
BEST RUNNERS’ STORE FLEET FEET Runners can be as fanatical about their specialty stores as they are about the activity itself. Fleet Feet’s following is no exception. Not only does the spacious shop stock shoes by a multitude of brands—from adidas to Saucony—as well as fashionable athletic wear and handy accessories, the employees are erudite and eager to please. Geek out and analyze your gait and ground impact on the high-tech treadmill to see what type of shoe best suits you. Plus, this store is all about fostering a runners’ community. Every week it offers three free fun runs, and free seminars covering topics such as proper jogging form take place throughout the month. 1620 N Wells St (312-587-3338, fleetfeetchicago.com); 4555 N Lincoln Ave (773-271-3338).—Jessica Herman Other nominees Murphy’s Fit, Runner’s Edge, Running Away, Universal Sole
16/17
BEST DESIGNER AND CHAIN-STORE COLLABORATION JIMMY CHOO AND H&M What happens when a super-high-end designer who makes super-high stilettos teams up with an affordable megastore? Shoe fetishists line up around the block. Although designer collabs are nothing new for H&M—frenzied shoppers have flocked to the Swedish chain in the past for limited-edition threads by Matthew Williamson and Viktor & Rolf—this Fall 2009 collection stood out as it focused mostly on footwear, 12 pairs to be exact, ranging from $70 to $300. Choo’s regular collection sets suckers back $400 to $1,000. 22 N State St (312-263-4436, hm.com); 840 N Michigan Ave (312-640-0060).—Kevin Aeh Other nominees Alice & Olivia and Payless, Stella McCartney and Gap Kids, Rachel Roy and Macy’s, Matthew Williamson and H&M
17/17
BEST RECORD STORE RECKLESS RECORDS A few new record shops have recently opened in the city (take that, iTunes!), but this mainstay still wins over voters. Within the three locations in Wicker Park, Lakeview and the Loop, shoppers can spend hours flipping through thick bins of new and used CDs and LPs of nearly every genre. (Sorry, classical heads, you’re just generally S.O.L. these days.) The branches also boast a variety of used DVDs and, keeping with the trends, cassettes. In fact, now that we think about it, there’s nothing particularly reckless about this place. 26 E Madison St (312-795-0878, reckless.com); 1532 N Milwaukee Ave (773-235-3727); 3126 N Broadway (773-404-5080).—Kevin Aeh Other nominees Dusty Groove, Gramaphone, Laurie’s Planet of Sound, Permanent
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