The Baltimore Sun’s readers have voted on what’s the best in the region from antiques to urgent care. This year’s winners include people and businesses recognized for outstanding service and customer satisfaction over the last year. Several businesses stood out from the crowd despite the downturn in commerce due to the pandemic.
Winners of the Readers’ Choice ballot were selected by readers in May.
For more categories, go to baltimoresun.com/best.
Atomic Books, the quirky indie bookstore in Hampden now in its 29th year, might have more personality per square inch than any other shop in Maryland devoted to the celebration of the written word.
What other store has an entire section of books about tattoos and another called “Books for Strange Children”? Where else are can you pick up, “How to Talk to Your Cat About Gun Safety” a manual purportedly put out by the American Association of Patriots (aka Zachary Auburn)?
Who, other than Atomic Books, collects fan mail for John Waters at the cult filmmaker’s request?
“Our motto,” co-owner Benn Ray says, is “literary finds for mutated minds.”
Atomic Books was founded by Scott Huffines in 1992, two years before Amazon.com was established. Over the years, Atomic Books developed a loyal following by providing a vast selection of titles about underground arts and culture that the mainstream bookstores didn’t carry.
“I love it when people come in the store,” Ray said, “and they see something that makes them gasp or laugh.”
By 2000, Huffines was ready to get out of the business. Instead of shutting the shop, he sold Atomic Books to two longtime customers: Ray and his partner, Rachel Whang.
“We just didn’t want to live in a city that didn’t have an Atomic Books in it,” Ray said.
Atomic Books doesn’t have a coffee shop. But, it has a bar serving craft beer, wine, ciders and meads. (During the pandemic, it’s carryout only.) The store hosts special events such as a recent Cicada Festival. And since its early days, Atomic Books has collected fan mail for one of its long-standing customers.
“John Waters likes getting letters from fans, but he doesn’t like people knowing where he lives,” Ray said. “So he asked if we would collect his mail for him.”
When Waters is in town, he stops by the bookshop to pick up his mail and sign copies of his books. Last summer, he obligingly modeled two face masks the bookstore was selling: one nice and one disgusting. The nice mask reproduced the lower half of Waters’ face, albeit in pink. The other mask was marketed as “The John Waters Filthy Roach Face Mask.”
“This arrangement works out well for us both,” Ray said. “I don’t know why more famous people don’t have a similar relationship with their local bookseller.” — Mary Carole McCauley
Atomic Books, 3620 Falls Road, is open daily from noon-6 p.m. 410-662-4444. atomicbooks.com
Antiques: Second Chance Inc.
The Parisian Flea
Adorn Vintage Furniture & Designs
Barbershop: The Old Bank Barbers
Brian Bunce Barbers
Barre class: Inline Barre
Cardio Barre at Empowered Fitness
Bicycle shop: Joe’s Bike Shop
Baltimore Bicycle Works
Bookstore: Atomic Books
Braiding: TheZe HandZ Braiding Studio
Bridal shop: K & B Bridals
Betsy Robinson’s Bridal
Brow threading: Kruti’s Threading & Hair Salon
Car dealership: Jimmy the Boxer Auto Mall (tie)
Koons Ford of Baltimore (tie)
Heritage Honda Parkville
Children’s clothing: The Pied Piper
Clothing boutique: HLK Custom Clothing
Fells Point Surf Co.
Consignment/resale shop: Second Chance Inc.
Turnover Shop Inc.
Clearing House Ltd.
Changed My Mind Vintage
Day spa: Brightwater the Spa at Skin Care Institute
Spa in the Valley
The Loft — brow|lash|skin
Gifts: Chase Street Accessories & Engraving
Mount Royal Soaps
In Watermelon Sugar
Best Day Ever
Grocery store: Trinacria (tie)
Eddie’s of Roland Park
Mom’s Organic Market
Gym: Merritt Clubs
Hair salon: Full Bloom Hair Studio
Scene North Salon
NV Salon Collective
Jordan Thomas Salon & Spa
Health food/supplement store: Nature’s Pantry
Jeweler: Faye Daniel Designs Bridal Jewelry & Accessories
Nelson Coleman Jewelers
Liquor store: The Wine Source
Total Wine & More
Wells Discount Liquors
Friendship Wine & Liquor
Martial arts classes: Foundation Jiu-Jitsu
Medispa: LifeMed Institute
Mercy Medi Spa
Chesapeake Skin Solutions (tie)
Meridiem DermSpa (tie)
Menswear: HLK Custom Clothing
Christopher Schafer Clothier
JS Edwards Ltd.
Music lessons: Baltimore School of Music
School of Rock
The Music Space
Pet goods store: Howl
The Mill of Bel Air
Pet Depot Inc. (tie)
Pool: Padonia Park Club
Glyndon Swim Club
Retirement community: Broadmead
Roland Park Place
Pickersgill Retirement Community
Charlestown Senior Living Community (tie)
Erickson Senior Living (tie)
Shoe store: Holabird Sports
Poppy & Stella
Van Dyke & Bacon Shoes
Spin class: Jewish Community Center of Greater Baltimore
Thrift store: Second Chance Inc.
Goodwill Retail Store and Donation Center
Virtual classes: AppTrainer Fitness
Johns Hopkins Odyssey Program
Bykota Senior Center
Yoga studio: BreakAway Yoga Studio
4 Warriors Yoga