Baltimore Sun’s Best: Readers’ Choice 2021 lifestyle & shopping destinations

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.

William Wesley, 10, of Baltimore, visits Atomic Books in Hampden for the first time. Atomic Books was named The Baltimore Sun's Best: Readers' Choice 2021 winner for best bookstore.
William Wesley, 10, of Baltimore, visits Atomic Books in Hampden for the first time. Atomic Books was named The Baltimore Sun's Best: Readers' Choice 2021 winner for best bookstore. (Kenneth K. Lam)

Best bookstore

Atomic Books


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

Best 2021

Antiques: Second Chance Inc.

Honorable mentions:

The Parisian Flea

Wishbone Reserve

Adorn Vintage Furniture & Designs

Barbershop: The Old Bank Barbers

Honorable mentions:

The QG

Brian Bunce Barbers

Sam’s Barber

Barre class: Inline Barre

Honorable mention:

Cardio Barre at Empowered Fitness

Bicycle shop: Joe’s Bike Shop

Honorable mentions:

Baltimore Bicycle Works

Bicycle Connection

Bookstore: Atomic Books

Honorable mentions:

Greedy Reads

Ivy Bookshop

Red Emma’s

Braiding: TheZe HandZ Braiding Studio

Bridal shop: K & B Bridals

Honorable mention:

Betsy Robinson’s Bridal

Brow threading: Kruti’s Threading & Hair Salon

Car dealership: Jimmy the Boxer Auto Mall (tie)

Koons Ford of Baltimore (tie)

Honorable mentions:

Heritage Honda Parkville

Jerry’s Toyota

Children’s clothing: The Pied Piper

Honorable mention:

Urban Outlet

Clothing boutique: HLK Custom Clothing

Honorable mentions:

Fells Point Surf Co.

Tiger Lily


Consignment/resale shop: Second Chance Inc.

Honorable mentions:

Turnover Shop Inc.

Clearing House Ltd.

Changed My Mind Vintage

Day spa: Brightwater the Spa at Skin Care Institute

Honorable mentions:

Spa in the Valley

About Faces

The Loft — brow|lash|skin

Gifts: Chase Street Accessories & Engraving

Honorable mentions:

Mount Royal Soaps

In Watermelon Sugar

Best Day Ever

Grocery store: Trinacria (tie)

Wegmans (tie)

Honorable mentions:

Eddie’s of Roland Park

Mom’s Organic Market

Gym: Merritt Clubs

Honorable mentions:

F45 Training

Empowered Fitness

Brick Bodies

Hair salon: Full Bloom Hair Studio

Honorable mentions:

Scene North Salon

NV Salon Collective

Jordan Thomas Salon & Spa

Health food/supplement store: Nature’s Pantry

Honorable mention:


Jeweler: Faye Daniel Designs Bridal Jewelry & Accessories

Honorable mentions:

Radcliffe Jewelers

Nelson Coleman Jewelers

Tigerlillyshop Jewelry

Liquor store: The Wine Source

Honorable mentions:

Total Wine & More

Wells Discount Liquors

Friendship Wine & Liquor

Martial arts classes: Foundation Jiu-Jitsu

Medispa: LifeMed Institute

Honorable mentions:

ProMD Health

Mercy Medi Spa

Chesapeake Skin Solutions (tie)

Meridiem DermSpa (tie)

Menswear: HLK Custom Clothing

Honorable mentions:

Christopher Schafer Clothier

JS Edwards Ltd.

Music lessons: Baltimore School of Music

Honorable mentions:

School of Rock

Music Land

The Music Space

Pet goods store: Howl

Honorable mentions:

The Mill of Bel Air

Mutt Mart

Pet Depot Inc. (tie)

Petco (tie)

Pool: Padonia Park Club

Honorable mentions:

Glyndon Swim Club

Columbia Association

Retirement community: Broadmead

Honorable mentions:

Roland Park Place

Pickersgill Retirement Community

Charlestown Senior Living Community (tie)

Erickson Senior Living (tie)

Shoe store: Holabird Sports

Honorable mentions:

Poppy & Stella

Van Dyke & Bacon Shoes

Spin class: Jewish Community Center of Greater Baltimore

Thrift store: Second Chance Inc.

Honorable mention:

Goodwill Retail Store and Donation Center

Virtual classes: AppTrainer Fitness

Honorable mentions:

Johns Hopkins Odyssey Program

Empowered Fitness

Bykota Senior Center

Yoga studio: BreakAway Yoga Studio

Honorable mentions:

Aluma Yoga

4 Warriors Yoga

CorePower Yoga

Recommended on Baltimore Sun