The Baltimore Sun’s readers and staff scoured the region for the best places to shop and enjoy life, from antiques to yoga studios.
First, you’ll find critics’ picks from The Sun’s editorial team — who we recommend and why.
The Baltimore Sun will celebrate the winners with a party at the Assembly Room on May 9. Visit baltimoresunevents.com/best for more details.
Here’s who came out on top in 2019:
Friends Ryan Haase, Julie Lilienfeld and Athena Hoffberger bring you this unique concept where you can find everything from 125-year-old rugs to highball glasses and taxidermy. Because of Haase’s connections as head of Stillpointe Theatre in Baltimore, customers can buy or rent pieces from his past productions.
3811 Falls Road, Hampden. 443-961-3376. wishbonereserve.com
Aqua Boot Camp at Brick Bodies Padonia
In his heart, Mike Raley is 13-years-old. He brings a middle schooler’s energy and playfulness to the Aqua Boot Camp he teaches twice weekly at Brick Bodies’ Padonia gym.
Participants never know what each pool class will bring. Upside-down orange traffic cones filled with water and hoisted overhead? “Jumping rope” with unwieldy foam noodles? A water “fight” between classmates wielding blue foam barbells, with Raley joyfully egging on both sides?
Sessions feel like play. But afterword participants are tired and hungry, and the next day their arms, legs and abs are often sore.
Raley’s favorite catch phrase, bellowed at the top of his lungs, is “boot camp minute.” It means he “forgot” to notice what time a particular exercise began and it will last until he’s ready to stop — always well past the designated 60-second mark.
During the six years he’s taught the class, Raley, 45, has developed a following. On busy nights, more than 30 men and women, representing all ages and body types, will crowd the water. Regulars recently chipped in to buy their instructor a small thank-you gift which included a set of felt antlers.
That’s their way of saying they think he’s a deer.
2430 Broad Ave., Padonia. 410-252-5280. brickbodies.com/our-locations/padonia
For the past 13 years, Mia Antalics has given brides a welcoming, fashionable experience, nine of them within the comforts of her sleek Ruxton Station boutique.
Brides magazine thought so when it named Garnish Boutique one of the 50 best bridal destinations in the country in 2016. The shop’s online reviews are stellar, and its rooster of designers — from Hayley Paige to Romona Keveza — are among the most fashionable in the industry.
Antalics attributes her success to her hands-on approach. She’s responsible for all the buying and it’s a rarity that she isn’t working in the business.
“I don’t ever plan to change my model,” she said.
One of the best things Antalics did, she said, was expand her boutique in 2014 from 1,000 square feet to 1,800 square-feet, working with Stephanie Gamble Interiors to create a clean, ethereal and spacious layout that makes for ideal interactions with customers.
“The layout is still one that allows for an individual, intimate feel. You do not feel that you are with another group. You have your own space,” Antalics said.
1515 LaBelle Ave., Suite 3, Ruxton. 410-321-1406. garnishboutique.com
Grocery store chain
After Wegmans Food Markets’ first Maryland store opened in 2005, a Baltimore Sun staffer remarked, “I wish I could move in.” Why not? Wegmans offers a vast array of foods, low prices and employees who know where products are located. Plus, the chain ranked third on Forbes’ 2017 list of the 100 best companies to work for.
122 Shawan Road, Hunt Valley, and seven other stores in Maryland. 410-773-3900. wegmans.com
A Likely Story
Debbie Scheller, owner of “A Likely Story” bookstore, lavishes as much attention on young bookworms as she does on grownups with wallets. “My wife and daughters spend hours there talking passionately about books and authors for all ages,” one patron wrote on Facebook. A Likely Story was among five finalists nationwide for 2019 Publishers Weekly Bookstore of the Year.
7566 Main St. #113, Sykesville. 410-795-1718. sykesvillebooks.com
It’s easy to miss this liquor store tucked into the Turf Valley Towne Square shopping center. But that’s a major oversight. In addition to an array of wines and spirits, the store claims one of the largest selections of whiskey in the state. Its numerous tastings and events set the store above the rest, and the helpful staff makes for a pleasant buying experience. Don’t miss the store’s unexpected offering of fine chocolates.
11079 Resort Road, Ellicott City. 410-750-0562. petitecellars.com
Center for Cosmetic Surgery & MediSpa
For 30 years, the husband-and-wife team Dr. Dean Kane and Lauri Kane have provided the latest medispa services, from MicroNeedling (a procedure that inserts very fine short needles into the skin to treat acne scars and other imperfections) to CoolSculpting (a non-surgical contouring procedure where fat is frozen). And they tout their ability to serve multi-ethnic patients. In addition to providing testimonials by Spanish-speaking patients and offering a blog in Spanish, their website showcases an array of patients of all skin tones.
Center for Cosmetic Surgery & MediSpa, 1 Reservoir Circle, Pikesville. 410-602-3322. drdeankane.com
Green Spring Station has long been known for its women’s fashion boutiques. But Maledetti Toscani is changing that with its fine leather shoes for men. This boutique started as a fall pop-up in 2016, but an overwhelming response from customers resulted in a permanent store for the Italian-made leather goods company.
The company started in Europe in 1848 and has expanded to 20 stores all over Italy, the Netherlands, Canada and the United States.
In addition to shoes, wallets and jackets, the store also carries coats, travel bags and more. All products are free from chemicals. (They use a vegetable tanning process.)
All the products are made in Italy by local craftsmen and artisans. And while that makes the products expensive — riding loafers start at $276 and motorcycle boots sell for $540 — they are well-made and look opulent.
“Leather soles have disappeared,” said the company’s manager, Barry Braverman. “Most companies use rubber bottoms. Our leather soles will literally fold in your hands. It’s flexible. People become addicted to the comfort of our shoes.”
Another reason the shoes resonate: they’re classic.
“They looked good 10 years ago, and they’ll look good now,” Braverman said.
10803 Falls Road, Lutherville-Timonium. 410-847-4111. maledettitoscaniusa.com
Pet goods store
“If it’s available in a grocery store, then we don’t have it,” said Larry Watts, manager of the store serving Hampden for 15 years. Its nutrition-rich pet foods resonate with upscale pet owners; likewise, the knowledgeable staff and even Beauregard, the house tabby who’ll ask for a head scratch on your way out.
3531 Chestnut Ave., Hampden. 410-235-2469. howlinhampden.com
The sprawling 285-acre farm in Howard County boasts 20 types of fruits and vegetables ripe for the picking from May to November. Strawberries kick things off in spring; apples polish them off in fall. For the less adventurous, there’s a market filled with fresh produce, and hayrides for the kids, come autumn.
2415 Woodbine Road, Woodbine. 410-442-2605. pickyourown.com
San Martin Drive
This three-to-five-minute wooded drive through the Johns Hopkins University campus allows motorists to avoid congested Charles Street and is a serene spot that leaves commuters feeling refreshed. There are no stoplights and few stop signs, but the winding road slows traffic. Drivers can focus instead on cloud colors or birds in flight.
San Martin Drive between University Parkway and Howard Street
Lotte Plaza Market
Since 1999, the 40,000-square-foot Asian grocer has attracted customers with its mix of fresh produce, low prices and market-style atmosphere. It also has served as an anchor for a slew of Asian restaurants and business along U.S. 40. It’s loaded with cooking sauces, seasonings, condiments and other specialty items — ranging from teas to noodles and rice cakes — from North and South Korea, Japan, Vietnam, the Philippines, China and Thailand.
8801 Baltimore National Pike, Ellicott City. 410-750-9656. lotteplaza.com
Second Chance Inc.
The 200,000-square-foot one-stop shop features furniture, art, building supplies and gifts at competitive prices. The second-hand store, opened in 2001, is dedicated to sustainability and also serves a job-training center for residents, which should make you feel extra good about your thrifting.
1700 Ridgely St. 410-385-1700. secondchanceinc.org
Ruth Shaw Inc.
The head-turning windows of Ruth Shaw Inc. haven't missed a beat since the business moved from Cross Keys to Kenilworth in fall 2017. The boutique, which specializes in high-end designer women’s wear, has a knack for artistically displaying the latest designs, reminiscent of major department stores in New York City. The sleek mannequins are always draped in the most fashion-forward threads from the latest collections.
800 Kenilworth Drive, suite 852, Towson. 410-532-7886. ruthshawinc.com
—Mike Klingaman, Mary Carole McCauley and John-John Williams IV
Readers’ choice winners
Active adult community
Oak Crest Retirement Community
Joe's Bike Shop
Rhea Eyebrow Threading
Function Coworking Community
Headlines Hair Salon
Health food/supplement store
Mom's Organic Market
Medical marijuana dispensary
Mobile store/fashion truck
Mint + Major
Roland Park Place
Rev Cycle Studio
BreakAway Yoga Studio