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Best of Harford County 2021

Best of Harford

From the bustle of Bel Air to the Havre de Grace boardwalk to the rolling hills of farm country, Harford County is filled with passionate people and business owners striving to make the community a better place to live.

Here we celebrate businesses, organizations and people that are the best at what they do.

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Compiled by Mike Klingaman and Mary Carole McCauley

Out & About

Annual festival/event

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Winner: Bel Air Festival for the Arts

Honorable mentions:

BBQ Bash

First Fridays

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St. Margaret Fall Festival

Art studio/gallery

Winner: Amazing Glaze

Honorable mentions:

Made Me Mine

Aroma Candle Studio

Board and Brush Forest Hill

Animal Care Technician Maria Ayers with Birdie the gray kitten at the Humane Society of Harford County which was voted the best "charity/nonprofit."
Animal Care Technician Maria Ayers with Birdie the gray kitten at the Humane Society of Harford County which was voted the best "charity/nonprofit." (Kenneth K. Lam)

Charity/nonprofit

Winner: The Humane Society of Harford County

2208 Connolly Road, Fallston, 410-836-1090, harfordshelter.org.

The brown-black-and-white kitten was 3 months old and already on the second of his nine lives. Because of a birth defect, Tabby was born with a concave chest cavity.

“A local family had a teenage son with the same condition, and they heard about the kitten through social media,” said Erin Long, marketing coordinator for the Humane Society of Harford County.

“The mother called us and said, ‘My son would love to have a cat who is dealing with the same condition that he is.’ ”

Chalk up another pet adoption for the Humane Society, which this year celebrates its 75th anniversary.

For the fifth year in a row, 90% of the 2,715 animals that entered the Fallston shelter in 2020 were moved to different places. (That includes 982 cats, 558 dogs and 1,175 birds, fish, and farmyard animals.)

“Either the animals were adopted, their owners reclaimed them or they went to another rescue organization,” Long said. “We’re really proud of that.”

Honorable mentions:

Sexual Assault/Spouse Abuse Resource Center (SARC)

Harford Family House

Best Friends in Harford County

Kids activity

Winner: Annie’s Playground

Honorable mentions:

Amazing Glaze

Harford County Public Library, Bel Air Children’s Area

The Arena Club

Museum

Winner: Eden Mill Nature Center

Honorable mentions:

Steppingstone Farm Museum

Havre de Grace Decoy Museum

The Historical Society of Harford County

Park/outdoor spot

Winner: Ma & Pa Heritage Trail

Honorable mentions:

Susquehanna State Park

Annie’s Playground

Bear Legacy Adventure Trail

Private school

Winner: The John Carroll School

Honorable mentions:

St. Margaret School

Harford Day School

The Highlands School

Rainy-day activity

Winner: Horizon Cinemas Fallston

Honorable mentions:

Forest Hill Lanes

Amazing Glaze

The Arena Club

Special events venue

Winner: Hopkins Farm Brewery

Honorable mentions:

The Liriodendron Mansion

Rockfield Manor

Water’s Edge Events Center LLC

Food & Drink

Beer, wine and/or liquor store

Winner: Ronnie’s Beverage Warehouse

Honorable mentions:

Wine World Beer & Spirits

Bel Air Liquors

Friendship Wine & Liquor

Italo Liberatore, left, owner of Liberatore's Ristorante & Catering, holds an entree of Frutta di Mare, and Sheree Freund, catering manager, displays a combination cheese and antipasto board, among other offerings for catered events at their Bel Air location.
Italo Liberatore, left, owner of Liberatore's Ristorante & Catering, holds an entree of Frutta di Mare, and Sheree Freund, catering manager, displays a combination cheese and antipasto board, among other offerings for catered events at their Bel Air location. (Amy Davis / Baltimore Sun)

Caterer

Winner: Liberatore’s Ristorante & Catering

562 Baltimore Pike, Bel Air, 410-838-9100, liberatores.com

Growing up in Highlandtown, Italo Liberatore relished Sunday dinners.

“Mom made soups, sauces and homemade pasta for the family,” he says. “I remember good food, good friends and laughter — and that’s what we aim for here.”

At Liberatore’s in Bel Air, diners savor the chicken Marsala, shrimp fra diavolo and veal saltimbocca; the cream of crab soup, lollipop lamb chops and shrimp risotto cakes. And though catering orders are down during the pandemic, hopeful patrons are locking in dates for gatherings this fall.

There are five Liberatore’s restaurants in all, one each owned by Italo, 62, and his three brothers, Pino (Westminster), John (Timonium) and Dante (Eldersburg). The fifth, in Perry Hall, is run by a family friend. All four siblings entered the business “from the bottom up, washing dishes in restaurants in Little Italy” early on, Italo says. Now each works to be the best.

“We are very competitive, but in a constructive way. We try to outdo each other,” he says. “If Dante makes something good, then I will try to do it better. That competition has made us what we are today.”

Honorable mentions:

Sunny Day Cafe

Pairings Bistro

Basta Pasta

Farmers market/stand

Winner: Bel Air Farmers Market

Honorable mentions:

Brad’s Farm Market

Harman’s Farm Market

Havre de Grace Farmers Market

Grocery store

Winner: Wegmans

Honorable mentions:

ShopRite

Aldi

Sprouts Farmers Market

Vineyard/winery

Winner: Harford Vineyard & Winery

Honorable mentions:

Fiore Winery & Distillery

Mount Felix Vineyard & Winery

Jennifer Jennings-Janson, owner of The Painted Mill. The market is open three days a month and is a Best of Harford winner in the shopping category.
Jennifer Jennings-Janson, owner of The Painted Mill. The market is open three days a month and is a Best of Harford winner in the shopping category. (Kim Hairston/Baltimore Sun)

Shopping

Antiques

Winner: The Painted Mill

1119 Main St., Fallston, 410-981-3181, thepaintedmill.com

Jennifer Jennings-Janson puts old things together with new ones. She’ll pair a Victorian chandelier with a chipped flagpole, or top a tulle petticoat with a bolero made from pine cones and see what kinds of conversations that starts.

The Painted Mill, founded in 2014 and operating in a 140-year-old former feed warehouse, is a store like no other.

Jennings-Janson thinks of what she does as “choreography.” She aims to create an atmosphere shared by all 27 vendors that extends beyond the walls of the 8,000-square-foot establishment.

Shoppers browse while listening to French music. Sometimes, there’s a food truck outside, but shoppers can have dessert first, thanks to baker Patrice Hooper’s delectable cookies and brownies.

“You fall in love with her food the minute you take your first bite,” Jennings-Janson said.

From one month to the next, the store changes completely. The store is open for just one three-day weekend a month. Each weekend is organized around a theme and has its own targeted merchandise, so even longtime clients never know what they’ll find.

“I have a following,” Jennings-Jansen said. “A lot of my customers come back each month.”

Honorable mentions:

Belle Patri

Seneca Cannery Antiques

JoRetro

Bridal

Winner: K&B Bridals

Honorable mention:

Edel’s Bridal Boutique

Car dealership

Winner: Jones Junction

Honorable mentions:

Boyle Buick GMC

Thompson Toyota Automotive

Heritage Honda Bel Air

Clothing boutique

Winner: Stalefish Board Co.

Honorable mentions:

Tiger Lily

Boutique 44

A Taste of the Teal Antler

Consignment shop/resale shop

Winner: Belle Patri

Honorable mentions:

Kid to Kid

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Uptown Cheapskate

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Aberdeen ReStore

Furniture store

Winner: Farmhouse on Main

Honorable mentions:

Belle Patri

Simply Grande

Ashley HomeStore

Gift shop

Winner: The Nest on Main

Honorable mentions:

Full Heart Soul-utions

The Mill of Bel Air

Cracker Barrel Old Country Store

Jeweler

Winner: Saxon’s Diamond Centers

Honorable mentions:

F&L Jewelers

Faye Daniel Designs

Kay Jewelers

Home

Flooring and carpeting

Winner: Bel Air Carpet

Honorable mentions:

Carpets by Denny Lee

Top Notch Flooring America

The Tile Shop

Garden center/nursery

Winner: The Mill of Bel Air

Honorable mentions:

Griers Nursery & Greenhouses

Kroh’s Nursery

Fritz Farm & Nursery

Home improvement contractor

Winner: Tar Heel Construction Group, LLC

Honorable mentions:

Carl’s Door Service

G J Goss Contracting

Lynch Design | Build

Homebuilder

Winner: Bob Ward Companies

Honorable mentions:

Huskins Builders

Gemcraft Homes

Pinnacle Design

Beth Derickson, from left, owner of Cornerstone Cleaning is pictured with her crew Michelle Favorite, Summer Abbott and Sharon Keane.
Beth Derickson, from left, owner of Cornerstone Cleaning is pictured with her crew Michelle Favorite, Summer Abbott and Sharon Keane. (Kenneth K. Lam)

Housecleaning service

Winner: Cornerstone Cleaning

2813A Bel Air Road, Fallston, Suite 200, 443-895-1915, cornerstonecleaningco.com.

Beth Derickson was 3 years old when she got her first broom. Little did she know that she was about to find her calling.

“I grew up cleaning, and I’ve always enjoyed it,” said Derickson, president and CEO of Cornerstone Cleaning in Fallston.

“My parents and grandmother were always cleaning. My grandmother had a routine: Monday was laundry day, Tuesday she dusted, Wednesday was for vacuuming and so on.”

After graduating from college, Derickson followed a corporate career path. But by 2010, she was feeling burned out. She wanted to leave the financial investment firm where she worked as a project manager, but didn’t know what to do instead.

“My husband told me, ‘You’re happiest when you’re cleaning. Why don’t you do that?’ ” she said. “A light bulb went off in my head.”

Initially, Derickson worked out of her home. Now in business for 10 years, she has an office in Fallston and seven employees.

“When you leave at the end of the day, and the home or office that you’ve been cleaning is pristine, you can see that you’ve made a difference,” she said.

Honorable mentions:

Merry Maids, Bel Air

The Clean Castle, LLC

Interior designer/decorator

Winner: Simply Grande Home Furnishings & Simply Grande Interiors

Honorable mention:

Bernadette Drew Interiors

Landscaper

Winner: Lawnscape

Honorable mentions:

StoneRidge Lawn & Landscaping

Turf Connection

T.A.P.’s Landscaping

Plumber

Winner: PlumbCrazy

Honorable mention:

Emerson’s Plumbing & Heating

Roofing

Winner: Tar Heel Construction Group LLC

Honorable mentions:

TSW Roofing Solutions

American Design and Build

Aberdeen Roofing Co.

Recreation

Dance lessons

Winner: Supernova Dance Co.

Honorable mentions:

The Rage Box

Dance Conservatory of Maryland

Dance With Me School of Dance

Golf course

Winner: Geneva Farm Golf Course

Honorable mentions:

Maryland Golf & Country Club

Mountain Branch

Bulle Rock Golf Course

Gym/fitness center

Winner: The Arena Club

Honorable mentions:

#getINLINE | a barre studio

Bel Air Athletic Club

Snap Fitness Fallston

C.J. Chang helps one of his students, Lily Smith, 7, adjust her yellow belt. Chang, who runs U.S. Taekwondo Academy in Bel Air, teaches a reduced capacity course with additional safety measures due to the coronavirus pandemic.
C.J. Chang helps one of his students, Lily Smith, 7, adjust her yellow belt. Chang, who runs U.S. Taekwondo Academy in Bel Air, teaches a reduced capacity course with additional safety measures due to the coronavirus pandemic. (Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Sun)

Martial arts classes

Winner: U.S. Taekwondo Academy

109-A N. Main St., Bel Air, 443-243-4124

1301 E. Churchville Road, Bel Air, 443-243-4123, ustachang.com

From the start, grand master C.J. Chang levels with his grasshoppers.

“I tell new students, ‘This is not a seasonal sport; it’s a lifestyle,’ says Chang, 39. “Kids want to learn the kicking and punching that they’ve seen on ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,’ but [taekwondo] is so much more than self-defense. It’s the philosophy of living well.”

That tenet resonates with his 150 masked students, mostly youngsters ages 5 to 15.

“From Day One, we build them to become leaders,” says Chang, a sixth-degree black belt and former national champion. His family’s school, founded 40 years ago by his father, has produced “several hundred” national age-group titlists, male and female. It includes a travel team, which, before the pandemic, competed in more than a dozen state, regional and national tournaments a year.

The youngest student is 2 1/2 years old; the oldest, 63. Many have sought his tutelage for as long as five years. Some have talked their parents into joining up.

Says Chang, “All of them learn how to ‘earn their pillow’ every night.”

Come again?

“Work hard and give 110% in all you do so that when you go to bed, you pass out because you have earned that right.”

Honorable mentions:

Chung’s Martial Arts

Ninja Abingdon Martial Arts

Music lessons

Winner: Music Land

Honorable mentions:

Music & Arts

Jim Bowley Guitar Instruction

Swim club

Winner: The Arena Club

Honorable mentions:

Fallston Swim and Tennis Club Inc.

Bel Air Athletic Club

Rock Spring Swim Club Inc.

Yoga classes

Winner: True Yoga

Honorable mentions:

Yoga Centric

Love Evolution Studio

The Arena Club

Lauren Moseley, owner of Salt Works Spa, arranges lounge chairs in the Spa's Salt Room, which features Himalayan salt blocks that are believed to be 250 million years old.
Lauren Moseley, owner of Salt Works Spa, arranges lounge chairs in the Spa's Salt Room, which features Himalayan salt blocks that are believed to be 250 million years old. (Barbara Haddock Taylor)

Health & Wellness

Alternative wellness center

Winner: Salt Works Spa

201 Gateway Drive, Suites J&K, Bel Air, 443-819-3398, saltworksspa.com

Salt Works Spa is as close as most of will come in the midwinter to spending a day at a beach resort.

Under customers’ bare feet crunches something that looks and feels a lot like sand, but in reality is 250-million-year-old pharmaceutical salt. Beach-style reclining loungers beckon customers to sit, and the room’s walls are lined with Himalayan salt blocks.

Wafting through the therapy room is the distinctive smell of salty air. Close your eyes, and you’d swear you could hear seagulls.

Ambience aside, owner Lauren Moseley says salt therapy will do wonders for customers’ health. A machine known as a “halogenerator” heats the salt, micronizes it into a dry aerosol and disperses it through the air.

“Salt is naturally anti-bacterial, antiviral and absorbent,” she said. “It’s like a toothbrush and sponge for your whole respiratory system. It’s also great for your skin.”

Though the salt therapy is the marquee attraction, the spa also offers such traditional services as massages, a physiotherapy table, a sauna and acupuncture.

“We’re a one-stop show for physical and mental wellness and self-care,” Moseley said.

Honorable mentions:

#getINLINE | a barre studio

Lavish Salon & Spa

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Everlasting Fitness

Chiropractor

Winner: Optimal Spine Chiropractic

Honorable mentions:

Evan R. Christman, Premier Chiropractic

Dr. Robert Poane, Dr. Poane’s Chiropractic Office

Chiropractic Care of Bel Air

Day spa

Winner: Spa on the Boulevard

Honorable mentions:

Salt Works Spa

Jordan Thomas Salon & Spa

With Love Beauty Bar & Studios

Dental practice

Winner: Laurel Bush Family Dentistry

Honorable mentions:

Bel Air Smile Partners

David Mergerian, DDS

Aesthetic Family Dentistry of Bel Air

Dispensary

Winner: RISE Dispensaries, Joppa

Honorable mentions:

True Wellness Aberdeen

Four Green Fields, LLC

Rev Canna

Eye care

Winner: Seidenberg Protzko Eye Associates

Honorable mentions:

MyEyeDr.

Wilmer Eye Institute, Bel Air

Advanced Eye Care

Medispa

Winner: Seidenberg Protzko Aesthetics

Honorable mentions:

Dr. Jeffrey Horowitz, MD

Chesapeake Skin Solutions

Bala Aesthetics & Medispa

OB/GYN

Winner: Upper Chesapeake Women’s Care

Honorable mentions:

Susquehanna OB/GYN and Nurse Midwifery

Capital Women’s Care

MedStar Medical Group at Bel Air Medical Campus

Orthodontist

Winner: Dr. Stephen L. Godwin, Bel Air Orthodontics

Honorable mentions:

Dr. Joseph Laponzina, DDS

Laurel Bush Family Dentistry

Amanda Gallagher Orthodontics

Orthopedic

Winner: Towson Orthopedic Associates, Bel Air

Honorable mentions:

John O’Hearn MD, LLC, Susquehanna Orthopedic Associates

Dr. Spiro Antoniades, MD

Pediatric dentist

Winner: Growing Smiles

Honorable mentions:

Bel Air Pediatric Dentistry

Bel Air Smile Partners

Chesapeake Pediatric Dental Group

Pediatric practice

Winner: Pediatric Partners

Honorable mentions:

Bright Oaks Pediatric Center, LLC

Bear Pediatrics, LLC

North Park Pediatrics

Physical therapist

Winner: Agape Physical Therapy and Sports Rehabilitation

Honorable mentions:

Innovative Physical Therapy

Drayer Physical Therapy Institute

Gold Medal Physical Therapy

Urgent care

Winner: Patient First, Bel Air

Honorable mentions:

MedStar Health Urgent Care

ExpressCare Urgent Care Center

ChoiceOne Urgent Care

Personal services

Animal hospital

Winner: Chadwell Animal Hospital

Honorable mentions:

Bel Air Veterinary Hospital

Hickory Veterinary Hospital

Jarrettsville Veterinary Center

Auto repair

Winner: Forest Hill Automotive

Honorable mentions:

Boyle Buick GMC Truck

Buddy’s Auto

Del Haven Services Station

Bank/credit union

Winner: APG Federal Credit Union

Honorable mentions:

Har-co Credit Union

Harford Bank

Freedom Federal Credit Union

Barbershop

Winner: Old Line Barbers

Honorable mentions:

Brian Bunce Barbers

Towne Barbers

Axels Barbershop

Child care

Winner: The Arena Club

Honorable mentions:

The Goddard School of Forest Hill

Stonewall Day Care Center

Forest Hill Nature Preschool & Childcare, LLC

Doggie day care

Winner: Best Friends Fur Ever

Honorable mentions:

Country Comfort Kennels & Camp for Pets

To Wag For: Boutique, Daycare & Grooming

Bow Wag Kennels

Dry cleaner

Winner: Zips Dry Cleaners

Honorable mentions:

Kroh’s Cleaners

Amyclae Cleaners

Tartan Cleaners

Financial adviser

Winner: Harford Financial Group

Honorable mentions:

The Kelly Group

Ryan Townsley, Town Capital

Bryon Knoble, Wells Fargo Advisors

Sandy Riley, owner of Richardson's Flowers and Gifts in Bel Air.
Sandy Riley, owner of Richardson's Flowers and Gifts in Bel Air. (Kenneth K. Lam)

Florist

Winner: Richardson’s Flowers and Gifts

816 S. Main St., Bel Air, 410-838-3883, richardsonsflowersandgifts.com

Sandy Riley and her husband used to own filling stations, but the work left her feeling, well, unfulfilled.

“That’s pretty much a guy’s field,” she says. “I told Bruce, ‘I’d really like to work in a flower shop.’ ”

So the Jarrettsville couple changed gears, sold the pumps and turned to posies. For two decades, they’ve owned Richardson’s Flowers, a Bel Air mainstay for 75 years.

Though Riley called this job more challenging, she and her staff of 20 have heartened local residents with their arrangements marking good times and sad.

“The invitation from our patrons to be part of their celebrations is very precious to us,” says Riley, 60. Her shop has, on occasion, been put to the test. One bride wanted a wedding bouquet of succulents (cactuses, agaves); another wanted one of nothing but greenery (leaves and vines).

Funeral arrangements have included flowers in the shape of a school bus (in honor of a driver), a guitar and a raven (for a football fan).

“It’s the ability to be flexible that helps us stands the test of time,” says Riley.

If there’s a plus to the pandemic, it is the requests she has received from recovered COVID-19 patients to send flowers and fruit baskets to the health care workers who nursed them.

“When a customer calls and says, ’Your flowers blew everyone away,’ well, that’s what keeps us going every day,” she says.

Honorable mentions:

Washday Floral

Amanda’s Florist

Flowers by Lucy

Hair salon

Winner: Jordan Thomas Salon & Spa

Honorable mentions:

Bella Vita Salon

Visage Salon

Hair by Sophia Musto

Pet groomer

Winner: 4 Paws Spa and Training Center

Honorable mentions:

Home Sweet Home Dog Grooming

LaBella Pet Boutique

To Wag For: Boutique, Daycare & Grooming

Real estate agent

Winner: Chris Streett, Streett Hopkins Real Estate

Honorable mentions:

Tim & Michele Langhauser, Compass Home Group

Brendan Butler, Cummings & Co.

Mary Jones Team, BHHS PenFed Realty

Senior Care

Winner: Katherine’s Keepers

Honorable mentions:

Brightview Avondell, Senior Independent & Assisted Living

Senior Transitions

MB Home care

Tattoo parlor

Winner: Flesh Tattoo Co.

Honorable mentions:

Instant History Tattoo & Art Gallery

Dark Arts Tattoo Studio

Tattoo Dynasty

Travel agency

Winner: Marvelous Mouse Travel, Brenda Tackett

Honorable mentions:

Travel Makers

Picture Perfect Travel

Travelworks International, LLC

Personalities

Clergyperson

Winner: Msgr. Kevin Schenning, St. Margaret Parish

Honorable mentions:

Pastor Ben Cachiaras , Mountain Christian Church

Pastor Wade Haskins, Freedom Church, Bel Air

Rev. Matthew DeFusco, St. Margaret School

Elected official

Winner: Tony Giangiordano, county councilman

Honorable mentions:

Jeffrey R. Gahler, sheriff

Barry Glassman, county executive

Erin S. Hughes, Bel Air town commissioner

Jessica Kern, owner of #get INLINE a barre studio in Bel Air.
Jessica Kern, owner of #get INLINE a barre studio in Bel Air. (Kenneth K. Lam)

Personal trainer

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Winner: Jessica Kern, #getINLINE | a barre studio

223 Brierhill Drive, Bel Air, 443-787-4570, inlinebarreperryhall.com

“If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you,” says Jessica Kern. That mantra, her clients take to heart.

Teachers, nurses, stay-at-home moms and others flock to Kern’s studios, in Bel Air and Perry Hall, to work out with the 33-year-old trainer whose full-body exercise routines, called barre, are a blend of yoga, dance and Pilates. They swear by the upbeat, communal feel of the class, a 45-minute session in which one can shed 500 calories and exit smiling.

“If they don’t come in a good mood, they leave in one because they feel so much better for it,” says Kern, whose 150 clients include women from age 18 to 70 and in all shapes and sizes.

“We’ve had mothers-to-be who’ve taken classes right up to the week they deliver,” she says.

A cosmetologist by trade, Kern changed careers after her own daughter was born.

“This [barre] was the only workout that got my pre-baby body back,” the Bel Air resident says. “Ten years ago, there’s no way you’d have caught me in a gym. Now, it’s my passion.”

Honorable mentions:

Laura Broadwater, Bel Air Athletic Club

Anne Johnson, True Yoga

Heather Rockhill, Snap Fitness Fallston

Police officer

Winner: Jeffrey Gahler, Harford County Sheriff

Honorable mentions:

Daniel Petz, Havre de Grace Police Department

Robert Witt, Harford County Sheriff’s Office

Lee Dunbar, Harford County Sheriff’s Office

Principal

Winner: Anna Shanahan, St. Margaret School

Honorable mentions:

Tom Durkin, The John Carroll School

Ronald Wooden, Havre de Grace Elementary

Charles Hagan, Southampton Middle School

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