Best of Howard
The results are in! More than 21,000 votes determined the winners of 2014’s Best of Howard contest. From preferred personal trainers to choice child care, every category is another reason to love Howard County.

Out and About

Annual festival/event: Howard County Fair

For 69 years, the Howard County Fair has entertained residents of all ages. In its early days, highlights included livestock shows, harness racing and The Great Zacchini – the human cannonball. Today, livestock-related shows like the mule jump and cow-milking contest are main features, along with rides and games, a pie-eating contest, live music, parades and an antique tractor pull.

Honorable Mentions:
Wine in the Woods
Columbia Festival of the Arts
Turf Valley Hot Air Balloon Festival

Volunteer group: Howard County Fire and Rescue

Volunteer firefighters work hand in hand with the county’s career firefighters, operating 12 stations across the county. In addition to fighting fires and providing emergency medical services, many of the nearly 900 career and volunteer providers also teach fire and injury prevention and host community events at their stations.

Honorable Mentions:
Grassroots Crisis Intervention Center
The ARC of Howard County
Neighbor Ride

Special event venue: Turf Valley Resort and Conference Center

This 1,000-acre privately owned and operated resort is home to two golf courses, a spa, Alexandra’s American Fusion restaurant, more than 40,000 square feet of meeting space and hundreds of special events each year, such as outdoor weddings and the annual Hot Air Balloon Festival. Brides love Turf Valley’s scenic golf course setting and often pose for photos near the course’s pond and fountain, says Regina Ford, Turf Valley spokeswoman. “The minute you see a bride outside with the swans, you know it’s Turf Valley.”

Honorable Mentions:
The Great Room at Savage Mill
Howard County Conservancy
Waverly Mansion


First date: Historic Ellicott City

With its old-world and bohemian charm, its cafes, bistros, proximity to the Patapsco River and even spooky ghost tours, historic Ellicott City is an ideal place to go on a first date, says Rachelina Bonacci, CEO of Howard County Tourism and Promotion. “Whether it’s your first date or your 50th, Historic Ellicott City is the best place to get close to that special someone,” she says. “There’s something for everyone, so whatever you do, it will be a date worth repeating.”

Honorable Mentions:
Columbia lakefront
Iron Bridge Wine Co.
Clyde’s of Columbia

Kids' activity: Clark's Elioak Farm

Between April and November, families and schools from across Maryland flock to this Ellicott City farm, known for its animals, hayrides, pony rides, petting farm, pine-tree maze, fairy-tale-themed attractions from the former Enchanted Forest and, in the fall, its pumpkin patch. The farm, owned by the Clark family, also hosts special events each season, including a spring egg hunt, baby animal weekend, pumpkin chunking, gem mining and geode cracking.

Honorable Mentions:
Sky Zone Columbia
Columbia Association Sports Park

Park: Centennial Park

This 337-acre Ellicott City park is a perennial favorite of county and state residents alike. With four main areas, the park has everything from pavilions, playgrounds, baseball fields and hiking/biking paths to tennis courts, a skate park and a 54-acre man-made lake, where visitors can fish or explore by boat. Throughout the summer, the county also hosts Sunset Serenades at the park, where visitors can enjoy live music and a picnic around the Centennial stage.

Honorable Mentions:
Rockburn Branch Park
Savage Park
Cedar Lane Park

Place to enjoy the arts: Toby's Dinner Theatre

With classics from “Fiddler on the Roof” to newer favorites like “Memphis The Musical,”  Toby’s Dinner Theatre in Columbia combines award-winning Broadway and original musicals with a buffet-style dinner. Now in its 35th season, this theater-in-the-round produces several shows each year, complete with a live orchestra. It also runs an active youth theater program.

Honorable Mentions:
Ellicott City Artwalk
Columbia Art Center
The Rouse Co. Foundation Gallery


Consignment shop: Charity's Closet

All items in this upscale resale boutique for women and teens cost $5, with proceeds going toward Success In Style — an organization dedicated to helping disadvantaged men and women dress for success at job interviews while building their self-esteem. The shop, now in its sixth year, is located inside Historic Savage Mill and is run by volunteers.

Honorable Mentions:
Vintage Bliss Boutique

Antique shop: The Antique Center at Historic Savage Mill

With more than 150 dealers and 20,000 square feet of antique furnishings, jewelry, art and other collectibles, The Antique Center is packed with potential treasures. In addition to selling antiques, the shop holds free appraisals throughout the year, where you can discover just how much those handed-down china plates, silver utensils and even books are worth. 

Honorable Mentions:
The Pink Cabbage
A Journey from Junk
Antique Depot

Bookstore: Barnes & Noble

Every morning, before Barnes & Noble in Ellicott City opens, staff members hold a group huddle to discuss what’s popular in the world of books — and what Howard County customers are looking for, says Omar Berryman, store manager. “When customers come in, we’re excited to talk with them about what we love,” he says. And, he adds, to match customers with just the right book, magazine or gift. In addition to being booksellers, staff members are discussion leaders and out-loud readers during year-round store events.

Honorable Mentions:
Daedalus Books
Second Edition

Car dealership: Apple Ford Lincoln

Located at the corner of Snowden River Parkway and McGaw Road, Apple Ford Lincoln is home to both new and used cars, as well as a service, parts and accessories department. It’s also home to Quick Lane Tire & Auto Center, where factory-trained technicians provide everything from oil changes and brake inspections to spark plug replacements and new tires — all without an appointment.

Honorable Mentions:
O’Donnell Honda
Antwerpen Scion, Toyota and Nissan
Jim Coleman Honda

Clothing boutique: Kokopelli

For more than 25 years, Kokopelli has sold clothing and jewelry from around the world at its Mall in Columbia home. The boutique specializes in “unique and interesting clothes you can’t find anywhere else, for a good price,” says Jill Lehr, owner. Brands sold range from Lilly Pulitzer, known for its colorful women’s clothing, to Alex and Ani, which produces eco-friendly jewelry, and Aid Through Trade, a fair trade importer of jewelry, silk accessories and paper products. Once a month, the store also hosts special shopping days, where a portion of the day’s profits goes to local charities.

Honorable Mentions:
Sweet Elizabeth Jane
Kelsey’s Kloset

Furniture store: Oak Tree Furniture

More than 85 percent of the furniture at this Columbia family-owned and -operated business is American-made. Customers can find everything from bed sets and entertainment centers to dining room tables and chairs with a variety of finishes. Oak Tree staff members also provide custom designs for those tough-to-fill spaces. “We provide a good service, a good product, and we stand behind everything we do,” says Joe Blanchfield, owner. In October, Oak Tree moved its showroom to McGaw Road. (New address: 8895 McGaw Road, Unit J) The cabinet shop and warehouse remain on Red Branch Road.

Honorable Mentions:
Su Casa
Indoor Furniture

Home decor store: HomeGoods

Need a black-and-white print to hang in the guest bathroom? This off-price home store has it. How about a metal accent table for the living room? HomeGoods has several to choose from. What about festive holiday serving dishes for the dinner party that’s right around the corner? Of course! With more than a dozen departments inside the store and new items arriving each week, HomeGoods’ decor options are (almost) endless. 

Honorable Mentions:
Pier 1 Imports
Sweet Elizabeth Jane
Vintage Blue

Jeweler: Smyth Jewelers

The Ellicott City store is one of three Smyth Jewelers in the state. It has a wide selection of engagement rings, wedding bands, bracelets, diamonds, watches and earrings. Smyth even has its own signature engagement ring collection and offers a 100-day, 100 percent satisfaction guarantee.

Honorable Mentions:
Fulton Station Jewelers
Sergio’s Jewelers
Edward Arthur Jewelers

Pet supplies: PetSmart

Whether you’re a dog person, a cat person or even a turtle person, PetSmart in Columbia sells the habitats, food, toys and even clothes your pet needs. In addition, the store offers grooming, training, doggie day camp and overnight pet care services.

Honorable Mentions:
My Pet Store and More
Dogs & Co.

Food and Drink

Bakery: Great Harvest Bread Co.

Jim and Karen Adomines loved the bread so much at Great Harvest Bread Co. in Columbia, they decided to buy the place, Jim Adomines says. The husband-and-wife owners, who took over in the spring, plan to keep all breads on the menu, including favorites like challah, “high five fiber,” honey whole wheat and cinnamon chip, and baked sweet treats like blueberry-and-cream-cheese scones and oatmeal-raisin cookies. They will also continue making 100 percent stone-ground whole-wheat breads from wheat freshly milled in the store. “Great Harvest is a unique bread,” Adomines says. “We have breads you can’t get anywhere else that everybody loves.” 

Honorable Mentions:
Kupcakes & Co.
Touché Touchet

Caterer: Putting on the Ritz 

After more than 30 years in the business, owner Bobby Mitchell says he has seen catering trends come and go. “Tapas are very popular now,” he says. So are served meals instead of buffets, corporate parties and open houses. Mitchell says he factors all that and more into client meetings, where staff members customize menus based on clients’ needs. One-on-one attention, combined with quality food, a dedicated staff and a range of price options, is what makes the company a success, he says. 

Honorable Mentions:
Kloby’s Smokehouse
Smokin’ Hot Bar & Grille
Absolutely Perfect Catering

Health food/supplement store: Trader Joe's

Fresh fruits and vegetables, both organic and nonorganic, baked goods with and without gluten, nuts, coconut oil, low-sodium soups, vegan entrees and seasonal items like pumpkin cereal bars are just a few of the goods for sale at Trader Joe’s in Elkridge. The store also has a section dedicated to vitamins and supplements, with everything from organic flax oil and grape seed extract to prenatal vitamins and soy, hemp and whey protein powders.

Honorable Mentions:
Roots Market
David’s Natural Market


Place to buy seafood: Wegmans 

The massive seafood department at Wegmans is consistently stocked with a range of wild-caught fish, raw and fresh-cooked shrimp, oysters, clams, squid, lump crabmeat and North Atlantic lobsters. In addition to fresh seafood, the store sells individual seafood meals, like salmon fillets with teriyaki sauce and mushrooms, and crab cakes requiring only a quick pop into the oven before dinner. And if you have questions (What is a local fluke?), don’t be afraid to ask. The seafood staff knows its stuff.

Honorable Mentions:
Frank’s Seafood (closed)
Today’s Catch
Sea King


Beer, wine and/or liquor store: The Perfect Pour

At first sight, The Perfect Pour can be overwhelming. The Elkridge store has thousands of beers, wines and spirits on its shelves. But thanks to its knowledgeable staff, customers quickly quickly whittle thousands down to a few once they’ve explained what they are looking for, says Tom Bender, general manager. So whether you want common drinks like Smirnoff vodka, Kendall Jackson wine or Heavy Seas beer, or rarer breeds like Stawski Krupnik honey liqueur, Domaine la Blaque Pierrevert wine or Nogne O Horizon Tokyo Black beer, chances are Bender and his team will have it. “We strive to have a vast selection, including hard-to-find items in all three categories,” Bender says. “We’re the proverbial full service.” 

Honorable Mentions:
Pine Orchard Liquors
Jason’s Wine & Spirits
The Wine Bin

Farmers market: Ellicott City Farmers’ Markets 

The colorful array of fruits and vegetables at the Wednesday farmers’ market near the Howard County Library’s Miller branch is topped only by the smells coming from the fresh seasonal fruits, flowers, coffee, just-baked breads and cookies. Almost a dozen local farms, bakeries and coffee companies, including Woodbine’s Love Dove Farms and Glenelg’s Triadelphia Lake View Farm, regularly participate. The market runs from May through November.

On Saturdays, Historic Ellicott City's farmers' market takes over two locations off Main Street — The Wine Bine parking lot and the courtyards of Tonge Row near parking lot D. Customers can stock their kitchens with the locally produced fruits, veggies and meats for sale, or they can grab a bite to eat then and there from vendors cooking on the spot. The market will run May through October in 2015.

Honorable Mentions:
Columbia Farmers Market
Frank’s Produce and Greenhouse
Gorman Farm


Health and Wellness

Alternative wellness services: Quiet Time Hypnosis

Certified hypnotist Patricia M. Sapp has worked with patients from ages 6 to 80 and older. “Hypnosis is a safe and natural process for everyone,” she says. Sapp’s training helps her lead patients gently through the hypnotism process to help them overcome challenges, reduce anxiety, increase creativity and break bad habits. 

Honorable Mentions:
The Still Point
Maryland University of Integrative Health
Awaken Wellness

Chiropractor: Howard County Chiropractic Spine & Sports Rehabilitation

The team at Howard County Chiropractic is all about helping patients overcome injuries so they can do what they enjoy via a holistic, sports-focused approach to rehabilitation. “What makes us different is our comprehensive approach — chiropractic, physical therapy, acupuncture and massage all under one roof,” says founder Dr. Russel Antico. “It’s an integrative environment; we can move patients to the practitioner that will make the most difference for them.”  Plus, he adds, “It’s just a fun, friendly place to be.”

Honorable Mentions:
Morrison Chiropractic
Dabbs Rehab Center of Maryland
Chesapeake Family Wellness Center

Dental practice: Roschella & Zinger Dental Group 

Visits to the dentist are not usually anyone’s idea of a good time, but the patients of Dr. Karen Roschella and Dr. Ann Zinger don’t mind at all. The duo has served the Howard County community for more than 20 years, drawing praise for their efficient and friendly staffs and high-quality dental work. They calm those who are afraid of the dentist and make small children excited about dental care. 

Honorable Mentions:
Dobbin Dental
Columbia Smiles Family Dentistry
Menton Family Dental Care

Eye care: Wilmer Eye Institute at Columbia

The Columbia office of The Wilmer Eye Institute at Johns Hopkins is part of a world-class organization that treats a variety of eye-related conditions. With 10 providers on staff and access to the most advanced, top-of-the-line technology, the team at Wilmer helps patients in need of everything from optometry to serious eye surgeries.

Honorable Mentions:
Columbia Eye Associates
Physicians Eye Care and Laser Center
Columbia Family Eye Care

OB/GYN: Signature OB/GYN

With offices in Columbia and Eldersburg, Signature OB/GYN has been serving the greater Howard County community since 1976. The practice includes 12 gynecologists, seven certified nurse midwives and an extended staff including in-house nurses, nurse practitioners and sonographers. The team prides itself on treating multiple generations of local women, providing high-quality individual care during all stages of life.

Honorable Mentions:
Capital Women’s Care
The Women’s Group
Johns Hopkins Community Physicians


Pediatric practice: Kenneth Klebanow & Associates

Dr. Kenneth Klebanow founded his practice in 1982; today, it has grown to include numerous pediatricians, nurse practitioners and happy patients from all over Howard County. Dr. Klebanow’s team is available to shepherd children — and their parents — through the trials and tribulations of growing up, from newborn visits through sports physicals and beyond.  

Honorable Mentions:
The Pediatric Center
Parnes, May, McKay, Lee & Associates
Ellicott City Pediatric Associates


Urgent care center: Patient First

With 54 locations throughout the Mid-Atlantic area, a Patient First always feels, reliably, just around the corner. The Columbia practice is open every day, including weekends and holidays, from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. No appointments are required, and Patient First has on-site X-ray, lab testing and prescription dispensing capabilities, making it a one-stop shop for people who fall suddenly sick.

Honorable Mentions:
Righttime Medical Care
KinderMender Walk-in Pediatric Center

Veterinary practice: Triadelphia Veterinary Clinic 

The staff at Triadelphia Veterinary Clinic, led by partners Dr. Diane Jones, Dr. Heather Stup and Dr. Susan Oltman, handles all aspects of pet care, from wellness visits to complex surgery. The team has expertise in a wide variety of animal types and understands that different animals require different types of care. And they love their jobs. “More than anything, we like helping the community and the people — and the animals,” says Dr. Stup. “It’s fun!”

Honorable Mentions:
Countryside Veterinary Clinic
Cat and Dog Hospital of Columbia
Dunloggin Veterinary Hospital

Therapist/counselor: Together Couples Counseling

The three therapists of Together Couples Counseling, each specifically trained to work with couples, specialize in marriage and family therapy that really works. “We really seek to make sure our clients are getting benefits from working with us,” says principal and founder Risa Ganel, MS, LCMFT. Ganel and her colleagues have patients complete a short survey at the beginning and end of each session, and they use those metrics to track patient progress. 

Honorable Mentions:
Andrew Stanton
Congruent Counseling
Sheela Reddy


Salon: Mason & Friends Hair, Skin & Nail Salon 

Regular clients at Columbia’s Mason & Friends know that when they leave the salon, they will both look and feel fabulous. The salon offers a wide range of services, including hair, nail and skin treatments, and the always-friendly staff is eager to do a great job. “We love what we do, and want them to love their hair and the services they receive here,” says owner Pam Mason. “Everyone pays a lot of attention to detail.”

Honorable Mentions:
Looks Salon & Spa
Victoria & Albert Hair Studio
Cloud 9 Salon


Day spa: Skin Therapy Center

At the Skin Therapy Center, skin care is considered an integral part of a healthy lifestyle — and something that should relax you, not add to the stress of a busy day. In addition to skin care, from renewal treatments to anti-aging regimens, waxing and makeup assistance, Skin Therapy Center offers health coaching, creating personalized nutrition and self-care plans that help their patients foster beauty inside and out.

Honorable Mentions:
The Pearl Modern Spa and Boutique
Lynn’s Day Spa
The Spa at Turf Valley


Medi-spa: AllCare 

Also a comprehensive urgent care center, AllCare of Maryland offers a wide range of skin treatments, including Botox, laser peels and physician-directed weight loss programs including Vitamin B12-based approaches and transderm mesotherapy. Dr. Victor Kim’s experience as an emergency room physician provides him with the tools to take a scientific approach to his clients’ specific skin-care and weight-loss needs.

Honorable Mentions:
Oasis Day Spa
Between the Lines Medispa
Pura Vida Medical Spa



Flooring and carpeting: Bode Floors 

For over three decades, family-owned Bode Floors has provided high-quality flooring options, from hardwood and laminate to carpet and tile, to the Howard County community. With large showrooms in Columbia and Ellicott City and a staff well versed in every flooring option, Bode’s team can walk customers through the new-floor process, from selection through installation.

Honorable Mentions:
A Plus Carpet & Flooring
The Vertical Connection Carpet One
Main Street Oriental Rugs

Garden center/nursery: River Hill Garden Center

Since 1992, River Hill Garden Center has been a go-to garden center and nursery for green-thumbed county residents. “We take pride in the quality of our products and unique gifts in our gift shop,” says marketing specialist Sara Walters. “The holidays are our favorite time of year. The entire building, including the greenhouse, is transformed into the largest Christmas shop in Howard County. It is truly magical!” 

Honorable Mentions:
Frank’s Produce and Greenhouse
Sun Nurseries
Grandfather’s Garden Center

Heating/air conditioning repair: BGE Home

BGE Home, an offshoot of Baltimore Gas & Electric, provides heating and cooling services (as well as plumbing, electrical and upgrades like replacement windows) to homes throughout Howard County and the rest of Maryland. Its staff is well versed in the newest HVAC option and focused on how homeowners can get the most bang for their buck with energy-efficient systems and repairs.

Honorable Mentions:
Environmental Systems Associates
Ron Air


Homebuilder: Ryan Homes

Nationally acclaimed builder Ryan Homes is the company behind numerous Howard County communities, including a mix of housing types, from condos to single-family homes. The company touts its commitment to building not just great houses but strong relationships with the people buying those homes, too. They promise to work closely with homebuyers throughout the entire building process; customers praise their responsiveness and attention to detail. 

Honorable Mentions:
Columbia Builders
Williamsburg Homes
Trinity Homes

Housecleaners: Merry Maids

A national company with teams dedicated to the Howard County area, Merry Maids provides thorough and consistent home cleaning to every client. The company offers standard and customized cleaning options so clients can add specific services when needed, from refrigerator cleaning to packing for a move. With the organizational backing of a large company but the local knowledge of cleaners who live right in the area, Merry Maids is a “best of both worlds” housecleaning service. 

Honorable Mentions:
The Cleaning Authority
Pioneer Custom Cleaning
Home Sweet Home Cleaning Services


Landscaper: River Hill Landscape Design

River Hill Landscape Design has been a Howard County mainstay since 1983. River Hill offers a wide range of both commercial and residential services, from maintenance to designing and building fabulous outdoor spaces. The firm’s association with River Hill Garden Center, voted “best garden center/nursery” for 2014, means that River Hill’s clients are covered for all of their green space needs. 

Honorable Mentions:
Rhine Landscaping
Mike’s Landscaping Supplies
Oaklawn Landscaping

Plumber: Ken Griffin Plumbing Services, Inc.

Family-owned Ken Griffin Plumbing Services has been a Howard County favorite for over two decades. Customers rely on the Ken Griffin team for basic plumbing services — they’re available 24 hours a day for emergencies — and also for their kitchen and bathroom remodeling expertise. An in-house design department helps remodeling homeowners make the most of their spaces — and budgets. 

Honorable Mentions:
Len the Plumber
Zepp Plumbing and Heating
Mark Brew Plumbing

Remodeler: Cornerstone Remodeling

Cornerstone Remodeling owners A.J. Ballantine and Josh Nicodemus understand that remodeling can be stressful, but they believe it doesn’t have to be. “We try to take the anxiety out of an otherwise stressful endeavor,” says Ballantine. “We try to make it exciting. It’s supposed to be fun to make your kitchen what you want it to be. ” The Cornerstone team loves what they do — and thanks to their high-quality work and a commitment to honesty and dependability, so do their customers.

Honorable Mentions:
Cossentino and Sons
Ken Griffin Plumbing Services Inc.
Allan Homes Unlimited


Personal Services

Auto repair: Hillmuth Certified Automotive

Doug Hillmuth likes to ask his employees, “Did you make any friends today?” It’s his way of making sure that his auto repair business, which he and his brother Bill launched in 1978 and now has four locations, maintains the good customer relationships he believes are essential to a business’s success. “Making relationships and building trust — that’s what’s going to build your future,” he says.

Honorable Mentions:
Ken’s Service Center
British American Auto Care
Neubauer’s Auto Repair


Child care: Bet Yeladim

Jodi Fishman, executive director of Bet Yeladim, has a ready answer for what makes her 37-year-old preschool — a perennial winner in the Best of Howard contest — so popular. “First of all, our extraordinary educators,” she says. “And second is the true sense of community we have. We have children here whose parents went here. We’re a community within the community.”

Honorable Mentions:
The Goddard School
Columbia Academy
The Young School

Pet groomer: PetSmart

To PetSmart’s salon manager, Jennifer Kelch, customer service is what sets her store apart from other dog groomers. “It’s the love and care we provide for pets,” she says. “We want to make sure every customer is happy with the grooming. And we all love animals.”  The Columbia store has a dozen groomers and three bathers who handle as many as 300 pets a week.

Honorable Mention:
The Dog Wash
Highland Groomery
The Coventry School Inc. for Dogs and Their People

Doggie day care: Dogtopia

Day care is just one of the services offered at Dogtopia, which serves dogs and only dogs. The Clarksville location, opened in June 2007, also boards dogs overnight and provides spa services and professional grooming. It all makes for a busy, occasionally noisy, place with an average of 60 dogs on hand each day. 

Honorable Mention:
Camp Bow Wow
The Coventry School Inc. for Dogs and Their People
Club Pooche


Bank/credit union: Tower Federal Credit Union

When Tower Federal Credit Union opened in 1953, it had seven members who contributed $5 apiece. Six decades later, it is the largest federal credit union in Maryland, with $2.7 billion in assets, 133,000 members and 13 branches, including three in Howard County. But the financial institution still prides itself on personal service. “It is part of our culture not only to help our members enhance their financial well-being, but to work as a team every day to strengthen our relationship with members through personal contact,” says Martin M. Breland, president and CEO. 

Honorable Mention:
The Columbia Bank
M&T Bank

Florist: Wilhide's Unique Flowers and Gifts

In business since 1937 and still family-owned and operated, Wilhide’s Unique Flowers and Gifts prides itself on customer service. “We’ll bend over backwards for you,” says Jennifer Bivens, manager of the Ellicott City florist. “We customize everything for each customer. That’s how we carry on the name — everything is unique.” 

Honorable Mention:
Clarksville Flower Station
Raimondi’s Florist
The Flower Basket


Travel agent: AAA Columbia 

The AAA Columbia Car Care, Insurance and Travel Center is a full-service travel agency. The center’s six travel agents specialize in everything from travel planning and reservations to foreign currency exchange and passport photos. Since it’s also a car care center, AAA Columbia can offer an unusual perk: Clients can have their cars repaired while they book their vacations.

Honorable Mention:
The Travel Boutique
Destinations Inc.
Monica Baker Travel

Family lawyer: Weinberg & Schwartz

This Columbia-based firm headed by two women has a simple guiding principle: Try to convince clients to work out their dispute without going to court. “I think our clients appreciate that — from a financial standpoint, from an emotional standpoint and from a family-child focus,” says Jolie Weinberg, who heads the firm with co-partner Marni Schwartz. “We’re both parents, so … a lot of what we do comes from the heart.”

Honorable Mention:
Law Offices of Alisa G. Cummins
Mulinazzi Law Office
Law Office of Robert L. Flanagan


Accountant: Cardoni Waddell LLC

Founded in 1999 when two long-time Columbia CPAs, Robert L. Cardoni and Edward L. Waddell, joined forces, Cardoni Waddell is a full-service CPA and management consulting firm with clients throughout the Baltimore-Washington area and into Northern Virginia. Their clients are in industries ranging from construction and transportation to government and nonprofits, including such prominent Howard County institutions as the Columbia Foundation.

Honorable Mentions:
Keith Dorsey, CPA, Dorsey Accounting & Tax Services Inc.
Jeffrey D. Ring, CPA, MBA, Fisher Ring LLC
Coale, Pripstein & Associates P.A.


Financial adviser: Brian Avrunin 

He’s only 36, but Brian Avrunin has spent nearly 15 years in the personal finance business, first as an adviser, then managing other advisers and, since 2010, as an adviser again. He now owns the Columbia franchise of Ameriprise Financial Services, a national financial planning company. “I spend a lot of in-depth time with my clients, getting to know them and what they’re trying to accomplish with their finances, their situations, their goals — and their personal lives,” Avrunin says.

Honorable Mentions:
Gary Williams, Williams Asset Management
Baltimore Washington Financial Advisors
Geier Asset Management

Interior designer: Classic Interiors 

Since she opened in 1978, Carolyn Gaughan’s business has evolved from a country store selling gifts and furniture in The Mall in Columbia to a combination furniture store and interior design shop in historic Ellicott City. She now employs three designers who offer everything from window treatments to space planning. She credits her success to hard work, her “creative, talented” staff and “the loyalty of my wonderful customers.”

Honorable Mentions:
Terra Maria Home Interiors
Drury Lane Interiors
The Decorating Therapist

Real estate agent: Bob Lucido, Keller Williams

Bob Lucido, 56, has been selling homes ever since, at age 18, he became the youngest real estate agent ever licensed in Maryland. Now with Keller Williams and working out of Ellicott City, the Howard County native runs the 40-agent Lucido Team. Over his career, Lucido has sold about 27,000 homes, according to his daughter and marketing director, Lauren Lucido. “But more important than the homes sold is his spotless record,” Lauren says. “He’s built his business on integrity.” 

Honorable Mentions:
Creig Northrop, Long & Foster Real Estate
Tim McIntyre, Coldwell Banker


Dance lessons: b.funk Dance Company

At the family-owned b.funk Dance Company in Ellicott City, they like to say students are not just dancers, they’re “part of the b.funk family.” They’re also part of a studio that offers an eclectic array of dance styles, including ballet, modern dance, tap, hip hop and break dancing, for everyone from 3-year-olds to adults. The studio also has two dance companies that represent b.funk at various competitions.

Honorable Mentions:
Backstage Dance Studio
Studio Dans
Arabesque Dance Studio

Golf course: Turf Valley

Turf Valley is not your typical golf course, at least not in Maryland. Besides 36 holes, it has four putting greens, a huge driving range and a practice facility for short games.
“We’re a very large property,” says Nick Spinnato, Turf Valley’s director of golf and a professional golfer. “There are very few 36-hole courses in the state, and with all the other facilities — it’s just immense here.”

Honorable Mentions:
Hobbit’s Glen Golf Club
The Timbers at Troy
Waverly Woods Golf Club

Gym: Life Time Athletic Columbia

Part of a national chain, Life Time Athletic (formerly Life Time Fitness) is a 125,000-square-foot behemoth (not including the aquatic center) that offers all the classes, equipment and trainers a person could want. “And we do it in a resortlike setting,” says general manager Joel Schlossberg, adding that the gym works hard to keep its facility cutting-edge and neat. “We look just as good as we did on the day we opened.”

Honorable Mentions:
Columbia Gym
Supreme Sports Club
Dancel Family Center Y

Martial arts classes: American Academy of Martial Arts 

“We’re not just kicking and punching,” says founder Julie Elrod of her 30-year-old martial arts studio in Columbia. “We teach a whole philosophy about respect and discipline, about building confidence and walking away from a fight. It’s about making you a better person.”
One of the largest martial arts studios in the country, and with a smaller branch in Maple Lawn, the academy is also a family affair, run by Julie, husband Ron, son Wyatt and daughter Kami. All four hold black belts in at least two martial arts.

Honorable Mentions:
Klotz Institute of Karate
WKD Karate for Girls
Hwarang Martial Arts


Music lessons: Mike's Music

Mike’s Music in Ellicott City sells and rents musical instruments and employs 42 teachers who offer music lessons in 24 rooms. But what most excites Haley Gordon, who started the business six and a half years ago with husband Mike (he’s the musician half of the pair, hence the name), is seeing their young musicians perform. 

“You see these kids who’ve never played a musical instrument, and they’re up there in front of all their friends playing — that’s the best thing ever,” she says. “That proud look is pretty priceless.” 

Honorable Mentions:
Damon Foreman Music Academy
Music & Arts
Olenka School of Music

Pool for kids: North Saint John's Swim & Tennis Club

This Ellicott City facility goes out of its way to attract both adults and children with such events as a crab feast, special teen nights and pre-school days, and swim and diving teams for a variety of age groups. Turning 50 this year, the North Saint John’s Swim & Tennis Club includes some members — and their families — who have belonged since the club opened. 

Honorable Mentions: 
River Hill Pool
Life Time Athletic (formerly Life Time Fitness)
Swansfield Pool

Yoga studio: The Yoga Center of Columbia 

Despite the growing popularity of yoga and an increasing number of local studios, The Yoga Center of Maryland remains a consistent winner in the Best of Howard County competition. As owner Kathy Donnelly puts it, the center succeeds because it has “yoga for every body. … We have 115 classes a week, so we can pretty much address any person’s situation,” she adds. “Our teachers are highly trained, and we do a lot of community outreach.”

Honorable Mentions:
The Still Point (now Yoga Love)
Bikram Yoga Columbia
Gogo Guru Yoga Studio and Store


Workout class: Life Time Cycle at Life Time Athletic (formerly Life Time Fitness)

Indoor cycling is one of the most popular classes at Columbia’s Life Time Athletic, and general manager Joel Schlossberg knows why. First of all, he says, it’s“very egalitarian,” meaning participants need only work as hard as their age and fitness levels allow. Also, he says, the cycling space is “terrific,” with a first-class sound system and a slanted, stadium-style floor that allows everyone to see the instructor. Finally, he says, cycling is a “great workout,” less jarring than many others and something just about everyone can do.

Honorable Mentions:
BodyPump at the Columbia Association
BodyPump at Supreme Sports Club
Vinyasa Flow at Gogo Guru



Blog: HowChow

Discerning residents know where to read about food in Howard County: HowChow, a blog that is all about where and what to eat. As the blogger (who prefers to remain anonymous) likes to say, howchow.blogspot.com “is meant to be a fun place to talk about food in Howard County.” It is indeed that, with frequent mentions of the opinions and tastes of his wife (“Mrs. HowChow”), announcements of food festivals and restaurant openings and closings, and, of course, frequent reviews.

Honorable Mentions:
HoCo Rising
Tales of Two Cities
UK Desperate Housewife USA

Clergyperson: Monsignor Joseph L. Luca, St. Louis Catholic Church 

In his 18 years at St. Louis, Monsignor Joseph Luca has seen the Clarksville congregation grow from 2,200 families to nearly 5,000, and he’s overseen the addition of a newer, larger church building that now celebrates seven Masses every weekend.
“Serving here has truly been life-giving for me,” says Luca, 71. One of his greatest pleasures, he says, has been seeing young church members “grow into loving adults, celebrating their marriages and now baptizing their children. To see them become today’s lay leaders at St. Louis Church is such a joy.”

Honorable Mentions:
The Rev. Matthew Buening – St. Paul Catholic Church
The Rev. Mark Norman – Grace Community Church
The Rev. Paige Getty – Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Columbia

Coach: Jimmy Creighton, Howard High School boys lacrosse 

Jimmy Creighton knows lacrosse. He was captain of his college team at perennial lacrosse powerhouse Salisbury University, and his Howard High team won the county championship last year. But as a coach, he has other priorities besides teaching lacrosse. 

“The most important thing, especially at the high school level, is to develop young men into productive young men away from the lacrosse field,” says Creighton, 30. “Lacrosse is great, but it’s not going to put food on the table at the end of the day.” 

Honorable Mentions:
Phil Lang – Oakland Mills High School cross country
Joseph Osbourne – Glenelg High School JV boys soccer
Samuel Lee – Hwarang Martial Arts

Elected official: County Executive Ken Ulman

After four years on the County Council and eight more as Howard’s top elected official, Ken Ulman is no stranger to county residents. He’s also no stranger to “best-elected-official-in-Howard” awards, a multiple-time winner who took the title just last year. The 40-year-old Howard County native’s string might have hit a wall, however: Prevented by term limits from running again for county executive, the Democratic executive this year ran for lieutenant governor but lost. After the election, top aides said Ulman is weighing “a variety of options for the future.” 

Honorable Mentions:
State Sen. Allan Kittleman
County Council member Courtney Watson
State Del. Guy Guzzone

Personal trainer: Bonnie Pace, Columbia Gym 

She’s been a trainer at the Columbia Gym for more than a decade. But Bonnie Pace’s approach has evolved to include more of a focus on nutrition, in part because she is now working on a master’s degree in that discipline. A former competitive body builder, Pace, 53, works with clients of all ages but says many are like her: middle-aged women dealing with time constraints and a body that’s not quite what it used to be. 

“My job is to make the exercises not suck so much,” she says, adding, “I love what I do, and I feel so lucky that I get to come to work every day, work with wonderful people and, in some small way, have an impact on their lives.”

Honorable Mentions:
Stephanie Dignan – The Boot Camp Girl
Mac Cassity – Extreme Fun & Fit Boot Camp
Vic Selvaggi – Colosseum Gym

Police officer: Vic Broccolino Jr.

Sometimes, childhood dreams come true. Vic Broccolino Jr. grew up wanting to be a firefighter and a police officer, and after four years with the Westview Fire Station in Baltimore County, in 1993 he joined the Howard County Police Department, where he is now a supervisor in the communications division.

“I was raised to care about others and my community,” says the son and namesake of the recently retired president of Howard County General Hospital. “Being a first responder gives me the best opportunity to do that.” 

Honorable Mentions:
Mary Levy
Steve Willingham
Mike Johnson

Principal: Scott Ruehl, Mt. Hebron High School 

Scott Ruehl is no stranger to Mt. Hebron. He graduated from the high school in 1987, taught there for 10 years, was assistant principal for four years and took the reins as principal in 2007. His parents still live nearby. “I’m blessed with great students, great staff and a great community to work with,” says Ruehl, 45. “They make my job much easier.”

Honorable Mentions:
Pat Saunderson – Reservoir High School
Marcia Leonard – Hammond High School
Nick Novak – River Hill High School


Teacher: Kurt Krenzischek, Columbia School of Music

Kurt Krenzischek, owner and founder of the Columbia School of Music, has been teaching in Howard County since 1969. During that time, he estimates he’s taught at least 5,000 students, instructing them in everything from piano and guitar to voice and the electronic keyboard. “It’s been a jolly ride,” says Krenzischek, 63. “I feel so blessed to do what I’ve always wanted to do, even as a child.” 

Honorable Mentions:
Chef Mark Waitsman – Howard County Department of Recreation and Parks
Tom Sankey – Mt. Hebron High School
Robin Flood – Long Reach High School


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