Best Local Bookstore
Eljay's Used Books
3233 W. Liberty Ave., Dormont
412-344-7444 or www.eljaysbks.com
Eljay's has strong collections of history and mystery, sci-fi and cooking. But what most distinguishes it may be its sense of fun. The offbeat ownership is reflected in everything from the UFOlogy books to the chalk-outline silhouette on the floor by the mystery books. Having moved from the South Side, Eljay's is drawing customers with author readings and other events.
2nd: Awesome Books, Downtown and Garfield
3rd: Caliban Book Shop, Oakland
Best Local Store to Buy Music
Multiple locations, www.myexchangefranchise.com
You can have your iDevices: Those of us who like to hold our digitally-stored media will be at The Exchange, with its used-music-store prices on a new-music-store selection. (A recent visit turned up a full wall-rack of Dylan CDs, for example.) Top that with movies in DVD/Blu-Ray, and video games for various platforms, and you need never leave your basement again.
2nd: Dave's Music Mine, South Side
3rd: Eide's Entertainment, Strip District
Best Local Store to Buy Musical Instruments
Pianos N'Stuff Music
468 Freeport Road, Blawnox
412-828-1003 or www.nstuffmusic.com
It's more "stuff" than "pianos" these days: This Blawnox landmark has drums, guitars, amps, accessories — whatever you might need to make your band work. And if you're booking your own gig (or playing, say, a wedding or whatever), you can also come here to rent PA equipment and the like to make it happen.
2nd: Pittsburgh Guitars, South Side
3rd: Volkwein's Music, Findlay
Best Local Shoe Store
5850 Forbes Ave., Squirrel Hill
412-521-3530 or www.littlesshoes.com
Anyone who has ever talked to a grandmother knows all too well that customer service — especially in shoe stores — ain't what it used to be. Little's Shoes, however, is the exception. This Squirrel Hill institution offers a wide selection of quality shoes, and some of the most attentive staff in town — but they won't hound you when you're just looking.
2nd: Pavement, Lawrenceville
3rd: Gordon Shoes, Homestead
Best Local Jewelry Store
5501 Walnut St., Shadyside
412-682-0226 or www.hennejewelers.com
Henne Jewelers was founded in 1887 and has remained a family business ever since, now in its fourth generation. The store features a wide selection of fine jewelry, from engagement and wedding rings to designer collections and watches. And there's a range of prices here, too, thanks in no small part to Henne's "$100 Special of the Month."
2nd: Orr's Jewelers, multiple locations
3rd: Culture Shop, South Side
Best Local Fashion Boutique
3629 Butler St., Lawrenceville
412-621-6400 or www.pavementpittsburgh.com
Lawrenceville sweeps the fashion category this year, and Pavement is a big reason why. Founded in 2006, its to-die-for shoe collection helped the resurging area put its best foot forward. Accessories and clothing are also part of Pavement's mix, with locals sharing rack space with national brands. An intimate boutique where the selection seems larger than the floorspace could possibly contain.
2nd: Pageboy Salon and Boutique, Lawrenceville
3rd: Panello Boutique, Lawrenceville
Best Place to Buy Vintage Clothing
5858 Forbes Ave., Squirrel Hill (412-421-2911) and 680 Washington Road, Mount Lebanon (412-343-2360). www.avalonexchange.com
Adding a piece of vintage clothing is a great way to make your look distinctive, and Avalon's got you covered with quality pre-selected garments. Danny Gurwin, assistant store manager at the Squirrel Hill location, confirms separates — shirts, sweaters, blazers — from the '50s, '60s, '80s and even the early '90s are popular. (The '70s, he says, are now "too costume-y.")
2nd: Goodwill, multiple locations
3rd: Eons, Shadyside
Best Thrift Shop
Multiple locations, www.goodwillswpa.org
Everybody's on a budget these days, so why not head to the store where you can scoop up gently used clothing, furniture, books, dishware and who-knows-what-else for truly bargain prices? Plus, it's a higher calling to give this still-functional stuff a new forever home, and keep it out of the landfill. And return the favor by donating your unwanted goods!
2nd: Red, White and Blue, Brookline and Avalon
3rd: Salvation Army, South Side and West Mifflin
Best Local Salon
5932 Penn Circle, East Liberty
412-441-5151 or www.mcnsalon.com
It's hard not to feel a little bit fancy when you exit the elevator directly into MCN's penthouse-style space. But it's not the great view, or the hip, comfortable decor that keeps people coming back. "We pay attention to all the details of customer service," explains co-owner Lisa McNamara. "It's not just about the haircut; it's about the experience."
2nd: Studio Raw, Ross Township
3rd: Capristo, Shadyside
Best Day Spa
337 Beaver St., Sewickley
412-741-4240 or www.sewickleyspa.com
Set in a 120-year-old Victorian home, the day spa offers hot stone, Swedish, deep tissue and aromatherapy massages, as well as couples and pregnancy massages. Facials, hand and foot grooming, and salon services are also offered. And no need to stress about parking — relief begins immediately as you enter its private lot.
2nd: Evolve Wellness Spa, Shadyside
3rd: Esspa Kozmetika, Aspinwall
Best Health Club
19 Bakery Square Blvd., Larimer
412-204-0055 or www.urbanactive.com
This expansive, two-story gym houses everything from a pool and racquetball/basketball courts to a ladies-only room and "cardio cinema," where you can sweat in the dark while taking in a movie. Members have access to spacious locker rooms (with a sauna!), free parking and classes, plus childcare. For a few extra bucks, you can get a snack at the smoothie bar.
2nd : LA Fitness, multiple locations
3rd (tie): Club One Fitness, multiple locations / X Shadyside, Shadyside
Best Yoga Studio
South Hills Power Yoga
3045 West Liberty Ave., Dormont
412-207-9535 or www.southhillspoweryoga.com
South Hills Power Yoga's experienced and certified staff offers classes for every ability and interest, from heated and non-heated power Vinyasa yoga, gentle yoga, restorative yoga, pre-natal yoga and classes for kids and teens. Plus, monthly, SHPY holds a 90-minute, heated music-themed class. Sign up for an extended pass or attend a pay-what-you-can class.
2nd (tie): Amazing Yoga, multiple locations / Yoga Hive, Garfield
Best Place to Buy Health Food
Whole Foods Market
5880 Centre Ave., East Liberty (412-441-7960) and 10576 Perry Highway, Wexford (724-940-6100). www.wholefoodsmarket.com
Healthful food starts with good ingredients, with an emphasis on fresh, local and sustainably produced. Whole Foods is an easy stop for such good-for-you basics as squash and apples from nearby; hemp oil; free-range Icelandic lamb; goat's milk; and an aisle's worth of bulk nuts, dried fruits, seeds and grains. You can also buy a cookie; we won't tell.
2nd: East End Food Co-Op, Point Breeze
3rd: Trader Joe's, East Liberty and Mount Lebanon
Best Skate Shop
One Up Skate Shop
1409 E. Carson St., South Side
412-432-7007 or www.oneuppgh.com
Greg Pasquarella's store is as much about community as it about gear. Sure, you can buy boards, shoes, clothes and other necessities for the skating lifestyle at this East Carson shop. But One Up also sponsors a dozen local skaters on the amateur skating circuit. The shop marks its 10th anniversary in the city this year.
2nd: Head Board Shop, South Side
3rd: Plank Eye Board Shop, Bellevue
Best Bicycle Shop
Kraynick's Bike Shop
5003 Penn Ave., Garfield
An institution in the city's bike scene, Kraynick's Bike Shop has everything a broken ride could ever need — probably hanging on a wall or stored in a drawer somewhere. Kraynick's is as much about creating a community as it is learning to fix your own bike with the help of owner Jerry Kraynick or one of his mechanics.
2nd: Trek of Pittsburgh, multiple locations
3rd: Thick Bikes, South Side
Best Smoke Shop
Bloom Cigar Company
54 S. 12th St., South Side
Whether you're a cigar aficionado or looking to buy a gift for one, consider this South Side purveyor of fine cigars as your first stop. Owner Marc Adams, who has operated the business since 1955, is as knowledgeable as they come and is the perfect tour guide through the store's gigantic walk-in humidor.
2nd: Allegheny Smoke Works, Blawnox
3rd: S&S Candy & Cigar / Tobacco Works, South Side and Brentwood
Best Tattoo Shop
4514 Liberty Ave., Bloomfield
412-681-6881 or www.tattoo-noir.com
What do people like about Tattoo Noir? "A lot of tattoo shops have this 'tat bro' attitude," says tattoo artist Josh Suchoza. "We aren't that." Expect to get inked by friendly, talented people, all of whom have backgrounds in fine art. Plus, the shop itself has a welcoming lodge feel which should make even the most needle-shy feel at home.
2nd (tie): Jester's Court (multiple locations) / Human Production Gallery (Bethel Park)
Best Body-Piercing Shop
South Side Tattoo and Body Piercing
2208 E. Carson St., South Side
412-381-5401 or www.southsidetattooshop.com
A perennial finisher in both our body-piercing and tattoo categories, South Side Tattoo has been around for over a decade, offering friendly service for whatever your needs — from a simple ear-piercing to putting some hardware, er, down there. No appointment needed for piercings; just walk up and tell 'em you need a stud!
2nd: Hot Rod Body Piercing Company, Oakland
3rd: Jester's Court, multiple locations
Best Bowling Alley
Arsenal Bowling Lanes
212 44th St., Lawrenceville
412-683-5992 or www.arsenalbowl.com
When hipsters took up bowling, they flocked to alleys like this old-school walk-up, complete with full bar. Now (as even The New York Times has noted), Arsenal's got weekly attractions like Rock and Bowl (live bands on the lanes) and a DJ-and-karaoke night. Sunday afternoons, bowling shoes are just 50 cents — and so are hot dogs and sodas.
2nd: Dormont Lanes, Dormont
3rd: Forward Lanes, Squirrel Hill
Best Place to Take the Kids for an Afternoon
Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium.
1 Wild Place, Highland Park
412-665-3640 or www.pittsburghzoo.org
Sure, it's a great place for the young'uns, but moms and dads (and older siblings) will have just as much fun seeking out the 400-some species that call the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium home. Check out Kids Kingdom, which — with a petting zoo, reptile house, playground, and more — is ranked one of the country's best children's zoos.
2nd: Children's Museum of Pittsburgh, North Side
3rd: Carnegie Science Center, North Side
Best One-of-a-Kind Gift Store
4209 Butler St., Lawrenceville
412-224-2651 or www.wildcardpgh.com
Local crafters feature heavily at Wildcard, where you can find everything unique, cutesy and Pittsburgh-y. From baby onesies with little pierogies on them to jewelry and silk-screened prints for your walls, it's all handmade or small-run, and it's all adorable. Plus, for those of us who are challenged in the gift-wrapping discipline, they'll take care of that part for free.
2nd: Ten Thousand Villages, Squirrel Hill
3rd (tie): Kards Unlimited (Shadyside) / Divertido (Lawrenceville)
Best Place to Adopt a Pet
562 Camp Horne Road, Avonworth
412-847-7000 or www.thinkingoutsidethecage.org
In 2006, this no-kill animal shelter, which began as a small group of concerned citizens in 1943, opened the state-of-the-art Caryl Gates Gluck Resource Center. It now provides the region with a shelter for homeless pets, as well as a veterinary clinic, resource library, classroom space and pet-therapy suites. It also offers low-cost spay and neuter programs.
2nd: Western Pennsylvania Humane Society, North Side
3rd: Animal Rescue League, Larimer
Best Local Store to Buy Furniture
800-262-5200 or www.levinfurniture.com
What Sam Levin started in Mount Pleasant as a furniture and hardware store in 1920 has grown into one of the area's largest furniture chains. There are eight stores in the Pittsburgh region and another eight in Ohio. The showrooms are always brimming with different styles and varieties of couches, recliners, end tables and mattresses. And it always seems like they're having a sale, be it President's Day, Veteran's Day or your cat Fluffy's birthday.
2nd: IKEA, Robinson Township
3rd: Perlora, South Side and Strip District
Best Car Dealer
10430 Perry Highway, Wexford
866-691-6729 or www.baierl.com
What started as a small Chevy dealership in Ambridge in the 1950s has grown into one of the area's largest dealers of new and used vehicles. The company's flagship sits on Perry Highway in Wexford, but Baierl has several dealerships throughout the North Hills selling Acura, Cadillac, Chevy, Fiat, Honda, Kia, Mitsubishi, Scion, Subaru, Toyota and Isuzu. Add a top-notch service-and-parts department, and the company stands ready to serve its customers.
2nd: #1 Cochran, multiple locations
3rd: Rohrich Auto Group, multiple locations
Multiple locations. www.pnc.com
Let's face it: Shoving cash under your mattress isn't always the most practical option. But to which bank should you entrust your money? Set aside all the financial gobbledygook (and even PNC's bragging rights for, among other things, building more "green" buildings than any other company) and consider this crucial perk: PNC Bank's ATMs dispense $1 bills.
2nd: Dollar Bank, multiple locations
3rd: First Commonwealth, multiple locations
Best Place for a Wedding Reception
1 Schenley Park, Oakland
412-622-6914 or phipps.conservatory.org
Why bring flowers to your wedding when you can bring your wedding to the flowers? Phipps, the venerable Victorian greenhouse, is set up for both ceremonies (complete with bridal dressing room) and receptions. (Note the catering kitchen.) With outdoor spaces and indoor sites including the Tropical Forest Conservatory, you just might imagine honeymooning here, too.
2nd: Carnegie Museums, multiple locations
3rd: Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium, Highland Park