Best of Columbia 2016: Goods & Services

Patient 1203 tears up the Horseshoe after learning she didn’t get that associate professor’s job in the creative writing department at Columbia’s Best Place to Work, the University of South Carolina. Photo by John Carlos.

Best New Car Dealership

Jim Hudson Automotive Group

Runner-up: Dick Smith Automotive Group

Hudson’s lineup includes Audi, Buick, Cadillac, Ford, GMC, Hyundai, Lexus, Scion and Toyota — a mix of brands that attracts customers and Best Of Columbia fans, who have favored the dealerships for years. Founded in 1980, Hudson remains family owned.

Best Used Car Dealership

Carmax

Runner-up: Jim Hudson Automotive Group

This national chain works to eliminate some of the stigma of buying used cars with no haggling and reasonable prices. Because of its broad network, car shoppers can search its website to see if their favorite car might be at a Carmax dealership outside Columbia.

Best Motorcycle Store

Harley Haven

Runner-up: Thunder Tower Harley-Davidson

Sometimes you just need the wind blowing through your hair, the world rushing past you at 80 mph and the feel of pure, raw power between your legs. No, we’re not talking about a weekend at Charlie Sheen’s house. We’re talking about riding a Harley-Davidson motorcycle. And if Harleys are your thing — and if you are a rider, they probably are — then you should definitely check out the selection at Harley Haven in Irmo.

Best Auto Repair

Firestone

Runner-up: Complete Car Care

There are a number of Firestone locations in the Midlands area, and all of them are ready to meet your automobile maintenance and repair needs. Firestone has been a leader in the automobile service industry since 1926. So, if you hear a strange knocking sound in your car, and you’re pretty sure it’s coming from the engine and not from that guy you’ve got locked up in the trunk, you need to get to Firestone.

Best Oil Change

Frank’s Discount Tire

Runner-up: Firestone

This 21-year-old locally owned chain with five locations in Columbia, Lexington and Orangeburg offers repeat customers a keychain card that links their cars to their service record.

Best Car Wash

Frank’s Car Wash

Runner-up: Constan Car Wash

There’s something oddly therapeutic about a gleaming, shiny, clean automobile. It’s the kind of therapy you can get at Frank’s. Sure, it takes a while for your car to go through the wash, and for the team of Frank’s workers to then hand-dry and bring the car to a full shine. But it’s worth it. Heck, it seems like a clean car even runs better.

Best Tire Dealer

Frank’s Discount Tire

Runner-up: Nuttall

With four Midlands locations plus one in Orangeburg, this locally owned tire shop offers great tires at great prices, with competent service. Now if we could just get that jingle out of our heads.

Best Driving School

ABC Driver Training School

Runner-up: Baldwin Driver Training

Remember when you learned to drive? Easy, right? Well, your parents may remember a different version of that time in your life — one that involved way more sweaty palms and fretting over the wheel. But now there are professionals who can train your teenager on the lost art of parallel parking while you enjoy the comforts of home.

Best Furniture Store

Whit-Ash Furnishings

Runner-up: Rooms To Go

There are a lot of new storefronts in The Vista. Whit-Ash isn’t one of them. The furniture store has been a mainstay downtown for 40 years, offering quality pieces, built to last, at negotiable prices. The store has more than 40,000 square feet absolutely stuffed with furniture. If you find something you like, they’ll deliver it. But if you want to save some cash, you can pick it up straight from their warehouse.

Best Pet Supply Store

PetSmart

Runner-up: Pets Supplies Plus

PetSmart has a clever name, but what it provides doesn’t really require all that many smarts to understand. PetSmart has pretty much anything you could want or need for your pet at a price that’s never less than competitive — and often just plain better — than any other pet store around. And take it from someone whose outdoor cat loses his collars all the time — their prices on custom-engraved tags cannot be beat.

Best Kennel or Pet Boarding Facility

Pawmetto Lifeline

Runners-up (tie): Wescott Acres, Camp Bow Wow

Pawmetto Lifeline, with its swanky facility on Bower Parkway, has boarding services seven days a week and also offers “Doggy Daycare” from 7:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Monday-Saturday. All of the proceeds from these services go to benefit homeless pets in the Midlands. If you’ve got to go out of town, why not give your furry friend a nice place to stay?

Best Pet Groomer

Pet Supplies Plus

Runner-up: Groomingdales

Are Fifi’s toenails too long? Is Fluffy looking a bit bedraggled? Head to one of Pet Supplies Plus’ convenient locations to get your pet looking right.

Best Veterinarian Clinic

Four Paws

Runner-up: Shandon-Wood Animal Clinic

Four Paws — as in they’ll take care of the health needs of the quadrupeds that share your living space. They can also take care of some pets who have appendages other than paws, or even some that have no limbs at all. After all, that’s what you’d expect from a vet clinic that promises “quality service at a reasonable price.”

Best Dog Park

Saluda Shoals

Runner-up: NoMa Bark Park (Earlewood Park)

What’s that, Comet the Wonder Dog? You want to go to Saluda Shoals again? Good boy!

Best Place to Work

University of South Carolina

Runner-up: Palmetto Health

Conspiracy theorists will insist former Free Times editor Dan Cook helped lobby for his new employer, but the state’s flagship university is a multi-year winner in this category. Folks seem to like working on the beautiful — and growing — campus that is the hub of the state’s academic (and, some might say, political) influence.

Best After-School Program

Boys & Girls Clubs of the Midlands

Runner-up: YMCA

The Boys and Girls Clubs of the Midlands have been helping youth in this area for years, and one of the most prominent areas of service has been the after-school programs, which include homework help and leadership development initiatives. Members are also free to choose from over 50 enrichment programs per week that include sports, crafts, step teams, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, among other opportunities.

Best Place for Music Lessons

TIE — Freeway Music, Columbia Arts Academy/Lexington School of Music

Around Columbia right now, there is a surprisingly rich array of really good high school bands, groups with budding skill and an infectious sense of freedom that can only come when you’re discovering the joy of playing for the first time. Freeway Music and the Columbia Arts Academy/Lexington School of Music deserve a world of credit for helping to foster this wave of young local talent, empowering young people by giving them the tools to realize their rock ‘n’ roll aspirations.

Best Martial Arts School

Columbia Martial Arts and Fitness

Runner-up: Capital Karate

Columbia Martial Arts and Fitness claims to be the only school in the Midlands offering a unique curriculum of five world-class martial arts. The school says it offers instruction “to encompass all ranges of combat” and will teach you how to deal with all kinds of situations, from “long range impact and edged weapon attacks to encounters that wind up on the ground.” So turn off those old Jean-Claude Van Damme movies and go learn the real thing.

Best House of Worship

Shandon Baptist

Runner-up: NewSpring Church

The first thing you’ll notice about Shandon Baptist is it’s not actually in Shandon; this popular house of worship outgrew that little neighborhood several years ago. The second thing you’ll notice is that this megachurch, associated with the Southern Baptist Convention, offers everything from preschool to mission trips, and continues to grow.

Best Continuing Education Institution

University of South Carolina

Runner-up: Midlands Technical College

The big school in town is working to market itself to all crowds, including older students who can take classes online at satellite campus with the Palmetto College.

Best Local Insurance Agent

Larry Lucas — State Farm

Runner-up: Roe Young — State Farm

If you’re going to sell insurance near the USC campus, having some international skills is a boost. Lucas’ agency lists Spanish and Mandarin among its languages.

Best Auto Insurance Company

State Farm

Runner-up: USAA

Like a good neighbor, readers picked State Farm for a third consecutive year.

Best Law Firm

Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough

Runner-up: McNair Law Firm

Attorneys from Nelson Mullins, considered the state’s most politically influential firm, have dotted the governor’s office and USC boardroom, and argued cases on behalf of S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson’s office. The firm’s rooftop patio offers impressive views of the city.

Best DUI Law Firm or Attorney

Seth Rose

Runner-up: Strom Law Firm

Sure, Seth Rose is a Richland County Councilman, one who is constantly pushing his colleagues to exercise more transparency. But that’s just what he does in the evenings. During the day, he spends a lot of time trying to get people off of DUI charges. And he does a damn good job of it. Rose might have lost a bunch of ping-pong matches to former Free Times editor Dan Cook, but he doesn’t lose that often in the courtroom.

Best Bank

Palmetto Citizens Federal Credit Union

Runner-up: Wells Fargo

When it comes to banking, Free Times readers choose the personalized service and many convenient locations of this local credit union.

Best Credit Union

Palmetto Citizens Federal Credit Union

Runner-up: All South Federal Credit Union

Credit unions often offer better loan and interest rates than big banks, and you get the warm feeling that comes from being part of a member-owned financial cooperative. It stands to reason that Palmetto Citizens, the credit union our readers voted Best Bank, is also the region’s best credit union.

Best Heating and Air Service

Cool Care Heating and Air

Runner-up: 2nd Wind Heating & Air

Air conditioning is pretty much a necessity in Famously Hot Columbia — and the winters would be dang unpleasant without heat, too. That’s where Cool Care comes in.

Best Plumbing Repair

Meetze Plumbing

Runners-up (tie): DuBose Plumbing, Cottrell & Co.

Congrats to this Irmo-based plumber on being the reader’s choice for five straight years. Meetze has built its reputation with a service area stretching from Blythewood to Batesburg to Swansea.

Best Landscaping Company

Blue Moon Landscaping

Runner-up: Young’s Landscape Services

The Columbia company — approaching its 30th anniversary — mows lawns, designs landscaping, plants shrubs and works on irrigation systems.

Best Roofer

Crescent Construction

Runner-up: Burgin Roofing

There are few things as satisfying as when a roofing crew tears all the shingles off your old roof, patches it up, repairs or replaces the flashing, and puts on all-new shingles — often within the span of just one or two days. If you want that fresh-roof feeling, call Crescent Construction.

Best Moving Company

Two Men and a Truck

Runner-up: Soda City Movers

Yeah, they’re called Two Men and a Truck, but the company has a team of more than 4,000 movers and a fleet of more than 2,000 trucks. If you are switching houses, don’t call your Uncle Frank with the trick knee to help you. Just call Two Men and a Truck.

Best Gun Shop

Palmetto State Armory

Runner-up: Shooter’s Choice

With its assortment of guns, holsters, ammo and optics, Palmetto State Armory has plenty of gear to get you packing. Clearance sales and daily specials help sweeten the deal.

Best Shooting Range

Palmetto State Armory

Runner-up: Shooter’s Choice

If you want to learn how to protect yourself with a firearm, the Palmetto State Armory offers a safe place to hone your skills. You can also get personalized lessons to help refine your aim.

Best Real Estate Agency

Russell & Jeffcoat (now Coldwell Banker)

Runner-up: Keller Williams

Russell & Jeffcoat, long Columbia’s largest real estate firm, was purchased by Coldwell Banker earlier this year. Despite the purchase, the firm continues as a full-service real estate agency for Midlands residents, whether they are looking to sell a house, buy a house or both.

Best Real Estate Agent

Mary Lane Sloan — The ART of Real Estate

Runner-up: Olivia Cooley - Keller Williams

Selling your home, or buying a new one, is a whirlwind of deal-making, paperwork and coordination. Mary Lane Sloan knows the Midlands like the back of her hand, and she’ll put in the work for you.

Best Home Builder

Mungo Homes

Runner-up: Great Southern Homes

The four-year Best of Columbia winner in this category is one of the nation’s largest builders, with work in South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia and Alabama.

Best Hotel

Hilton

Runner-up: Marriott

With a name that’s basically synonymous with hotels, the Hilton will put you up in style and comfort. The Hilton in Columbia’s Vista also features a Ruth’s Chris Steak House and convenient access to the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center.

Best Local Clothing Store

Belk

Runner-up: Bohemian

Belk is local in the sense that it’s right there in your community, providing pretty much the same dependable selection of pants, shirts, shoes and other things you put on your body that you’ll find at any other Belk in any other part of the Southeast. No muss. No fuss.

Loose Lucy’s in Five Points wins Best Alternative Clothing. Photo by John Carlos

Best Alternative Clothing

Loose Lucy’s

Runner-up: Bohemian

For the finest in boho blouses, cool T-shirts, tie-dye items, flowing skirts and other things hippie and alternative, Loose Lucy’s is the place to go.

Best Children’s Clothing

Once Upon a Child

Runner-up: Little Lambs and Ivy

Somehow it seems like children grow up way too fast. So fast, in fact, that the shirt you bought just last week might not fit your child a few months later — or maybe it’s just gone out of style. In any case, this children’s consignment store is here to help, with racks weighted down by clean, well-priced, gently used kids’ fashions.

Best Women’s Clothing

Belk

Runner-up: Bohemian

Belk, which is based in Charlotte and is prominent throughout the South, has long been a leader in women’s fashions. The department store carries some of the most well known contemporary brands, as well as a number of designer labels. From rompers to dresses to lingerie to shoes, Belk — which has a location in Columbiana Centre — has you covered.

Best Men’s Clothing

Belk

Runner-up: Granger Owings

Whether you need some nicer work clothes, a suit, swim trunks or just socks and underwear, Belk can hook you up.

Best Jewelry Store

Handpicked

Runner-up: Jewelry Warehouse

Founded in 1986, Handpicked prides itself on a unique collection of jewelry, monograms and personalized gifts. A friendly staff and repair service can help restore your favorite trinket’s lost luster.

Best Smoke Shop

Natural Vibrations

Runner-up: High Life Smoke Shop

Filled with Rasta-inspired clothing, jewelry and 420-friendly pieces, Natty Vibes has what you need.

Best Cigar Shop

Cigar Box

Runner-up: Tobacco Merchant

The Cigar Box on Main Street is special. They’ve got a walk-in humidor. They’ve got 250 types of premium cigars. They’ve got plush leather couches, high-definition TVs and free wi-fi. Oh yeah, they also serve craft beer and have a pool table. It’s kind of like your man cave, but with better cigars and fewer old Kathy Ireland posters. There is also a fine Cigar Box location on Rosewood.

Best Vaping Store

Planet Vapor

Runner-up: Mad Vapes

With three Midlands locations, Planet Vapor is a convenient place to buy all your vaping hardware, e-juice (including in-house premium blends) and accessories. Vape away, my friends.

Best Hand-Crafted Gift Shop

It’s Personal Monogramming & Gifts

Runner-up: Nest

This 23-year-old store owned by sisters Jan Mitchell and Jill Atkinson features South Carolina-made gifts.

Best Wine and Paint Studio

Grapes and Gallery

Runner-up: Lexington Paint and Pour

At some point we, as a society, decided, “You know what I want to do? I want to drink some alcohol and do some painting. Preferably at the same time.” And so, wine and paint studios became a thing. Grapes and Gallery, on Taylor Street, is a top-notch entry into the paint-and-pour genre. The studio offers an impressive list of wine and craft beer, and has painting sessions that will satisfy even the least experienced artist.

Best Antique Store

Old Mill Antique Mall

Runner-up: Ivy House Resale Shop

Love antiquing? Old Mill brings together some 75 dealers in one spot, with high quality and funky finds galore.

Best Thrift Store

Goodwill

Runner-up: Palmetto Thrift

The big daddy of thrift stores is a great place to find a snappy suit, a well-worn flannel shirt or a cool lamp.

Best Consignment Store

Once Upon a Child

Runner-up: Roundabouts Consignments

Once Upon a Child bills itself as “the nation’s leading buyer and seller of name brand, new and gently used kids’ stuff.” Basically, the place is packed with children’s clothes that you can buy, or you can sell your own used kids’ clothes for some extra cash. We have two locations here in Columbia — one on Harbison Boulevard and another on Two Notch.

Best Hardware Store

Lowe’s

Runner-up: ACE Hardware

So you need tools and other building supplies. Sure, you could go to your buddy Jeff’s house and “borrow” some of his stuff. Or you could do some adulting and actually go buy your own tools. Whatever you need in regard to hardware, whether it’s for a huge job or a small repair, Lowe’s has it. They also have Combos, if you are into pretzels and processed cheese.

Best Pottery Studio

Mad Platter

Runner-up: Southern Pottery

Have no art skills? This place will make you feel like a pro with helpful advice from the staff. You can make nifty personal gifts or just express yourself. You get the tools to make your own pottery, jewelry or glass-fusing project. Plus, the Platter hosts parties, camps and classes.

Best Florist

Blossom Shop

Runner-up: Something Special

At some point, we all need a florist. Maybe a friend had a new baby, and you want to send a bouquet as a congratulatory gesture. Or perhaps the parent of a childhood friend has passed away, and you need to send them flowers as a token of sympathy and comfort. Or maybe you got a little frisky at the Christmas party with Lucy from accounting and you need to tell your wife, “I’m sorry.” Whatever the case, Blossom Shop on Devine Street has what you need.

Best Bakery

Publix

Runner-up: Tiffany’s Bakery

Whether you need some house-baked bread or a cake decorated with your kid’s name and favorite colors, Publix has what you need.

Best Meat Market

Ole Timey Meat Market

Runner-up: New York Butcher Shop

We love meat. You love meat. America loves meat. There’s no place better to get some meat in the Midlands than Ole Timey Meat Market, which has locations in Irmo, Lexington and South Congaree. The markets carry beef, poultry, pork and seafood, along with veggies, wine, desserts and a host of sauces. You can also make bulk orders, if that’s your speed. MEAT!

Best Place for Fresh Produce

Soda City Market

Runner-up: State Farmers Market

One of the best ways to ensure the produce you’re buying is fresh is to look right in the eyes of the farmer who grew it. At Soda City Market, you can do just that. Farmers from across the Midlands come here to vend their wares, offering seasonal veggies, mushrooms, fruit and much more. One vendor even offers a $10 produce box — just ten bucks for all the produce you can stuff into the surprisingly roomy cardboard box they provide.

Best Natural Food Store

Whole Foods

Runner-up: Rosewood Market

Whole Foods offers a huge array of healthy, natural, organic and other specialty foods, including seafood, meats, fresh produce, bulk foods, house brands, a deli and hot bar, beer and wine, supplements, beauty products and so much more.

Best Beer and Liquor Store

Green’s Discount Beverages

Runner-up: Morganelli’s Party Store

Green’s has beer — a wide and impressive selection, with the requisite supply of expected six-packs augmented by a nice collection of off-beat brews and rare single bottles. Green’s has wine — boasting a satisfying variety and the knowledge to direct you to the bottle you. Green’s has spirits — offering a robust and affordable array. What more do you need?

Best Wine Store

Total Wine & More

Runner-up: Green’s Discount Beverages

Columbia’s hot spot for wine offers not only great deals, but regular tasting events at which you can learn more about your favorite beverage.

Best Store for Used Books

2nd & Charles

Runner-up: The Book Dispensary

We could spend an entire day just bumming around in 2nd and Charles. No, an entire week. OK, we could spend the rest of our lives there. Seriously, there is so much to see — and read — at the used book shop, which is located just off Harbison Boulevard. They have thousands of used books, shelf after shelf of movies on DVD and Blu-Ray, stacks of records and CDs and a deep cache of comic books, not to mention toys, shirts and various trinkets.

Best Place to Buy New Comic Books

2nd & Charles

Runner-up: Cosmic Rays

Comic books have enjoyed a renaissance in recent years, especially in the wake of the tremendous box office success of superhero movies. Whereas in the old days, fans of printed comic books longed to see their heroes on the big screen, now it kind of works the opposite way. Kids who only know Batman from his exploits in cinema are inclined to grab a comic book and continue the adventure there. For those seeking those new adventures, 2nd and Charles offers a nice selection of titles.

Best Place to Buy Used Comic Books

2nd & Charles

Runner-up: Cosmic Rays

There’s just something special about thumbing through a long box of old comic books. Part of it is the simple act of treasure hunting. You never know what you might find in there. Beyond that, there is the pleasure of discovering (or rediscovering) the old adventures of some of your favorite characters. 2nd and Charles has proven to be one of the most reliable, and affordable, spots in the Midlands for chasing down old comics.

Best Dry Cleaner

Tripp’s Fine Cleaners

Runner-up: Lexington Dry Cleaning

The Midlands’ favorite dry cleaner, approaching its 50th anniversary with a dozen locations, is a multi-year Best of Columbia winner for those who want to look their best.

Best Pest Control

Terminix

Runner-up: Clark’s Pest Control

Bugs? Hate ‘em (unless somehow you can throw Poké Balls at them). Readers in the real world chose the big national operator to punt pests.

Best Alarm/Security Company

ADT

Runner-up: CPI

A security system can offer you peace of mind — and in some cases lower your homeowners insurance rates. Free Times readers think you should choose ADT.

Best Staffing Agency

Kelly Services

Runner-up: Apple One

Kelly Services has been around since 1946. If you need a job, whether it’s temporary or something that could become more than temporary, Kelly Services can help you out.

Best Event and Equipment Rental Center

Party Reflections

Runner-up: Thompson Rental Services

Charlotte-based Party Reflections, operating in Columbia since 2013, recently expanded its equipment stock, buying the assets of long-running Columbia party rental company Celebrations — so you know they have exactly what you need for your next shindig.

Best Smartphone and Computer Repair

SmartPhone Medic

Runner-up: Cellular Source

iPhones don’t work very well when your headphone plug breaks off in the jack. Free Times knows from experience that SmartPhone Medic can help you with this problem. And if the results of this year’s poll are any indication, you can expect the same quick, courteous and effective service we received should you encounter a phone issue that exceeds your warranty.

Best Gamecock Store

Garnet & Black Traditions

Runner-up: Addam’s University Bookstore

Garnet and Black Traditions has positioned itself as a one-stop shop for University of South Carolina fans looking for the latest in team apparel and other merchandise. They’ve got three locations in the Midlands (one in Cayce, one off Bower Parkway and one in Lexington), so you can get your garnet Under Armour fix from just about anywhere. Also, they still have those awesome gameday stickers (i.e. Beat Clemson).

Best Cycle Shop

Outspokin’

Runner-up: Cycle Center

The folks at Outspokin’ sell and repair everything from mountain bikes to commuter bikes, with a variety of sweet gear to match. Plus, they’re willing to help cyclists of a variety of experience levels. Check them out.

Best Cab Service

Uber

Runner-up: Checker Yellow

It didn’t take long for the app-based Uber to become Columbia’s ride service of choice. Maybe that’s because it’s easy, fast — and usually real cheap.

Best Limousine Service

Southern Valet

Runner-up: First Class Limo

Leave the driving to these guys. This 12-year-old business will drive you around (even in mini-buses and SUVs). Southern also offers valet and parking lot management services.

Best Guided Tour Experience

Historic Columbia

Runner-up: Columbia Brew Bus

Sometimes we take for granted that we live in the capital city of South Carolina, a town filled to the brim with history, stories and grandeur. But, if you ever need to be reminded, or you want to help a visiting friend from out of town understand the significance of this city and her treasures, Historic Columbia offers a number of tours through houses, gardens and neighborhoods.

Best Outdoor/Camping Gear Store

Half Moon Outfitters

Runner-up: The Backpacker

If you’re headed for the hills, Half-Moon has what you need, from basic camping equipment and clothing to technical climbing gear and much more.

Best River Outfitter

Half Moon Outfitters

Runner-up: Adventure Carolina

Get your kayak or stand-up paddleboard and a new pair of Chacos at Half Moon, then head for the water.

Best Golf Course

Cobblestone Park Golf Club

Runner-up: Golden Hills Golf and Country Club

Channel your inner Dustin Johnson on this challenging 27-hole course in Blythewood that also serves as a home course for the USC golf teams.

Best Pool and Spa Supply Store

Griffin Pools & Spas

Runner-up: Jack Oliver’s Pool, Spa and Patio

Come on, just reading this makes you yearn for a dip now. The Lexington store offers pool design, construction and supplies.

Best Sporting Goods Store

Academy Sports

Runner-up: Todd & Moore

You need gear? Academy Sports has gear. The two locations in Columbia (one’s off Harbison Boulevard, the other’s at the Village at Sandhill) have just about any item you would need, no matter what sport you prefer. And they don’t just offer items for traditional team sports. They also have boating and marine gear, fishing supplies, camping paraphernalia and hunting stuff.

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