Best New Car Dealership
Jim Hudson Automotive Group
Runner-up: Honda of Columbia
Let’s be honest: Most people dread shopping for a car. How can you be sure that smooth-talking salesman is actually giving you the best bang for your buck? Well, seeing which dealership our readers voted for is a pretty good start. Founded in 1980, the Jim Hudson Automotive Group is a family owned business offering a huge selection of vehicles.
Honorable mention: Dick Dyer Automotive Group, Dick Smith Automotive Group
Best Used Car Dealership
Runner-up: Jim Hudson Automotive Group
A long time ago, someone decided that you should pay whatever is listed on the price tag for some things, while you should haggle over others. Cars used to fall into the latter category — until CarMax came around. The company dispensed with all that used-car sales sleaziness and offered straight-up reasonable prices instead. Bonus: On the CarMax website, you can search by make and model — and even look into getting cars sent from dealerships far outside Columbia.
Honorable mention: Honda Of Columbia, Enterprise Car Sales, Galeana
Best Motorcycle Store
Runner-up: Thunder Tower Harley-Davidson
Oh sure, you enjoy your desk job. You eat your cheese sandwich at your desk and drive your kids to soccer practice in a Toyota Prius. But, somewhere deep down inside your soul, there’s a swaggering badass just waiting to come out. And that swaggering badass does his (or her) shopping at Harley Haven, Columbia’s oldest authorized Harley dealer.
Honorable mention: Capital City Cycles, Columbia Powersports, Carolina Honda Powerhouse.
Best ATV Store
Runner-up: Carolina Honda Powerhouse
Have you ever actually driven an ATV? Because if you have, then you understand the appeal. Columbia Powersports offers both new and pre-owned all-terrain vehicles — not to mention motorcycles, jet skis, scooters, golf carts and more — at two locations in the Midlands.
Best Auto Repair
At Nuttall’s, you’ll find ASE-certified master technicians who’ll get your car back into tip-top shape in no time. This full-service auto shop carries the most respected tire brands out there, too.
Honorable mention: Complete Car Care, Clark’s Auto, 3 Man Auto
Best Oil Change
Runner-up: Jiffy Lube
Sure, Nuttall’s on Millwood Avenue is perhaps best known as a tire shop. But they’re also a full-service shop — and they’ll change the hell out of your oil. After all, changing your oil is critical to promote maximum vehicle performance while extending the life of your vehicle. You can even get a coupon for $5 off an oil change at nuttalltire.com.
Honorable mention: Express Oil Change and Service Center, Firestone, Midas.
Best Car Wash
Frank’s Car Wash
Runner-up: Constan Car Wash
It’s a scientific fact: A clean car drives better. OK, maybe it’s not a scientific fact. But a super clean car does look and feel a lot better. Frank’s Car Wash does a fantastic job of giving your ride a high shine. Plus they’ve got a lobby with windows where your kids can watch the car go through the wash. A wash and a show!
Honorable mention: Sparkle Car Wash, Sunset Car Wash
Best Tire Dealer
Frank’s Discount Tire
If it’s round, rubber and rolls, Frank’s got it. In addition to having a pretty catchy jingle associated with it, this discount tire dealer serves as a fully operational automotive repair and maintenance shop.
Honorable mention: Firestone, Pope Davis
Best Driving School
Runner-up: Baldwin Driver Training
Do you have a teenager? If so, you’re surely as least a little nervous — OK, maybe a lot — about the prospect of him or her driving. Relax: That’s why there are professionals to teach them. With some lessons and some practice, you’ll go from fretting over your teen driver to sending the kid to run your errands.
Honorable mention: Lake Murray Driving Academy, Lexington Driving Academy
Best Window Tinting
Runner-up: Palmetto Pro Tint
They see you rollin’. They’re hatin’. Get some tint on those windows posthaste to block the gaze of the unworthy.
Honorable mention: Solar Solutions
Strobler is runner-up for Best Furniture Store. Photo by john carlos
Best Furniture Store
Located on Gervais Street in the heart of the Vista, Whit-Ash is a one-stop shop for those looking to furnish their home in style. Enormous selection of furniture and accessories.
Honorable mention: Rooms To Go, Marty Rae’s
Best Outdoor Furniture Store
Looking for some nice lanterns to put in the backyard? Perhaps some potted plants or welcome mats to make visitors feel welcome? From beer mugs to decorative wall art, Carolina Pottery has a variety of options to make your home more, well, homey.
Honorable mention: Casual Living, Tropic-Aire, Jack Oliver’s Pool, Spa and Patio
Best Pet Supply Store
Runner-up: Pet Supplies Plus
From town to town, from state to state, PetSmart is one of the most dependable places to turn for whatever your pet needs to stay healthy and happy.
Honorable Mention: Mill Creek; PETS, Inc.
Best Kennel or Pet Boarding Facility
Runner-up: Camp Bow Wow
Pawmetto Lifeline, which has a sparkling facility on Bower Parkway, is perhaps best known for its pet rescue and adoption operations. But it also has a robust boarding and “Doggy Daycare” operation. The nonprofit dedicates the proceeds from boarding and daycare toward helping homeless pets in the Midlands.
Honorable mention: Wescott Acres, Elgin Veterinary Hospital
Best Pet Groomer
Runner-up: Sarah and Susie’s
Some say that a pet’s appearance is a reflection of its owner. So why not get your four-legged companion looking spick-and-span with a trip to Groomingdales? Haircuts? Check. Baths? Check. Flea removal? Check. All for a reasonable price to boot.
Honorable mention: Val’s Pretty Pets, Elgin Veterinary Hospital
Best Veterinary Clinic
Shandon-Wood Animal Clinic
Runner-up: Dutch Fork Animal Hospital
It’s the personal touch that sets Shandon-Wood apart, with doctors and staff that build up a genuine rapport with you and your pet. But the care is also exceptional, with vets willing to talk you step by step in deciding what’s best for your special little friends.
Honorable mention: Four Paws, Five Points Animal Clinic, Elgin Veterinary Hospital
Best Dog Park
Runner-up: NoMa Bark Park
Arf arf grrrrr-uff! Yip yap. Bark bark bark bark bark bark! (Translation: Saluda Shoals is a super-fun dog park. Or something like that — we don’t speak Dog all that well.)
Honorable mention: Emily Douglas Dog Park
Best Place to Work
University of South Carolina
Runner-up: Palmetto Citizens Federal Credit Union
Working around smart people on a historic, lovely and well-maintained campus? Sounds pretty good to us.
Honorable mention: BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina, Recruiting Solutions
Best After-School Program
EdVenture Children’s Museum
Runner-up: Boys & Girls Clubs
of the Midlands
School ends at 2:30 p.m. You get off work at 5 p.m. Clearly you need something to fill the gap — and EdVenture will keep your kid safe, happy and engaged. Features plenty of activities and a staff trained in child development.
Honorable mention: Shandon Presbyterian CDC, Lake Murray Afterschool Academy Nominee, Incarnation Lutheran Church CDC
Best Place for Music Lessons
Columbia Arts Academy/Lexington School of Music
Runner-up: Freeway Music
In the old days, taking music lessons meant suffering through age-old folk songs or watered-down versions of classical pieces. These days, kids can study the music they’re interested in — whether it’s rock, pop, blues, jazz, country, classical or anything else. The Columbia Arts Academy and the Lexington School of Music offer lessons in voice, piano, guitar, ukulele, banjo, mandolin and drums. (The Lexington location offers violin, too.) Plus, they even have rock band classes.
Honorable mention: Sims Music, Guitar Center, Northeast Arts Academy at NEPC
Best Martial Arts School
Runner-up: Genova Family Karate
“You must be shapeless, formless, like water,” said the great Bruce Lee. Learning the proper techniques to become a martial arts master takes years of focus and dedication, but Capital Karate is a great place to start. And even if you don’t make it to the black belt level, you’ll learn self-defense skills and get a great workout.
Honorable mention: Columbia Martial Arts and Fitness, Gracie Barra Lexington
House of Worship NewSpring Church
Runners-up: Midtown Fellowship, Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Columbia (TIE)
NewSpring has nearly 20 church locations across South Carolina, including campuses in Columbia, Northeast Columbia and Lexington. Known for its use of technology; its energetic, modern music; and its unconventional sermons, more than 30,000 people across the state attend a NewSpring campus each Sunday.
Honorable mention: Seacoast Church
Best Continuing Education Institution
University of South Carolina
Runner-up: Midlands Technical College
Education is changing, and the University of South Carolina is changing with it. While it’s still a major teaching and research institution — as well as a home for innovation and technology — USC is also expanding its efforts to help working professionals and nontraditional students meet their goals, including through its online Palmetto College.
Honorable mention: Southeastern Esthetics Institute
Best Local Insurance Agent
Larry Lucas - State Farm
Runner-up: Troy Roberts -
Got a new car or boat that needs protection? Need some renters’ insurance? Larry Lucas will hook you up.
Honorable mention: Jeff Burgey - SC Farm Bureau, Roe Young - State Farm
Best Auto Insurance Company
So, you park your car on a quiet downtown street one night and think nothing else about it. The next morning, you’re awakened by your neighbor asking, “Have you seen your car?” Lo and behold, someone drove by your quiet street on a Monday night, smashed the hell out of your car and just kept right on going. What happens next? That depends on your insurance company. If it’s State Farm, you’ll probably come out OK.
Honorable mention: Allstate, Nationwide
Best Law Firm
McNair Law Firm
Runner-up: Nexsen Pruet
With specialties ranging from intellectual property law to lobbying, and more than 100 attorneys in eight offices, McNair can help you with your legal problem, big or small.
Honorable mention: Chappell, Smith & Arden; McKay, Cauthen, Settana, & Stubley; Harrell & Martin; Turner Padget
Best Personal Injury Law Firm
Law Office of Kenneth E. Berger
Runner-up: Strom Law Firm
Personal injury lawyers get a bad rap. But remember this: If they weren’t out there suing companies that make dangerous cars and faulty toys, then those companies could continue to abuse their power. Kenneth E. Berger and his team will help you — and, frankly, all of us — out.
Honorable mention: Chappell, Smith & Arden
Best DUI Law Firm or Attorney
Runner-up: Strom Law Firm
So, Seth Rose is a Richland County Councilman. He also, apparently, is a damn fine DUI attorney. In one online review of Rose’s services, a client posted that they were arrested on a DUI charge, but their “record will still be clean” because of Rose. It helps to have an attorney who knows the system.
Honorable mention: Alex Postic, Randy Hough
Best Bail Bonds Service
Runner-up: E Z Out
A-1’s slogan is “Don’t worry, we’ll get you through this.” If you’re in need of a bail bondsman, it’s unlikely they’ll be able to alleviate all your worries. But they can at least get you home so you can worry in comfort.
Honorable mention: ABC Bail Bonds, Sinkler Bonding Co.
Runner-up: First Citizens
Back when the banking system melted down in the depths of the Great Recession, Wells Fargo came out a winner. Why? Because it hadn’t taken the wild risks that some other banks had. When it’s time to open a bank account, get a credit card or take out a loan, it’s good to do it with a bank that has its act together. Wells Fargo fits the bill.
Honorable mention: Bank of America, BB&T, First Community Bank, South State Bank
Best Credit Union
Federal Credit Union
Runner-up: All South Federal Credit Union
The smiling people at Palmetto Citizens will help you set up checking and savings accounts, get you an auto loan, or myriad other services.
Honorable mention: SC State Credit Union, Safe Federal Credit Union, SC Federal Credit Union
Best Heating and Air Service
2nd Wind Heating & Air
Runner-up: All American Heating and Air
You know those summer nights when it’s still 101 degrees out at 9 p.m.? Yeah, you know what we’re talking about. When your HVAC system starts sputtering, you want to call a company with a track record. 2nd Wind will get you up and running again in no time.
Honorable mention: Cassell Brothers, Cool Care Heating and Air, Carolina Conditions
Best Plumbing Repair
Runner-up: Gene Love Plumbing
This much is certain: At some point in life, you’re going to need a plumber. Meetze Plumbing, a family operation, has been providing plumbing services in the Midlands since 1981. Meetze provides residential and commercial services, as well as water filtration and sewer and drain work.
Honorable mention: Cottrell & Co., Dubose Plumbing.
Best Landscaping Company
Runner-up: Blue Moon
Want your lawn and garden to look like a million bucks without spending a million bucks? Call the pros at Woodley’s, who offer everything from design consultations to full-service landscaping.
Honorable mention: Lawn and Order, US Lawns
Best Moving Company
2 Two Men and a Truck
Runner-up: Soda City Movers
What literally started off as two men and a truck has grown into a sizable moving company over the last 30 years. In addition to physically moving your old stuff into your new house or apartment, the company offers packing supplies, moving boxes and storage services.
Honorable mention: Gentlemen Movers
Best Gun Shop
Palmetto State Armory
Runner-up: Shooter’s Choice
Whether it’s a handgun, a rifle or an AR-15 you’re looking for, Palmetto State Armory has all the weapons, ammo and other gear to get you packing.
Honorable mention: Academy Sports
Best Shooting Range
Palmetto State Armory
Runner-up: Shooter’s Choice
The Fernandina location of Palmetto State Armory offers a safe place to hone your skills and practice your aim. Open daily for target practice and personalized lessons.
Honorable mention: Defender Shooting Sports
Best Appliance Store
Runner-up: Jeffers McGill
When you are looking for a major appliance — say, a refrigerator — you don’t want to go to some rinky dink store that carries two kinds of refrigerators, both of which look like your mother-in-law’s fridge from 1978. No, you need a place that has acres and acres of refrigerators, spread out as far as the eye can see, like the human harvesting fields in The Matrix. That’s Lowe’s: The human harvesting field in The Matrix, but with appliances instead of humans.
Honorable mention: H.H. Gregg, Best Buy
Best Real Estate Agency
Russell & Jeffcoat
Runner-up: Coldwell Banker United
Founded in 1965, Russell & Jeffcoat is one of the largest and most respected residential real estate firms in the Southeast — and the firm has been particularly involved in the growth of the Midlands. Sometimes, bigger really is better.
Honorable mention: Keller Williams, ERA Wilder Realty, Wolfe and Taylor Inc., Bollin Ligon Walker
Best Home Builder
Runner-up: Great Southern Homes
Founded in Columbia in 1954, Mungo Homes is now ranked the 37th-largest builder in the country. The company is active in South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia and Alabama, offering multiple floor plans for many tastes and budgets. For generations of Columbia residents, “new home” is synonymous with Mungo.
Honorable mention: Essex Homes
Runner-up: Inn at USC Wyndham
Location, location, location — who cares how comfortable your hotel room is if you’re not near anything cool to do? You’ll be in great shape on both counts at the Hilton Columbia Center, located in midst of the Vista with myriad entertainment, shopping and dining options at your fingertips.
Honorable mention: Marriott, Embassy Suites, Sheraton
Best Local Clothing Store
Runner-up: Sid & Nancy
Some places that talk about customer service are just talking. At Brittons, personalized service is a way of life. Sells the finest in men’s and women’s clothing and accessories — and offers the expertise to get you looking your best.
Honorable mention: Bohemian, Southern Children
Best Alternative Clothing
Runner-up: Loose Lucy’s, Sid & Nancy (TIE)
“Bohemian” really is a fitting name for this shop, which offers hip, breezy and unique women’s styles.
Honorable mention: Hip Wa Zee
Best Children’s Clothing
Once Upon a Child
Runner-up: Little Lambs and Ivy
It’s astonishing how quickly children can grow out of clothes. That’s why this children’s consignment store — with two locations in the Midlands and racks weighed down with clean, well-priced, gently used kids’ fashions — is so essential.
Honorable mention: Southern Children, Enchanted Closet
Best Women’s Clothing
Runner-up: Copper Penny
Based in Charlotte, with locations throughout the South, Belk is a leading retailer of women’s fashions. The retailer offers some of the most well-known brands and contemporary styles available today. From dresses to jackets to activewear to lingerie to shoes and accessories, Belk has what you need.
Honorable mention: Revente, Bohemian, Entourage
Best Men’s Clothing
Though it is a retail chain, Belk is able to capture a certain Southern style in men’s wear. Among the brands the store carries are Levi’s, Nautica, Southern Proper and Polo Ralph Lauren. The store also carries a large selection of colognes at their fragrance counter. Confession: We might or might not have sneaked a spray or two from the “tester” bottles over the years.
Honorable mention: Granger Owings, Jos. A. Bank, Circa 1332
Best Jewelry Store
Runner-up: Jewelry Warehouse
Necklaces, earrings, bracelets and rings, these are a few of our favorite things. Friendly staff and great repair service serve to sweeten the deal.
Honorable mention: Sylvan’s, David’s Fine Jewelry, Unforgettable
Best Culinary Store
Roaming the aisles of the Gourmet Shop, it’s pretty hard to resist buying everything from a sparkling new silver whisk to a huge, professional-grade Viking mixer — not to mention all the cheese and all the chocolate. A great spot for kitchen essentials and gifts.
Honorable mention: Charleston Cooks!
Best Smoke Shop
Runner-up: Natural Vibrations
If you’re a cigar lover, it’s hard to walk past the door at The Cigar Box and not be drawn in by the intoxicating aroma. A great selection of stogies matched with drinks and cozy seating makes it a great spot to hang out and puff or to grab a cigar and head home.
Honorable mention: Alibaba’s, High Life Smoke, Seven Sense Intl
Best Cigar Shop
Runner-up: Tobacco Merchant
The Cigar Box has a walk-in humidor with more than 250 premium cigars on offer. It also serves craft beer and has plush leather couches, a pool table and free wi-fi access. No, we aren’t describing heaven. We’re describing The Cigar Box on Main Street.
Honorable mention: Maduro Room,Lite Um Up Cigars Lounge
Best Vaping Store
Runner-up: The Vaping Zone
If the idea of a planet bathed in a vape haze makes you smile, this is your place. There’s a dizzying array of products involved in vaping — e-liquid, chargers, cases and more — and Planet Vapor has everything, plus a staff that can get you set up quickly and conveniently.
Honorable mention: Elite Vapors, Seven Sense Int’l
Best Gift Shop
If you’re looking for a personalized or embroidered gift for someone special, Uptown can help you out. The Main Street shop can hook you up with items emblazoned with initials or some other such insignia, as well as a fine selection of signature Columbia items.
Honorable mention: Urban Nirvana, Gibson’s, Artizan, Seven Sense Intl
Runner-up: Artizan, Nest (TIE)
Looking for unique bracelets, earrings, necklaces and more? You’ll find them here; HandPicked works with artisans all over the world to ensure it. Plus, your bracelets and other items can be personalized to make your new acquisitions that much more awesome.
Honorable mention: Portfolio Art Gallery, Seven Sense Intl
Best Wine and Paint Studio
Grapes and Gallery
Runner-up: Paint and Pour
Don’t think you can paint? Doesn’t matter. Grapes and Gallery will pour you a glass of pinot grigio and guide you through a fun evening of art.
Honorable mention: Studio Cellar, Pitter Platter
Best Antique Store
Old Mill Antique Store
Runner-up: Spring Valley
The greater Columbia area has a lot of antiques shops, which makes it a particularly big deal to win this category. Located on State Street in West Columbia, Old Mill offers items from more than 75 vendors and recently celebrated its 30th anniversary.
Honorable mention: Non(e)such, Almost Antiques
Best Thrift Store
Runner-up: His House
Readers, it’s hard for us to even recall all the things we’ve scored at Goodwill over the years. Couches. Desks. Sweaters. Pretty old jelly jars that we use as wine glasses. A $15 vintage houndstooth winter jacket with three-quarter-length sleeves. Thank you, Goodwill.
Honorable mention: St. Paws Thrift Store, Palmetto Thrift
Best Consignment Store
Once Upon a Child
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, wall to wall, with gently used children’s clothes — and when your kids are growing an inch or so every month, you know how helpful that can be. Two locations in Columbia, one on Harbison Boulevard and another on Two Notch Road.
Honorable mention: Roundabouts Consignments, Sid and Nancy
Best Hardware Store
Runner-up: ACE Hardware
Look, Lowe’s has everything. And because it has everything, you might have to ask for help finding what you need. Fortunately, Lowe’s employees are smart and helpful.
Honorable mention: Home Depot
Best Pottery Studio
Runner-up: Southern Pottery
Parties! Camps! Classes! Founded in 1997, Mad Platter gives you all the tools you need to make your own pottery — and does it at super-low prices. It doesn’t stop at pottery, either; you can also make jewelry, do a glass-fusing project and more.
Honorable mention: Red Bird Studio and Gallery
Best Art Supply Store
Runner-up: City Art
These days, Hobby Lobby is almost as famous for its conservative politics as for its arts and crafts supplies. But if you’ve got a project in the works, it’s Hobby Lobby’s inventory that’ll be important to you. They’ve also got Christmas trees and Big League Chew gum, if that’s your thing.
Honorable mention: Michael’s
Runner-up: Blossom Shop
Fellas, if you want to impress your lady, try buying her flowers from an actual florist. This lovely local shop can help you find flowers for any occasion.
Honorable mention: Something Special, American Floral
Runner-up: Tiffany’s Bakery
Whether you need an Ant-Man cake for your 6-year-old daughter’s birthday, or just some fresh multigrain bread, Publix is the place.
Honorable mention: Chocolate Nirvana, Silver Spoon Bake Shop, Ally & Eloise, Blue Flour Bakery, Crust Bakehouse
Best Meat Market
Runner-up: The Fresh Market
With three locations in the Midlands, Ole Timey Meat Market makes it clear: They’ve got the meat. The shop offers beef, chicken, pork, veal and lamb, and more, all cut fresh daily. Ole Timey also carries wine, various sauces and marinades and fresh seafood items.
Honorable mention: Caughman’s Meat’n Place, Corbitt’s Meat Market