not the region’s only fully functioning downtown—smaller towns such
as Chatham and Great Barrington come to mind—but it’s got the most
packed into a relatively compact area. And there is much more to
it than the chain stores taking over the lower portion of Broadway.
From the many stylish boutiques to small indie stores offering sporting
goods, musical instruments, gourmet foods, cards, toys, antiquarian
books and much more, this is a shopper’s paradise, all the more
so because you can stop and refresh yourself at any of several dozen
restaurants, bars, coffee shops and ice-cream joints right in your
Best Women’s Clothing (Day to Night)
Street, Great Barrington, Mass.
Nowadays, it seems you have to go to several different specialty
retailers in order to get everything you need for your wardrobe.
Evening gala, one stop; office wear, another; and so on. Main Street
in Great Barrington takes much of that running around away, by offering
sporty casuals, sophisticated business wear, and sumptuous showstoppers
all in one well-stocked boutique. Patrizia Luca and Barami figure
strongly here, but there’s also a growing stable of hot young designers,
making Main Street also that unique mecca for both mother and daughter,
and every stylin’ one in between.
Women's Clothing (Funky): Rockabella.
PHOTO: Leif Zurmuhlen
Women’s Clothing (Funky)
knew that starchy Saratoga had the hippest clothing? Tucked into
a sliver of a boutique close to Putnam Market, Rockabella is home
to a funky collection of inexpensive tees and accessories, as well
as pricier must-haves like Lucky Seven and Miss Me jeans, Steve
Madden shoes, and adorable party dresses by designers like Arielle.
Shopping has never been so much fun.
Lark St., Albany
Simply put, this is where we get our jewelry. This is where we take
our boyfriends and point to things and bat our eyes and say, “Isn’t
this pretty?” Elissa Halloran’s jewelry is elegant and classy—unless
you want something funky and bold, and it’s that too. With each
piece you pick up, Elissa will be right there to tell you the materials
used (“That’s freshwater pearl and garnet, with sterling sliver”)
and to help you pick out just the right thing for yourself or as
a gift. And now, with her airy, colorful new shop a couple doors
down from her former basement locale, she has a little room to spread
out, and that means more comfy shopping for us.
Best Men’s Clothing
Thomas Men’s Apparel
Metro Park Road, Colonie
Now open three years, Mark Thomas Men’s Apparel is a high-end, high-quality
haberdashery where the customer is treated like a friend and the
shopping experience is actually fun. Owner Mark Goldfarb, partner
Tom Fagan and Steve will make you feel like a millionaire even if
your budget is limited. Suits start at $299 and all tailoring/alterations
are free. Featuring such labels as Palzileri, Corneliani, Jack Victor
and Coppley and shoes by Cole Hann, Magnanni and Johnson and Murphy,
Mark Thomas will have you looking great whether its an amazing suit
and tie or hard-to-find designer jeans and a short-sleeve summer
shirt. They also carry the best cologne we’ve ever used, called
Tino Cosma. Your significant other will love you when you slash
a little of this on.
Best Men’s Shoes
Broadway, Saratoga Springs
Now open for 20 years, this Saratoga retail institution is still
the best in the region for high-quality men’s shoes. They have great
lines like Bourne, Ecco, Johnson & Murphy, Bostonian, Birkenstock,
Merrill, Teva, Tsubo, Keen, Clarks or Doc Martens. For cool and
hip or high-end stylish, Saratoga Shoe Depot does not disappoint.
Best Bike Shop
Tube Cycle Shop
Madison Ave., Albany
A perennial winner for the great selection of bikes (specializing
in Trek, LeMond, Seven Cycles and Gary Fisher) and bike-related
gear, and especially, the friendly and knowledgeable service that
is without equal.
Best Home Electronics
Why pay $50 to take the family to the movies when Hippo’s can create
a home theater in your own family room? Imagine your home completely
wired to see who’s at the front door, watch the kids playing in
the backyard and check in on the sleeping newborn upstairs. Imagine
a TV so thin and vibrant it looks like a picture hanging on the
wall. Audio sound so clear you’ll think you’re at the show. This
is what home electronics has become, and Hippo’s can make your imagination
a reality. Oh, and if you’re looking for just a plain old TV or
DVD player, they have that too.
Best Runners Boutique
Wolf Road, Colonie
Some say customer service is dead; well, don’t tell that to Charles
Woodruff and his staff. The only thing they take more seriously
than running is properly fitting their customers. The knowledgeable
staff will painstakingly measure your feet, consult with you on
the type of surfaces and appropriate shoe and video your gait—all
this just for a pair of sneakers. The importance of this service
is immeasurable. Tremendous selection of the best shoes available
as well as running garb and other accessories.
Best Pet Supplies Store
Western Ave., Albany
When Fido and Fifi are in need of food and supplies, this is the
place. The staff here always are very knowledgeable, which was reassuring
recently, what with all the problems regarding the bad pet-food
supplies. The staff here were very forthcoming about what was what,
and helped us to make good decisions about what to bring home to
our furry friends. The selection is the best around and the prices
are better than any of the chains.
Sporting Goods Store: Goldstock's.
PHOTO: Martin Benjamin
Sporting Goods Store
Freeman’s Bridge Road, Scotia
boast that they are America’s oldest ski shop—and we’re not going
to argue because they have been around since Edison was playing
with light bulbs in that area. The knowledgeable staff will fit
you properly, and they’ll fit your budget. They also boast the largest
fly-fishing department in upstate New York; now that might be a
bit of a stretch, but their selection and knowledge are formidable.
The greatness of this place is it’s longevity and ability to stay
with the trends. They have a full selection of everything your sporting
heart can desire.
Best Wine Shop (selection)
Wine & Spirits
Some wine stores are strong in quality, some are strong in selection,
but this one is strong in both categories. Choose from a huge variety
of names: Cakebread, Stag’s Leap, Caymus, Conn Estates, St. Francis,
and too many more to name. Aisle after aisle, rack after rack, bottle
after bottle, the selection is incredible. Looking for that hard-to-find
rare wine? Chances are they can get it. Need a gift for a real wine
snob? This is the place. Even if you want a quality wine for less
than $10, you can find it here.
Best Wine Shop (Neighborhood)
Wine & Spirits
and State streets, Albany
Great neighborhood atmosphere, great wine, great people to sell
it to you. That, and we can walk there from our office. ’Nuff said.
Colvin Ave., Albany
Year after year, we keep looking for a beer distributor with a better
selection and a more knowledgeable staff, but we can never find
one. Oliver’s is it. Trust us, we know beer.
Lexington Ave, Albany
Established in 2002, and formerly of the Center Square neighborhood,
MFT (short for my favorite things) continues to be on the cutting
edge. With a clientele that reads like a who’s who of Albany, Chris
Grigas’ and Donald Matthews’ continued success is a credit to their
combined character, work ethic, and artistic eye. The sometimes
surprising (but always on-point) juxtaposition of form, color and
texture is what makes MFT’s aesthetic so distinct and pleasurable.
Whether your taste is a single stemmed zen-esque floral statement
or an opulent monochromatic arrangement, each piece is designed
with not only the client in mind, but the integrity of the shop
owners as well. Available for any special occasion, and for the
equally important no particular occasion.
Best Cigar Store
Premium Cigar Shoppe
Central Ave., Albany
We don’t like to boast of this habit, yet the occasional cigar soothes
the troubled soul. And clears the room quickly. Unless you’re upstairs
at Habana Premium, where there’s a smokers’ clubhouse. Scotty is
always bringing in new and interesting cheroots, with promotional
events to introduce them, and you’ll find something for every budget
in this incredibly friendly place.
Best Tobacco/Gift Shop
Jay St, Schenectady
To take a stroll down Schenectady’s famed Jay Street is to take
a step back in time. Particularly if you venture into a store where
people have been gathering for nearly 40 years to talk politics,
see friendly faces, and to buy an array of items that compliment
the current, or not-so-current, counterculture of the day (wink,
wink). Orion has a little bit of everything, from their impressive
cigar selection to their handmade jewelry and gifts, smoking paraphernalia,
T-shirts, tapestries, posters, candles, books and more. Orion Boutique
remains the No. 1 stop for the total mind expansion. If you don’t
believe us, just ask the knowledgeable staff. Dig it.
Best Holistic/Wellness Store
Kenwood Ave., Delmar
Still on that metaphysical journey? The bumpy ride can be eased
by Anne DeClue’s gem of a store. Like a beacon, her knowledge of
all things nondenominational and her sincerity can guide you through.
Now in its second year, Peaceful Inspirations continues to grow
and evolve on it’s own path to enlightenment. Always carrying the
latest and greatest in yoga supplies, drums, and books for adults
and children, jewelry, fair-trade items and more, this is definitely
one stop you won’t want to miss. It’s the perfect place to relax,
unwind and just . . . be.
Art-Supply Store: Arlene's Artist Materials, Inc.
PHOTO: Leif Zurmuhlen
Artist Materials, Inc
Fuller Road, Albany
Arlene’s is still our favorite supplier of all things artistic.
From exotic Japanese papers to custom framing, if you’ve got a hankerin’
for self expression, Arlene’s got the fix. Family-owned and -operated
for more than 40 years, it’s your one-stop art-supply shop!
Best Tattoo Shop
Your body is a temple, but how long can you live in the same house
before you redecorate? Well, these days, it doesn’t seem to be very
long at all. Don Demers, owner (and former Lark Tattoo artist) opened
up shop in Troy just a few years back with Full Effect Tattooing,
then added artist Brian Kimball (also of Lark Tattoo), and the two
have been leaving their clients inked, satisfied and amazed ever
Best Musical Instrument Store
Route 9, Clifton Park
Some things never change.
Best Community Music Store
Hudson Ave., Chatham
A throwback to the Main Street shops of the past rather than the
soulless box stores of the present, Musica is all about community
inclusion and the loud joy of making music. There are voice and
instrument lessons, open mics for teens, in-store concerts, expert
repairs and a big brown dog to greet you. The store is a celebration
of all things musical, a place for the community to learn, practice
and play music with each other. The 9-year-old girl with a ripped
cork on her clarinet is treated with the same respect as the hotshot
electric guitarist. Stroll in at any time and you might be treated
to an impromptu yodeling session, a passionate gear discussion (humbuckers
vs. single coil?) or a rowdy fiddle tune by some touring Scots.
Want to play a harmonium? Musica has a book. And a harmonium. And
a shruti box. And a cura cumbus from Turkey. And now a “Best Of”
for a third time.
Best Martial Arts Training (Wing Chun)
Central Ave., Albany
When you find a legit teacher in the crowded field of martial-arts
training, consider yourself lucky. Russell Cichon is one of those
teachers. Cichon carries with him decades of training in a pure
lineage of this legendary Chinese martial art (his teacher is Ip
Ching, son of famed Yip Man). His school is welcoming and challenging,
and he is generous with his time and knowledge. As anyone who has
passed through this Albany studio knows, studying under Sifu Cichon
is a rare treat.
Best Martial Arts School (Mixed Martial Arts)
Walker Way, Colonie
Master instructor Alan Condon has had years of experience teaching
Muay Thai kickboxing and Carlos Machado Jiu Jitsu. Condon can help
you shoot for your cage-fighting dreams or just give you a chance
to unwind while you punch the mitts or learn an Omoplata
Best Personal Trainer
Torel will kick your butt and have you coming back for more. The
reason? This Albany Region physical-fitness guru loves what she
is doing and it shows. Torel has spent years studying how body fitness
and mental health affect one another, and she brings that knowledge
to everything that she does. Whether it’s with her indoor cycling
class, one-on-one “lifestyle therapy” sessions, or that last set
of squats, she’ll show you how to get the body that you deserve.
All that she’ll ask in return is that you sweat—a lot.
We love this bookstore. We could spend hours browsing through its
homey aisles (and we have). A staple in this region, it has survived
the invasion of the large retail chains and the siren song of the
Internets. And we are so happy it has; we would be lost without
our Book House.
Best Used Bookstore
Hudson Ave., Albany
If you love books, the way they smell, the way they feel, all those
words, then you will find a home here at this Center Square institution.
Come for the Chaucer, stay for the Bukowski.
Best Children’s Bookstore
Little Book House
You know where we’ll be this weekend to pick up the final installment
of the Harry Potter series. That’s right—the Little Book House.
But we don’t only love it for it’s Harry Potter-inspired release
parties; we love how the educated, well-informed staff know every
book that’s in the store, and for what age they’re intended, and
which to recommend. They carry educational, well-regarded books,
the kind that give you the satisfying feeling that by reading them,
kids’ brains really are being nourished. We like that.
Best Comic-Book Shop
Fulton St., Troy
There is no easier place in the Capital Region to buy comic books
then at Aquilonia. Owner Bob Lupe is an affable chap who is always
ready to help you explore your taste in the graphic novel and discover
your superhero preferences. Along with a superb subscription service
and a competent selection of back issues, you will find a friendly
environment, full of interesting conversation between customers
from all walks of life. If for no other reason, stop in to listen
to cops, lawyers, writers, artists and businessmen discuss the color
of Spiderman’s costume and Iron Man’s love life.
Best Record Store
Quail St. Albany
Last Vestige never really had much competition in the vinyl department,
but this year there’s hardly any competition in the realm of independent
music retailers. We thank our lucky stars that we still have the
opportunity to go hunting for vinyl in Vestige’s familiar racks.
If the store ever disappears, you might find us in your garage or
attic on weekends digging through your old records. And that would
be uncomfortable for both of us.
the Latham and Slingerlands Price Choppers
New Loudon Road, Latham; 1395 New Scotland Ave., Slingerlands
They’re enormous, and that isn’t always a good thing (it does suck
when you’ve meticulously shopped from aisle one all the way to the
other end, only to realize you forgot one thing that’s back
in aisle one), but these two Choppers have just about everything
you could imagine a supermarket to have (what’s next—an in-store
tattoo service? Bowling lanes?). The Starbucks coffee and gourmet
hot foods are just fine, but what we really like about these stores,
besides their exhaustively stocked shelves, is their large natural-foods
selections. Presumably, they’ve been bracing for the arrival of
Whole Foods for a while now.
Best Fresh Food Market
South St., Pittsfield, Mass.; 760 S. Main St., Great Barrington,
Both of these spacious (but not overwhelming) markets dazzle with
copious and dependably fresh produce (which is pretty much all they
sold way back when they opened the first Guido’s as a produce stand).
Today, they’re full-fledged markets featuring fresh fish, all- natural
meats, bakery bread and other fresh baked goods, a deli counter,
and aisles of thoughtfully chosen, minimally processed packaged
foods. There’s no other market quite like Guido’s in the region,
which is why they’re perennial winners.
Weight Food Co-op
Central Ave., Albany
Still the best for all things natural and healthy. Love the bulk
grains and nuts, the fresh local produce, the Meadowbrook Dairy
milk, and oh, the cheese. Never have we been so tempted by cheese.
Every visit, a new variety is thrust in our faces, beckoning us.
. . . Where were we? Oh yeah, co-op. Best co-op. Whether you’re
a member or not, Honest Weight can be a cornerstone of your healthy
Best One-Stop Neighborhood Grocery
Delaware Ave., Albany
Since their recent remodeling, there’s more room for the variety
of cold cuts and cheeses and prepared soup and butcher-cut (hormone-free)
meat, fresh produce, whole-bean coffee and much, much more, including
many homemade items like pizza and sandwiches and desserts. And
the meatballs, made every day by 92-year-old Augusto Cardona.
Farmers Market: Troy Waterfront Farmers Market.
PHOTO: Shannon DeCelle
Waterfront Farmers Market
Troy farmers market, housed in the lot of Hedley Park Place in the
warm months and in the downtown Atrium in the cold ones, is as much
about tapping into a sense of community as it is about picking up
your weekly supply of organic tomatoes. It is impossible to walk
through the crowds of familiar faces without running into at least
a half-dozen friends, and it is equally impossible to not get swept
up in the smell of fresh pesto or the folk music of guitarist Tom
Winslow. Starting your day with this family-friendly and peaceful
market will get you in the right frame of mind for a great weekend.
Central Ave., Albany
This friendly and inviting shop boasts a knowledge staff, reasonable
prices (you’ll be hard pressed to find anyone selling Vitamin Water
for less), and shelves of conveniently labeled hard-to-find items.
Right off the bus line in Albany, in Westgate Plaza, everything
about Dean’s is convenient.
Best Asian Market
Colvin Ave., Albany
This is where we go when we need ingredients for homemade sushi,
spring rolls, chop suey and more. There’s a great selection of produce,
fresh fish, and a whole lot of things we can’t exactly identify.
probably no point to this plea, but cell-phone users: Too many of
you are getting hosed. Repeatedly, and with malice aforethought.
You should demand the kind of service from your cell provider that
those of us who still love our land-line service get from Verizon.
Service? It hardly ever goes down. Every call is clear (unless one
is talking with someone with a bad cell connection). And the billing
is a hell of a lot easier to decipher. And there’s this, for you
so-called liberal types: Verizon land-line workers are unionized.
Most cell-phone workers, including Verizon’s, are not. OK,
you can now go back to being dazzled by your fuzzy cell-phone pictures
and annoying ring tones.
Tech, 169 Jefferson St., Albany
Ah, Derek. Everyone we know goes to him, including us. And he comes
through for us every time with reasonable prices and top-notch,
efficient work. We love that his shop is conveniently located right
on Jefferson, across the street from the Palais Royale (not that
we have drinks while waiting for our cars to be fixed or anything).
We love that Derek personally knows the majority of his customers.
And that million-dollar grin doesn’t hurt things, either.