Best Bike Shop: Missoula Bicycle Works
So, singling out that old French racing bike is making you wish the Germans won World War I? We suspect you’ve probably reached the bottom bracket and your frustration is understandable. At this point, there’s no shame in taking the project to the experts at Missoula Bicycle Works. As dealers of Bianchi and Orbea, they know how to handle European idiosyncrasies and boast of the widest selection of new bikes in the county to boot.
Best Sporting Goods: Bob Ward & Sons
In the cavernous confines of Bob Ward & Sons, Missoulians can find whatever recreational goods they’re looking for—and probably some they never even knew existed. From hunting to hiking, telemarking to tubing, this family-operated outdoor retailer takes the gold year after year.
Best Gun Shop: Brady’s Sportsman’s Surplus
Guns are like potato chips for some. You can’t have just one. And with a wall-to-wall selection of new and used arms so big their staff can’t even tell you how many they have, it’s easy to see why Brady’s continues to be Missoula’s favorite.
Best Bowling Alley: Westside Lanes
Approximately 4,700 people attended last weekend’s Bowl Expo in Orlando. Slightly less could be found during the same time period at Westside Lanes, which regularly scores a strike with our readers—but we’re guessing it was still pretty crowded.
Best Head Shop: Down Under
Like a wafting cloud of, um, tobacco smoke, Down Under has drifted into the ether. The venerable glass shop once located under Rainbow’s End closed late last year and was replaced with a high-end women’s clothing store. While fans of this category’s long-time winner are surely mourning by lighting, um, altar candles, the store is honored posthumously here.
Best Home Accessories: Pier 1
If we had a category for best aroma, I think it’s safe to say Pier 1 would win. Their collection of potpourri, scented candles, incense, etc., has a way of lulling customers into a state of home accessory shopping bliss. Maybe that’s why every time we browse by we come home with two bags of candles—and a new armoire.
Best Lodging: Doubletree
Funny thing: We could have sworn our folks were visiting so often because they missed us. But we’re suspicious now that every time they arrive they end up talking ad nauseum about their serene riverside room at the Doubletree, the better-than-home king bed and the immaculate room service meals delivered from Finn & Porter. We see how it is, Mom and Dad, and at least feel a little better knowing that our voters feel the same way as you do when it comes to Missoula’s best place to stay.
Best Apartment Rental Agency: Garden City Property Management
In a town where less than half of us own a house, and more than 70 percent of us couldn’t buy one at today’s rates, there’s more than enough landlording to go around. So give it up for Garden City Property Management for fishing out top honors from our local throng of roof providers.
Best Computer Repair Shop: Computer ER
That frowning face with the Xs for eyes in the middle of your screen is not a sign that your computer needs to sleep off a hangover. Whether the bit monster has been drinking too many shots of electricity, failing to keep cool or is just plain fried, Computer ER is your best bet for getting your Interweb enabler intensive care, rehab or something in
Best Daycare Provider: Fort Courage
Last year, Fort Courage demonstrated the virtue of sharing by settling for one-quarter of a four-way tie in the contest to be the best place for workday safekeeping of toddler-sized adorables. This year, Fort Courage stops sharing.
Best Department Store: Macy’s
North Reserve Street and Southgate Mall might overflow with merchants looking to meet your needs or wants, but they’ve got competition that can’t be topped in the downtown anchor Macy’s, a favorite shopping spot being eyed for a makeover in early drafts of the Downtown Master Plan.
Best Financial Institution: Missoula Federal Credit Union
With a self-congratulatory pat on the back, the members—and therefore cooperative owners—of Missoula Federal Credit Union (and maybe a few jealous onlookers without a drop to deposit) have again saluted themselves as the premier place to squirrel away for tomorrow or borrow for today.
Best Furniture Store: Wagner’s Home Furnishings
It’s time you found out what it’s like to sit on a couch that wasn’t abandoned before some college graduate left town for a more robust job market. Wagner’s Home Furnishings will help. They’ve got more than 50 years experience in Missoula, a willingness to do in-home consultations and no fear of “pure Euro-contemporary style,” if that’s your cup of espresso.
Best Hobby/Craft Shop: Treasure Chest
Avast, ye mateys, thar’s hobbies in them low-density commercial complexes. You can’t name a shop Treasure Chest and expect to evade the pirate references. Who cares though when Missoulians recognize you as the place to load up on crafts-enabling booty?
Best Lawyer: John Bennett
Apparently, there’s something out there called “tax-free vehicle registration.” We didn’t have a clue, and if our automobile taxes were more than $40 a year, we’d have to think about searching out more answers. Knowing what we do now we’d start with John Bennett, Esq., whose portfolio of dispute resolution, estate planning and tax-free vehicle registration services has made him Missoula’s choice for navigating the arcane annals of the Montana code annotated and beyond.
Best Motorcycle/ATV Dealer: Harley-Davidson
In 1903, four dudes shacked up in a Milwaukee shed to build an internal combustion engine motorcycle. Not only did the thing work, it ran for more than 100,000 miles. The story of Harley-Davidson motorcycles continues today, making it an American icon and our local dealership—Montana Harley-Davidson Buell—the best according to our readers.
Best New Car Dealer: Bitterroot Motors
Sometimes it just seems like all of Missoula drives a Subaru. But we’ve been noticing more Toyotas, Fords and Scions lately. That must be due to Bitterroot Motors, where our readers first turn for vehicles fresh from the factory floor.
Best Used Car Dealer: Eide Motors
Fear of the pressure-purchase salesman is what keeps most car shoppers away from the used car lot. You know the type—the sketchy sweet talker who never seems to answer your questions and keeps pushing you to make a decision. That’s nothing to worry about at Eide Motors, a locally owned lot that seems tuned to Missoula’s more laidback and trustworthy sensibilities. Our readers thought enough to give Eide its first out-right win in the category.
Best Pet Care/Boarding: Dog Logic
Now that airlines are charging for checked luggage, it’s probably worth reconsidering whether stowing an erstwhile canine companion in cargo is really the best way to handle holiday pet care. A more economical, and probably humane, alternative would be commending your pooch to the tender mercies of Dog Logic.
Best Pet Supplies: PetSmart
It’s not easy to keep the modern cat or dog entertained, what with the proliferation in petertainment and petcessories. Fear not, the professionals at PetSmart can help you navigate such nifty petventions as the Furminator and Whisker City’s organic fleece catnip fish with paper fins. Whose a lucky dog or cat owner? You are. Yes you, yes you.
Best Plant Nursery: Caras Nursery
Whether interested in growing your own or just looking to add some green to your life, Caras Nursery sprouts best-in-the-business status so regularly we’re tempted to declare them the perennial horticultural favorites. Get it? Perennial? Never mind.
Best Store for Home Appliances: Vann’s
The main thing differentiating where you live from where your great-grandparents grew up, unless you live in a steel-reinforced concrete condo block, are the laborsaving devices we call home appliances. From refrigerators to freezers, air conditioners to ovens, Vann’s remains your primary supplier of these domestic necessities.
Best Store for Home Electronics: Best Buy
Sure, Best Buy is your choice for everything under the sun when it comes to your home electronics needs. But what about when you have an insatiable urge to rock out during your weekend errands? We choose Best Buy for that, as well, due to its in-store “Rock Band” demo station. Lined with Samsung monitors and plastic instruments, this virtual reality setup is just a precursor to what’s sure to be your next North Reserve Street shopping spree.
Best Laundromat Best Dry Cleaner: Green Hanger
Have you ever wandered into a laundromat after a long week with a heaping basket of smelly wardrobe only to realize you don’t have any quarters? Green Hanger puts the kibosh on pocket-rummaging and cushion-lifting with shiny plastic cards. The machines actually don’t accept quarters—you place a certain amount of money on a laundry card and you’re set to go. In addition to wireless Internet, a spacious waiting area and extra-large washers, Green Hanger has also recently updated its dry-cleaning service to use environment-friendly hydrocarbon, which eliminates toxic byproducts. It’s called Green Hanger for a reason.
Best Florist: Bitterroot Flower Shop
Who doesn’t need a little damage control from time to time? Bitterroot Flower Shop is where our readers go when they need to smooth things over with the girlfriend, apologize to mom, or make amends with the best friend. Here’s our suggestion for the next time you frequent this category’s long-time winner: Splurge on a contemporary lily arrangement. Lilies make even the biggest apologies easier.
Best CDs and Music: Rockin Rudy’s
You can find more music at Missoula’s famous Rockin Rudy’s than on Shawn Fanning’s hard drive. The store/local institution stocks every conceivable genre, showcases its Top 100 of the year and offers up its extensive listening library for those who need a little time under the headphones before pulling the trigger on a purchase. And the best thing: If, per chance, there’s something they don’t have, the expert staff will order whatever you need with one simple phone call.
Best Pawn Shop: Liquid Assets
Liquid Assets offers a selection that brings new meaning to the term “big kid toys.” As of press time, they stocked an H-K .45 handgun for just over $600, two shiny Honda motor scooters, enough guitar amps to blow the roof off and a selection of beautiful stringed instruments, from violins to Les Pauls. We don’t know about you, but we’re ready to play.
Best Auto Repair: Kent Bros. Automotive
Although official statistics don’t seem to be kept, Missoula probably ranks high in the “Subaru-per-capita” category. And while Outbacks, Foresters and good ol’ GLs retain an impressive owner loyalty standing, Subaru’s reputation for failing head gaskets, fussy electrical systems and weirdly unsupported windows provide plenty of job security for the fine mechanics at Kent Bros. Automotive. Also known as the nicest auto tech in town, Steve Bierwag and his small staff of experts have long kept Missoula’s Subies on the road into their 200,000s.
Best Camera Store: The Dark Room
The digital revolution that made film a relic wreaked havoc on small camera stores everywhere, but The Dark Room made the jump to light speed with nary a scratched negative. Yes, Missoulians see the light at The Dark Room, where an intelligent, easy-going staff of gear experts, sensor cleaners and digital lab technicians keep your digital gear dialed. And with camera prices mighty close to the sketchy back-of-camera-mag hawkers, there’s no reason to focus elsewhere.
Best Ranch Supply Store: Quality Supply
Although the name pretty much says it all, if you haven’t been to Quality Supply this year it’s worth a visit. You don’t have to be a pardner to appreciate the fact that they’ve not only doubled the size of their main store, but they’ve also built an entire new store, right next door, essentially doubling it again. From pet supplies to Carhartts, plastic horses to ATVs, Quality Supply is precisely that.
Best Hardware: Ace Hardware
Although we typically become self-conscious when visiting Helpful Hardware Man more than once a day, we’re always glad to be able to grill the plumbers, electricians, painters and other red-vested experts at Ace Hardware with our daily home improvement questions. Having purchased in the past year alone wire fencing, copper tubing, landscaping fabric, paint and any number of screws, bolts, nails and fasteners, we’d call ourselves somewhat of an expert on these experts, and we feel comfortable saying that, indeed, Ace is the place.
Best Physical Therapist: Angela Vap
Feeling creaky? The strong hands and extensive experience provided by Angela Vap at Alpine Physical Therapy will have you understanding why that plantar fasciitis continues to scream a year later—and what you can do to make it better. She’s moved into a brand-spankin’ new, state-of-the-art facility right off of North Reserve Street, making her even more prepared to cater her hands-on techniques and exercise programs to meet your kneads and get you back in the game.
Best Antiques: Montana Antique Mall
When designer furniture stores distress and wash out their furniture to give it that chic, old-timey feel, nobody’s really fooled. The Montana Antique Mall, on the other hand, has three floors of cool, old, non-junky and often affordable antiquities. It’s a nook-and-cranny sort of place, full of odd lamps, steamer trunks and vanities, not to mention inspiring pieces like the large wooden set of apartment lobby-style mailboxes. Think of all the hiding spaces!
Best Independent Book Seller: The Book Exchange
Exchanging old books for credit toward new ones certainly takes care of the “waste not” sin of our green living age. That virtue alone—plus the fact their used books are neatly organized into thematic categories—is probably enough to make The Book Exchange your favorite. But we also think it may have something to do with stocking enough books to make a library jealous.
Best Store for Musical Instruments: Morgenroth Music Centers
Whether you are squeaking your way through clarinet lessons, wildly pounding the snare and hi-hat until the cops show up, or learning every single Guns N’ Roses solo possible on your BC Rich Warlock, Morgenroth Music Centers gets you. They understand Missoula’s music needs so much that they are considered not just a center, but “centers.” It’s a powerful empire when you can cater to the spectrum between band kids and DragonForce metal heads.
Best Street Vendor: CaseDogs
CaseDogs, we recently learned, is owned by Casey Giddings, who didn’t enter the hot dog business lightly. He worked at the stand during college, purchased the stand to help him afford to stay in Missoula and he talks like a regular hot dog connoisseur. This dude simply loves hot dogs. And, as luc
k would have it, Missoula loves hot dogs, too. So perhaps that kind of mutual affection for Chicago-style meat aligned the stars just right for CaseDogs to win this year’s award.
Best Poker Game: The Oxford
A good poker game is in the eye of the beholder. James Bond’s Casino Royale game may seem dreamy, but in Missoula a good hand is better defined by more reasonable stakes, colorful characters and casual atmosphere. The Oxford’s poker table is often full of regular players, fair-weather college students, drunken amateurs, drifters or various combinations of all of the above. And if you stay in the game long enough, you can play until the early hours of the morning and, according to some all-night players, get rewarded with a free breakfast.
Best Big Box Store: Costco
The weekend ritual of any card-carrying Costco shopper includes compiling a loose list of dwindling kitchen essentials, keeping an empty stomach so as to take full advantage of the store’s plentiful sample offers, allotting extra time allotted to browse the extensive DVD and CD section, and hoarding enough spare change at the end of the spree to afford the snack bar’s $1.50 special of a delicious hot dog and ice-cold soda. Thanks to our readers’ favorite Big Box Store, it’s a rewarding ritual that makes the Reserve Street trek palatable.