Best of WNY 2012: Shopaholics
This is year seven for Buffalo Spree’s best of WNY. Each year, we determine the area’s finest by combining the deliberations of three expert panels with the votes of our readers. Each year, the categories change, just to keep it exciting. Agree or disagree? Be sure to let us know by posting here or on any of the other Best of categories we post this week on BuffaloSpree.com.
Best big liquor/wine store
Gates Circle Wine & Liquor
1430 Delaware Ave., 716-884-1346, gatescircleliquor.com.
If you can’t find what you want at this venerable city emporium, operated by the Carscallen family since the end of Prohibition and located for the past quarter century directly across from Forest Lawn Cemetery, perhaps it’s not available. With 7,300 square feet of space and 2,700 items for sale—including 250 corkscrews, glasses, gift bags and decanters, plus 800 bottles of spirits and about 1,650 bottles of wine—Gates Circle certainly qualifies as a plus-size shopping destination. In fact, the problem isn’t being unable to find what you want—it’s more like avoiding the temptation to buy much more than you need. The staff is friendly and very well-trained, happy to steer you to that just-right bottle of Sardinian white for your oenophile friend’s birthday, in your price range. Customers can sign up for free wine classes, or make reservations for off-site wine and food pairing demonstrations and special dinners. “People want to learn more,” says director of operations Lesle Heubach, granddaughter of the store’s founder. “We stock what our customers request.”
Best clothing store to glam up for Curtain Up!
Tie: Presence and Mabel Danahy
795 Elmwood Ave., 716-881-2483, presenceclothing.com.
Looking to shine in the firmament of fashionistas this season? Put Presence at the top of your shopping itinerary. Damsels in need of a dress know this is the go-to Buffalo boutique for one-of-a-kind looks from designers domestic and European. The sleek cocktail dress with a twist; the retro fitted floral frock, the always-elegant dressy black separates—find these and more on the racks at Presence.
3099 Sheridan Dr., Amherst, 716-831-0773, mabeldanahy.com.
From classic sophisticated formal wear to surprisingly funky separates, Mabel Danahy has long been ground central for the gala crowd. But this is also a comfortable and fun place to shop, with helpful, no-pressure staff and a warm, friendly atmosphere. Get on their email list to keep up-to-date with their trunk shows and regular sales.
Best kitchen store
Blue Hill Kitchen & Home
1374 Hertel Ave., 716-551-0824, bluehillkitchen.com
Everyone has that place: a favored safe haven or vacation destination where the happiest memories get made. For Deanna Myers, the owner of this charming Hertel boutique, it’s Blue Hill, Maine, the picturesque seaside getaway for which her shop is named. In this sunny gallery of colorful bowls and cool cooking utensils, everything feels as though it was chosen and placed with care. If you’re an avid chef or host who feels coziest when cooking for friends at home, Blue Hill Kitchen & Home provides fresh inspiration for creating your own kitchen oasis.
Best place to find hard-to-find-ingredients
Guercio & Sons
250 Grant St. 716-882-7935, guercioandsons.com.
Since 1961, Guercio & Sons has been a purveyor of products that express the fundamentals of international cuisine. The store supplies fine restaurants and country clubs throughout Buffalo and its suburbs with fresh produce and other essentials. Ingredients are neatly grouped on tight shelves according to country of origin or with other, similar staples. Starches, for example, are gathered together: Guercio’s has a dizzying array of rices, pastas, and grains such as couscous (boxed or bulk). This is also olive oil central, with various countries of origin in container sizes ranging from a pint to a gallon. And that goes for mustards, and vinegars. If your recipe calls for truffles Guercio’s has some in the back—a staff member will get them for you. Truffle-infused olive oil is available by the checkout. In the concise freezer section near the reasonably-priced coffee by the pound is a divine imported pizza dough prepared with 00 Italian flour. Large bags of “Forest Blend” mushrooms, and dried porcini, jars of prepared caponata, jarred jalapeno salad, and boxes and bags of esoteric and colorful imported cookies and crackers are also offered. Any recipe calling for cheese of any sort, be it mascarpone or chevre or Colby, can be satisfied here.
Best new clothing boutique
1382 Hertel Ave., 716-844-8435, shopmodernnostalgia.com.
“Twists of detail” are what boutique owner Bri Klejdys-Long looks for in her inventory choices of women’s fashions and accessories at Modern Nostalgia. Klejdys-Long worked for Ralph Lauren and brings that same approachable aesthetic to her own store. This is a bustling boutique and stock turns over quickly: in other words if you love something, grab it right away. A sampling of brands on a recent visit included crème fraîche, Corey Lynn Calter, and Mary Green. There’s a welcoming area at the rear of the store with a chocolate brown velvet sofa under the building’s antique skylight; and a nearby coffee table is outfitted with fashion magazines for inspiration. Two jewelry lines always in stock are Amano Studio and Ornamental Things; there is also a good selection of lovely lacy unmentionables, and artful T-shirts.
Best new business 2012
Tie: Fairycakes Cupcakery and Chic and Sweet
289 Parkside Ave., 716-688-0361, fairycakesonline.com.
Loganberry buttercream. Spicy Mexican chocolate “chicken wing.” Flying Bison stout. These are the Queen City-centric flavors that have so enamored Fairycakes Cupcakery to its many fans. This charming new cupcake shop, set opposite the Buffalo Zoo on Parkside, belongs to Maureen “Mo” Torpey, whose giant smile and extensive dessert cookbook collection will tell you that she’s living the dream. Torpey’s been known to work on events geared toward supporting local businesses via Yelp.com. In Buffalo, that kind of karma’s bound to come back around.
1453 Hertel Ave., 716-393-2442, chicnsweet.com.
With its electic range of affordable separates, dresses, and accessories, Chic and Sweet offers casual sophistication and fun for those who want to shop outside the box, but don’t want to be intimidated. Owners Annemarie and Zachary Schneider are going for elegance and individuality, and they’ve hit their mark.
Best thrift store
Tie: Salvation Army (Niagara Falls Blvd.) and Goodwill (Delaware Ave.)
9491 Niagara Falls Blvd., Niagara Falls, 716-297-8281, salvationarmy.org.
A good thrift store is one capable of creating order, and even beauty, from our collective chaos. Savvy Amherst shoppers have long made the NFB Salvation Army a first stop for back-to-school shopping due to their large, well-organized inventory. It’s rarely picked over, so you’ll often score name-brand gems amid the racks.
2655 Delaware Ave., 716-447-0566, goodwill.org.
Goodwill goes one step further, cataloging by color for eye-catching results, and arranging well-curated furniture attractively around its center. Far from being sinkholes for other folks’ trash, these are retail treasures.
Best caterer (large)
Tie: Rich’s and Oliver’s
Buffalo’s own international food corporation and a local fine dining favorite both offer terrific catering operations, with professional service, well-trained staffs, and, of course delicious food. Rich’s is known for their custom-crafted ice sculptures, which include a an elaborate full bar made entirely of ice. of course delicious food. Rich’s is known for their custom-crafted ice sculptures, which include a an elaborate full bar made entirely of ice.
If you’ve enjoyed the fare at a Burchfield Penney, Shea’s, Kleinhans, or Historical Society event, then you’ve enjoyed Oliver’s catering. The fact that some of Buffalo’s most hallowed institutions trust their patrons to Oliver’s should give you enough reasons to choose them. The restaurant is top-notch; so is the service you’ll receive outside it.
Best caterer (small)
Tie: Globe and My Tomato Pie
For an office lunch, patio party, evening at Shakespeare in Delaware Park, or with weekend guests around, order a couple of trays for pickup, or have Globe’s able staff do it all for you—including delivery, set-up, and clean-up. Some of Globe’s greatest hits include the pasta salads, gorgeous cheese platters, and vegetarian friendly offerings.
This popular pizza-themed restaurant is also a superb choice for an event where there are many different ages and appetites to please. The offerings include boxed lunches, foccacia, and wrap platters, and gourmet salads, as well as pizzas. My Tomato Pie is the perfect option for family reunions, birthdays, and other casual parties of every description.
Best kids’ consignment shop
5945 Main St., Williamsville, 716-633-1072, finderskeeperswny.com.
Finders Keepers offers floor-to-ceiling clothing for sizes from newborn through small juniors, young men’s, and maternity wear. Owner Kim Sullivan got into the business 20 years ago, after giving birth to her first child, and then triplets. “When I realized the abundance of clothes I needed, and thought about the waste that could occur, it seemed like a natural. Parents can save a ton of money—at one stop you can find so many diverse things, in all the sizes, instead of hauling through the mall,” says Sullivan. “Our stock changes daily; the biggest compliment we hear is how well stocked and organized we are.”
Best fitness classes
Fitness 360 Boot Camp
2625 Delaware Ave., 716-874-2005, fitness360wny.com.
In our military-minded world, we’re back to basics. There’s been a trend toward group training that combines cardio, strength and agility—building endurance and toughness—that comes from the sometimesbrutal regimen known as “boot camp.” According to Fitness 360’s website, you’ll sweat so much in their Boot Camp class that you’ll “look like you just took a shower with your clothes on.” If that sounds up your alley, try this kick-butt workout, which uses an “explosive format and exercises that will leave every muscle in your body trembling.” Ouch. Mm. Ouch. Mm.
Past Spree Best of winner Annie Adams owns this shop, as part of the artsy collaborative at 810 Elmwood; she credits manager Vanessa Ron with “curating” the clothing, shoes, outerwear, and accessories in the cozily situated space. This is a consignment shop, and a very selective one. Ron gently reminds those considering bringing in a bag or 2 for consideration that her areas of interest do not include items with Target, Old Navy, GAP, NY&CO. or Ann Taylor/LOFT labels. Finds displayed on Second Chic’s Facebook page included a pair of Marc Jacobs studded pumps, a vintage “vegan” olive green flight bag, and several pairs of high-waist shorts—shown with huaraches, lace wedgies and ankle boots.
Best secondhand furniture
732 Elmwood Ave., 716-240-9387, reimaginefurniture.com.
Coowners Hayley Carrow and Cortney Morrison-Taylor moved into this space just about 2 years ago. Customer demand and their own evolving tastes have found them maintaining their original concept, says Morrison-Taylor—however, they are “focused a bit more on modern and Scandinavian, still do some refinishing and reupholstery, and have less kitsch, retro and painted furniture.” Brands and designers they seek and carry at Reimagine include Knoll, Broyhill, Eames/Herman Miller, and Selig. Handmade pillows and cushions mostly from new fabrics are also part of their offerings—to help update the vintage furniture. Look for a storefront renovation come fall.
Jewish Community Center
There are few, if any, fitness centers as welcoming to families as this Western New York favorite, with 2 Jewish Community Center locations, one in the city and one in Getzville. The equipment and the facilities are regularly upgraded and renovated, and the staff is always ready to help. They’ll also leave you alone, if that’s what you prefer. The well-managed pools (both indoor and outdoor in Getzville) are another great asset.
Gym with the best equipment
9570 Transit Rd. East Amherst, 716-625-4483, hivelifespan.com.
This state-of-the-art fitness center offers many unique services that you won’t find in other gyms, and in terms of the basic requirement of good equipment, Hive excels. Its cardio equipment has individual media centers, its Pilates studio has the latest Stott reformers, and its spinning offerings include eSpinner bikes, which allow users to have a world-class spinning session on their own time.
Most unique gifts
West End Gallery
48 Douglas Ln., East Aurora, 716-652-5860, west-end-gallery.com.
Located in a former schoolhouse, West End Gallery is a cornucopia of the new, the cool, the handmade, the quirky, and the fun. Which is exactly what you need if you’re looking for the perfect hostess gift, birthday present, or self-indulgent treat. In a world overloaded with “made in China,” WNYers are lucky that we have places like West End Gallery.
Best big garden store
4484 Clark St., Hamburg, 716-649-4684, weknowplants.com.
Great service and one-of-a-kind plants are just 2 of the reasons we love Lockwoods. Those 2 factors alone set them apart from the big box home centers where plants go to languish and customers are ignored, but Lockwood’s has even more. Its educational programming is always innovative and eye-opening; they also offer spur-of-the-moment landscape services, and have a great gift selection.
Best small garden store
428 Rhode Island St., 716-362-8982, urbanroots.org.
Buffalo’s only copperative garden center has really grown up since it was founded 8 years ago. Urban Roots still holds plant swaps, seed-starting workshops, and offers its customers the opportunity to become member-owners, but now there is so much more. The selection of perennials, annuals, and shrubs here has widened incredibly, with an excellent offering of native plants. There are also unique landscaping elements available here—including sculptures so irresistible that one visiting out-of-towner had several pieces shipped to her home in Texas. If you haven’t been to Urban Roots lately, you need to check out this West Side success story.
Most environmentally conscious buisness
14 Allen St., 716-898-0850, buffalocarshare.org.
Efficiently run from a small Allentown office, Buffalo CarShare makes it possible for WNY consumers to use a car when they need it without the hassles of car maintenance or the red tape of rentals. Cars can be reserved on the CarShare website, insurance and gas are included in the price, and the car keeps track of the usage. It’s a beautiful thing, and it helps keep options like biking, walking, and mass transportation on the table.
Nickel City Animal
473 Niagara St., 716-847-1000, nickelcityvets.com.
Need a housecall? Not a problem. Have an exotic bird, snake, or other unusual animal? They know what to do. Led by veterinarian Heather Allen, Nickel City Animal Hospital offers such services as emergency or urgent care, but its main goal is to help its clients keep their pets healthy all year-round, and they make a point of supplying the resources to make that possible.
Best place for wine tastings
City Wine Merchant
715 Main St., 716-931-9114, citywinemerchant.com.
Every Thursday, without fail, City Wine Merchant sends out an email inviting all to its free tasting that day. There is always a theme, be it dry rosés, summer whites, holiday sparklers, or Tuscan reds. Often, the wine makers have been invited to the shop, where they’re ready to discuss and explain how they make their wines and what they hope you’ll be tasting. If you don’t catch the email, check your Facebook or Twitter feeds. Unlike a few businesses we could mention, CWM uses social media wisely, and, most important, its wines are selected with equal precision.
Tie: Corto's and Excuria
20 Buffalo St.., Hamburg, 716-648-3120, cortossalonandspa.com .
If you combine top-notch products and highly experienced makeup and hair artists, you will have a glamorous outcome every single time. And if you put your hair and your face in the hands of Corto's the next time you need a new look, you can't lose.
5725 Main St., Williamsville, 716-839-3106, excuriaspa.com.
At Excuria, you may want to start out with one of their signature spa treatments and then move on to a complete hair and makeup renovation. They will customize your services for whatever special event you have coming up, and they invite you to bring your friends and family along for the fun.
Most fun place to shop
Elmwood-Bidwell Farmers Market
This one was easy. The definition of fun shopping should be shopping where you don’t even have to buy anything to have a good time, and this market fills that bill with ease. You’ll be so busy meeting and chatting with all your friends (and all their dogs) that you’ll need the sight of colorful baskets of fresh produce to remind you why you came here. Elmwood-Bidwell seems to get better, and have a wider range of comestables, every season. Save as many of your summer Saturdays as you can for this quintessential Buffalo experience.
Thanks to Spree’s panelists and writers: Bruce Adams, William C. Altreuter, Nina Barone, Alan Bedenko, Julia Burke, Don Burtless, Bryan Calandrelli, Rachel Fix Dominguez, Bruce Eaton, Jana Eisenberg, Seamus Gallivan, Donna Hoke, Cheryl Jackson, Meg Knowles, Elizabeth Licata, Darwin McPherson, Jane Mogavero, Barry A. Muskat, Nancy J. Parisi, Kevin Purdy, Christopher Schobert, Maria Scrivani, Christa Glennie Seychew, Joe Sweeney, Margaret M. Toohey, James Walkowiak, and Ryan Weaver.