Barnes & Noble
894 Marsh St., SLO
Book lovers, unite! Peruse through aisle after aisle of noteworthy titles at Barnes & Noble. “Our booksellers strive to create a friendly environment where customers feel comfortable making Barnes & Noble a fun part of their daily lives, so that enthusiasm from both booksellers and customers combines to make it an enjoyable experience for everyone,” store manager Kevin Fagley said. Bookworms can grab a cup of coffee from the upstairs cafe and get started on their reading list at this well-stocked bookstore in the heart of downtown San Luis Obispo.
Runner-up: Phoenix Bookstore
BEST PLACE TO BUY MUSIC
Boo Boo Records
978 Monterey St., SLO
Spending an afternoon flipping through the variety of rock, jazz, reggae, and electronica on CDs and vinyl at Boo Boo’s is ideal. What keeps a music lover coming back to the record store, according to owner Mike White, is their almost 42 years in business. “With all our years of experience, [customers] trust that we’re putting out the best selection at a fair price,” he said. It’s about the music, checking out what’s new each month, and feeling confident that there’s someone who can answer your questions. For White, the store also highlights a lifestyle where people can come in and buy a cool graphic T-shirt or novelty item.
Runner-up: Cheap Thrills Records
BEST PLACE TO BUY MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS
Lightning Joe’s Guitar Heaven
100 E. Branch St., Arroyo Grande
You’d be hard pressed to find more stringed instruments in one location than at Lighting Joe’s. When every peg is filled, he’s got about 1,700 vintage, new, and used guitars, banjos, mandolins, ukuleles, and other fretted instruments. “We also have a very effective repair facility, tons of amps, effects, and more,” Joe said of his family-owned and operated business, which includes his wife, son and his wife, and nephew. “We’re in a very fat 7,500 square-foot building stuffed with a frightening amount of stuff!” Yep, and it’s the good stuff! Rock on, Lightening Joe!
Runner-up: Central Coast Music
BEST MEN’S CLOTHING STORE
672 Higuera St., SLO
This June, Jules D. will celebrate five years of outfitting SLO gents with stylish clothes. “Our product is an amazing collection of contemporary men’s clothing,” owner Jules DuRocher said. “We work really hard to create clients that become a part of our friends and family circles.” This spring, Jules D. will start offering made-to-measure suits, with custom fabrics and buttons, all made in the U.S.
Runner-up: Patrick James
BEST WOMEN’S CLOTHING STORE
SLO, Paso Robles
Located in the heart of downtown, Ambiance SLO is a two-floor boutique that is all around chic. (There’s one in Paso, too!) Women can find outfits they’ll feel beautiful in, and the team members are dedicated to helping each customer do just that. To stay on trend, buyers sort through brands five times a week to curate collections that celebrate every style, age, and occasion. Customers receive follow-up phone calls to ensure that they’re satisfied with their purchase. “Our main goal is to make sure every woman feels really good about themselves. We never want someone to leave feeling like there wasn’t something here for them,” Assistant Manager Brie Teh said.
Runner-up: Marine Layer
BEST INTIMATE APPAREL
799 Higuera St., SLO
Whether it’s the cheeky name of the store in bright pink neon or the window displays that get plenty of foot traffic every day, Fanny Wrappers is hard to miss. Fanny Wrappers offers free professional fittings for shoppers as well as accessories, pajamas, and other personal items. “Our customers and our merchandise makes Fanny Wrappers the best for intimate apparel. We’re more specialty, that’s the main thing,” manager Lisa Borba said. “We’re not corporate.” In addition to being a unique shopping experience, customers can also enjoy friendly customer service while browsing through the beautiful merchandise offered in this cornerstone of downtown SLO.
Runner-up: Victoria’s Secret
BEST THRIFT STORE
Fred & Betty’s
532 Higuera St., SLO
Fred & Betty’s links up with the SLO Classical Academy to help further education through their business—and the store also happens to offer SLO County’s best thrift store experience, according to our readers. Store supervisor Lindsey Cheney said she has the store’s staff and parent volunteers to thank for that, as well as the attention to detail that goes into Fred & Betty’s window displays. “Our great products, we have low prices, cleanliness of the store, friendliness of our staff—I think all those things make our store great,” Cheney said. “They’re the things our customers are commenting on all the time.”
Runner-up: Goodwill SLO
BEST ANTIQUE STORE
1235 Monterey St., SLO
Upon walking into Ruby Rose, one could easily mistake the antique store for a stranger’s lavish living space. Every corner of the store is ornamentally arranged with vintage memorabilia to “make each room like you’d move into it,” according to Brendy Alsup, a Ruby Rose crewmember. As seasons change, new items are brought in to inspire customers and keep things as fresh as antiques can be. To Aslup, the embellished atmosphere and team dedication allows the store to be more than a destination for trinkets: “There’s a feeling of wanderlust. It’s more than an antique store, it’s a creative space.”
Runner-up: Timeless Treasures Home Consignment
BEST CONSIGNMENT STORE
1124 Garden St., SLO
Finders Keepers is a great place for fashion gurus looking to spruce up their wardrobes. Located off Garden Street, this upscale women’s consignment store stocks designer clothing at a fraction of the price. “Our consigners and our shoppers make Finders Keepers the best consignment business,” owner Debra Fogg said. “These women are the best dressed and also conscientious of recycling.” The hanging display of the clothing racks simplifies the shopping experience and makes the task of consignment shopping much less daunting. From gently used and vintage clothing to specially picked consignment items, Finders Keepers offers unique clothing options to add some eclectic variety to your wardrobe.
Runner-up: Change Of A Dress
- PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM
- PAMPERED PET : Lulu gets the royal treatment, bows and all, at the Golden Paw—a place where you can spend your money and your fur baby gets all the glory.
BEST PLACE TO PAMPER YOUR PET
The Golden Paw
2314 Broad St., SLO
Pets are people, too! And as such, they deserve a little pampering every now and then. According to readers, the Golden Paw is the best place for that. The Golden Paw, located on Broad Street in San Luis Obispo, has been a staple on the Central Coast for more than 20 years. The shop is owned by Cal Poly graduate John Salmeron, who once worked as a veterinary technician and now breeds Pomeranians. If you’re looking for a grooming salon worthy of your fur baby’s time and money (OK, it’s probably your money), the Golden Paw is the spot to go.
BEST HARDWARE STORE
Miner’s Ace Hardware
Nipomo, Arroyo Grande, Grover Beach, SLO, Los Osos, Morro Bay, and Atascadero
Knowledgeable employee Brooke Phillips has been with Miner’s for four years and gave me the low-down on the many products and services Miner’s offers. “We have a great lumber department,” she said. “Our paint department carries Valspar and Clark & Kensington paints and we will color match anything. … We also have chickens, plus feed and treats!” They have a great rewards program and sales, and friendly, loyal staff who offer tips and advice. “Some have been with us for several years, like Wally Lewis who has been with the company since 1956,” Phillips said. “He works at our Grover Beach store and just turned 90!”
Runner-up: Home Depot
- PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM
- FARM FRESH FOR YOU : Maureen Reilly and Jerry Rutiz have farmed and provided organic produce at their farmstand between Oceano and Arroyo Grande since 2003.
BEST FARM/ PRODUCE STAND
Rutiz Family Farm Stand
1075 The Pike, Arroyo Grande
Jerry Rutiz studied agriculture at Cal Poly and, with wife Maureen Reilly and their daughters, runs the best produce stand in the land! Rutiz started farming in 1981 near Huasna. He moved his family to Halcyon in 2003 and opened their stand just off the Pike selling home-grown, organic produce. They also deliver weekly harvest boxes to customers’ homes and offer school tours. Rutiz Family Farms also donates produce to food banks and provides gift certificates and baskets to different charities. “A lot of our success is due to our terrific crew in the field and at the stand,” Reilly said.
Runner-up: Talley Farms
BEST GROCERY STORE
SLO, Arroyo Grande, Templeton
Shopping at Trader Joe’s in SLO is always an adventure, and it’s always the fun kind of adventure. Even if the lines are flooding into the aisles with Cal Poly students, TJ’s welcoming atmosphere and delicious, thoughtfully picked products makes each trip worth it. From the reasonable prices, to the creative branding style, to the variety of choices, or the very friendly staff, TJ’s won over our readers this year. “We’re just really proud to be apart of this community,” SLO store captain Kristina Myers said. “We’re a unique grocery store that focuses on our customers, products, our great crew.”
Runner-up: California Fresh (SLO)
BEST FLOWER SHOP
Open Air Flowers
1055 Osos St., SLO
It’s hard to walk past Open Air Flowers and not gaze longingly at their gorgeous bouquets, almost spilling onto the sidewalk. The flower shop has contributed to the fabric of downtown SLO for more than 30 years with fresh-cut flowers, lavish arrangements, and delicately potted succulents. “We create beautiful designs, we pride ourselves in the quality of our flowers, and we love our customers. We are so proud to be a cornerstone of downtown,” owner Leslie Weber said. Pick up a little something to brighten up the home seven days a week, rain or shine.
Runner-up: Albert’s Flowers
BEST PLACE TO GEEK OUT
899 Higuera St., SLO
Apple’s products and technology literally changed the world, so it’s not surprising that folks in SLO County like to test out the newest gadgets at the Apple Store in downtown SLO. The Silicon Valley giant introduced new iPhones, watches, and MacBook Pros with “touch bar” technology last year. Oh, and they also got rid of the headphone jack! Indeed, it’s a busy time in the tech world and we’re all trying to keep up. What’s both thrilling and maddening about spending time in the Apple Store is you get to play with some of the world’s best products even if there’s no way you could afford them!
Runner-up: Captain Nemo’s Games & Comics
BEST EYEWEAR STORE
1001 Higuera St., SLO
Glasses of all shapes, colors, and sizes line the windows of Urban Optics to match each unique individual’s style and needs. Urban Optics has unique frames that can’t be found anywhere else in the area, according to Manager Hanna Schultz. “A lot of our frame lines are handmade, one-of-a-kind, broadening our selection,” she said. A lot of clients also come in for the family atmosphere as the Urban Optics family is there to find the perfect match for everyone. “Our returning and new customers really appreciate the time and attention our staff along with the doctor provide them with,” Shultz said.
Runner-up: Debonair Eyes
- PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM
- JEWELIN’ IT UP: Matt Moermon (left) and Matt Baxter (right) bring SLO shoppers what they need to make their loved ones feel special: bling with class and style.
BEST JEWELRY STORE
Baxter Moerman Fine Jewelry
1128 Garden St., SLO
Baxter Moerman is a local boutique that creates and carries rings, earrings, and necklaces to woo the most important people in your life. Co-owner Matt Moerman said this jewelry shop takes pride in having an array of alternative engagement rings with a sought-after peach sapphire as the center stone. “The sapphire is hard to find, but its rarity is what I think makes it so popular among our customers, not to mention it looks beautiful,” he said. The boutique has been in business for about eight years and strives to bring new designs to the engagement scene.
Runner-up: Kevin Main Jewelry
BEST TOY STORE
682 Higuera St., SLO
There’s no shortage of toys and games at Tom’s Toys. The store is filled from floor to ceiling with rows and rows of toys and games. From art supplies to the latest LEGO sets, Tom’s Toys seeks to be the one-stop toy shop for the SLO community. “Our building was specifically constructed for the toy store and we try to keep as classic as possible,” Tom’s Toys Vice President Jillian Wahlquist said. “We have a mix of what’s trending now and what’s been classic for generations. We provide free gift wrapping, great customer service, and we’ve been a fixture in the SLO community for 30 years now.”
Runner-up: Whiz Kids
BEST SHOE STORE
837 Marsh St. SLO
Even though there are plenty of locally owned shoe stores in the area, our readers chose Shoe Palace, a store with more than 100 shoe shops across the U.S., as the best. Is it because it’s an actual palace made out of shoes? Nope. According to the downtown SLO store’s assistant manager, Patrick Tuason, it’s because they have the biggest sports shoe selection in SLO County. “We take care of our customers,” Tuason said. “We never leave our stock room without an option for our customer. We try to figure out what they’re looking for and find something as close to that as possible.”
Runner-up: Charles Shoes
BEST TIRE STORE
The Tire Store SLO
252 Higuera St., SLO
Owned by Joe Beckwith and Kevin Conlan, The Tire Store has been making the rubber meet the road for 28 years. “My dad, Tom, started the business in 1989,” Beckwith said. “He put customer service, honesty, and good quality at good prices first.” They offer quality products and fast service, stock several major tire and wheel brands, do brakes, and do front end alignments. Their integrity is also as important as great customer service. “We are reliable and honest with our customers because we value their trust.” So don’t spin your wheels—bring them to The Tire Store!
Runner-up: Big Brand Tires
BEST SOLAR COMPANY
775 Fiero Lane, SLO
Local company SunRun is proof that you can rebrand, change your name, and customers will stick with you. Formerly R.E.C. Solar, this team has offered solar installation services for those looking for renewable energy in SLO since the late 1990s. “We just always have the mindset of putting the customer first,” said Rose Hall, branch manager for the SLO SunRun. While installing solar panels is an investment, SunRun estimates that solar users save an average of $11,000 in utilities over the lifetime of the panels.
Runner-up: Solar City
BEST MORTGAGE COMPANY
1131 Monterey St. SLO
The Mortgage House’s motto is “Integrity – Experience –Results.” “We live by that,” said Division President Roxanne Carr. The mortgage banker has been in SLO for more than 22 years, has longtime employees (the chief underwriter has been with the company for 14 years), and loan requests are processed in town. “We firmly believe in spending whatever time it takes to make a client comfortable, making a difficult process as pleasant as possible,” Carr said. “Even during the most relaxed years and the toughest years, we counseled borrowers and did not ever offer loan choices that were inappropriate.”
Runner-up: Spinnaker Financial Inc.
1150 Palm St., SLO
“We are a paperless office except in the bathrooms,” according to CPA and Glenn Burdette Principal Daniel O’Hare. “We do serious work but we don’t take ourselves too seriously.” The company is 100 percent employee owned, celebrated 50 years in 2015, and is rated as the 244th largest CPA firm in the country by Inside Public Accounting. “Each day we make a personal commitment to go beyond for each other, for our clients, for our firm, and for the community,” O’Hare said. Oh, and they also have an unofficial mascot (a cat tissue-dispenser named GoBe) that shows up in random spots around the office.
Runner-up: Rachel Carscaden
Correction: This article has been edited to correct the spelling of Kristina Myers.