Remember as you read these blurbs showing who won The Athens NEWS 2020 Best of Athens Readers' Choice Awards that this whole project was conceived, planned and mostly executed before the pandemic arrived in the United States. We had no idea it would make such a deadly splash, and didn't have a coterie of the world's most esteemed health experts to warn us this would happen (unlike, well, you know...). So as you're reading, imagine that this is a normal year, with normal business and recreation activities, and remember all these great places to visit patronize and enjoy as soon as COVID-19 leaves the room. See Part 1 of the results here. TS

COMMERCE

New Business

Kindred Market

Kindred Market, the independent, full-service natural and organic-foods grocery that opened on East State Street last May, takes top honors for Best Local Business. Kindred has a great selection of goods, friendly service, and a perfect location for folks who live in central and East Side Athens.

Second place goes to Marshalls, the retail medium-box store that opened in The Shoppes of Athens last fall.

The Calm Companion, a business offering training, daycare, classes and boarding for local canines, takes third place. The CC is located just off U.S. Rt. 50 at Fisher Road. 

The Best Type of Business That Athens County Needs

Target

Apparently Target isn’t listening. Year after year our Best of Athens voters choose Target as the type of business that our county most needs, and year after year, this massive retail chain points its blunderbuss in other different directions and fires (“target,” ha ha).

Maybe next year; maybe next year…

Placing second is Trader Joe’s with Olive Garden grabbing third.

Place to Buy a Car in Athens County

Don Wood

For the third straight year, Don Wood (with a variety of different operating names locally) takes top prize for Best Place to Buy a Car in Athens County.

Second place goes to Mark Porter with third snagged by Hugh White.

Local Market

Athens Farmers Market

The Athens Farmers Market places first for Best Local Market last year, and this popular outdoor market wins first again this year. This should be no surprise since the Athens Farmers Market is not only a great place to shop for fresh local produce and other goods, but also a center for social commerce in our community. Of course, these days, while the outdoor market has remained open, the socializing has been kept at a minimum, with distancing and sanitary practice strongly encouraged.

Second place goes to Seaman’s Cardinal Super Market (which to our knowledge does not sell cardinals), a traditional neighborhood market on Athens’ West Side.

The new Kindred Market on East State Street wins third place (and placed first as Best New Business).

Veterinarian Clinic

Allen Pet Clinic

In a close race between three top vote-getters, Allen Pet Clinic in The Plains once again wins first place for Best Veterinary Clinic. Last year’s was a close race as well.

Second this year goes to The Plains Veterinary Hospital, with third going to Kroner Animal Care. Those two finished in reverse order last year.

What is it about The Plains that attracts great veterinary clinics? Perhaps it’s the flat nature of that community. It must be really hard to treat jumpy cats and dogs if you’re on an incline.

Local Auto Repair Shop

Alvis Auto Repair

The same three local auto repair shops that placed in the top three spots last year once again win placement there, though in a different order.

Winning first place is last year’s third-place finisher, Alvis Auto Repair. Huddle Tire & Auto, which won last year, places second, and Muffler Man, which placed second last year, takes third.

Beer, Wine & Spirits Selection

Kroger

Some of us folks who suffer from a surplus of choices in life feel that the best beer and wine selection is the one with just four or five choices. You walk in, look in the one cooler or shelf for three or four seconds, make your choice, pay for it, and walk out with your chosen beer or wine. Oh for the good old days of three TV channels.

Clearly, those of us who are over-burdened by choices in modern society are in the severe minority. Most folks these days love having hundreds of choices, and those are the beer and wine consumers who mainly vote in this category.

Like last year, they picked Kroger as the Best Beer and Wine Selection in Athens County. They’ve got every type of beer you could conjure, from Bud to the most exotic craft beer imaginable.

Busy Day Market on Stimson in Athens places second, and getting the second state liquor contract in Athens earlier this year surely didn’t hurt.

Third place goes to Athens Uncorked, where wine is the name of the game.

Place to Find Hard-To-Find Items

White’s Mill

We spent an hour writing a scintillating blurb about this category before we realized with shock that we had the name wrong. We thought it was Best Hard-to-Find Place to Find Items. But no, it’s Best Place to Find Hard-to-Find Items. So we had to start all over again, and now that we’re all worn out, we’ll just make it short and sweet…

White’s Mill wins first place (as they did last year and the year before); C&E True Value Hardware wins second; and Athens Underground wins third.

Local Contractor

Jeff Westenbarger

We have a new winner in the Best Local Contractor category, Jeff Westenbarger, CEO and founder of JAWS Construction Company. It must have been a good year for JAWS, since Jeff W. didn’t even place last year.

Winning second place is J&K Contracting. Third place this year goes to Mike Myers Construction, last year’s winner.

Place to Donate Used Items

Habitat for Humanity ReStore

The top three finishers in Best Place to Donate Used Items this year were herded fairly close to one another in the number of votes they received. However, after a bloody brawl of do-gooders (apologies for that image), Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore comes out on top.

Second place goes to New-to-You Thrift Shoppe, with Athens Goodwill (last year’s winner) taking third.

Customer Service Retailer

Zonez

One of the most important aspects of your shopping experience is customer service, so it should be a matter of great pride when your business places in our Best Customer Service Retailer category. This year’s winner is Zonez, the popular shop in The Market on State. As they say on their website, “Whether you need one full-color direct-to-garment printed shirt or hundreds that are screen printed, we can fill the need…”

White’s Mill, the last two years’ winner, takes second place this year, with Friendly Paws Pet Supplies & Grooming winning third.

Place for Unique Gift Items

White’s Mill

White’s Mill has won Best Place for Unique Gifts the third year in a row. Located in the historic, picturesque riverside mill near the intersection of Ohio Rts. 682 and 56 on Athens’ West Side, White’s Mill has atmosphere to spare, offering a uniquely Athens shopping experience. Patrons can purchase everything from plants and gardening supplies to locally made crafts. There’s something for nearly everyone. (If this blurb sounds familiar, it’s because it’s the same one we used last year – just updating “second year” to “third year.” When you have a winning write-up, why change?!)

Winning second is Passion Works Studio on East State Street in uptown Athens, with the Nelsonville Emporium taking third.

Professional Services Provider (accountants, etc.)

Ohio University Credit Union

Announcing, in our Best Professional Service Provider category, the Ohio University Credit Union takes top honors. The Credit Union's Financial Services division runs a full-service accounting and business payroll operation; they offer Quick Books support and have a busy tax preparation department. They offer full service investment and retirement planning as well. (The OUCU also won Best Financial Institution.)

Athens Eye Care (which won this category last year under its former name, Drs. Quinn, Foster & Associates) wins second place.

Placing third is Career Connections.

Salon

The Loft Hair & Spa Salon

This year saw a flip-flop between last year’s top two finishers, Attractions Hair & Nail Salon and The Loft Hair & Spa Salon. Attractions, which had won the three previous years, drops to second place this year, with The Loft climbing to first.

Placing third again is last year’s third-place finisher, The Infinity Salon.

Heating & Cooling Business

Dean Heating & Cooling

We have a new winner in our long-running Best Heating & Cooling Business: Dean Heating & Cooling of Athens. Dean placed second last year.

This year’s second-place finisher, Airclaws, Amesville, won this category the past three years.

Taking third place is Hendrix Heating & Cooling in Tuppers Plains.

Remember, folks, no matter who wins this category, it’s essential that you check your furnace/heat pump/AC filter once a month during operating seasons. If you don’t, your whole house will collapse into a massive sinkhole in the ground. Don’t let this happen to you.

Pharmacy

Shriver’s Pharmacy & Wellness Center

The Best of Athens has just the prescription for your desperate need for new categories – a pile of new Commerce questions, including Best Local Pharacy. Winning the Rx in this first-time category is Shriver’s Pharmacy & Wellness Center in Athens.

Kroger places second and CVS third.

If you’d like an example of divine intervention, this BOA writer’s brother got caught in a raging hailstorm last week, pulling up under the drive-through awning just as the golf-ball-size hail stones started pelting the earth, and pulled out just as it ended.

That’s a bonus anecdote. You’re very welcome.

Florists

Hyacinth Bean Florist

We had several new Commerce categories bloom this year, spreading their pedals wide for all of our voters’ well-intended choices for Best Florist. The category that best fits the florid over-writing in this particular blurb is Best Florist.

And we send a virtual bouquet of congratulations to our winners – first to Hyacinth Bean Florist, second to Jack Neal Floral and third to Kroger.

Rental Companies

Bobcat Rentals

This is another new category, and one we probably should have been asking a long time before now. Athens and Nelsonville both have a high percentage of residential rentals, a byproduct of being college towns. Best rental company in Athens? Our readers say it’s Bobcat Rentals.

Placing second is LCR Realty. Third place goes to Best of Athens Rentals (hey, where’d they get that name!?)

Financial Institution

Ohio University Credit Union

We’ve never asked this question before but now we can no longer say that since we’ve now asked this question. Yes, the more of these blurbs we write, the harder it is to inject any wit into them. We don’t have superpowers, after all.

So we’ll just the results speak for themselves. Hey, there’s an idea!

Our Best of Athens voters chose the Ohio University Credit Union as their favorite local bank or financial institution.

Second place goes to Hocking Valley Bank, with third going to Ohio Valley Bank.

Local Insurance Office

Bickle Insurance Services

In another new category, Bickle Insurance Services takes top place for Best Local Insurance Office. 

Mathews Insurance Inc. wins second while O’Nail Hartman Insurance Agency takes third.

NIGHTLIFE

Bartender

Garret Mathson, the Pub

In the Best Bartender category, the Pub’s Garret Mathson takes top honors, speeding down the final stretch to surprise the erstwhile frontrunners. Mathson was a dark horse indeed, not even placing in this category (or any other) last year. Maybe he wasn’t a bartender then? Beats the hell out of us, and speaking of beating, we don’t have time to check, since the BOA overseer is whipping our backs to row faster, harder, faster…

Second place goes to Josh Brown of Casa Cantina, who does a hell of a lot more than bartend. Among other jobs, Brown is the Casa’s sound-man extraordinaire.

Third places goes to Mr. Mustachio, Beau Nishimura at Little Fish Brewing Co. 

Live Music Venue

Stuart’s Opera House

Best Live Music Venue was an extremely competitive category this year, with the three top venues all within 37 votes of one another. But after the dust settled, Stuart’s Opera House wins first place, marking a big improvement over last year’s third-place finish. We’re looking forward to when all of these great local venues can reopen.

The Union, last year’s winner, takes second, while Eclipse Company Store takes third.

Place to Dance

Casa Cantina

Notch the ninth consecutive year for Casa Cantina winning Best Place to Dance. Some of us older patrons of Casa, aka the “early show set,” haven’t experienced the late-night orgies of dance at Casa, and likely won’t. But there’s been a bit of rug-cutting that breaks out at the Casa’s early shows, once or twice a week at 6 p.m.

The Union Bar places second again this year, with Stephen’s on Court taking third.

Happy Hour

Jackie O’s Public House

Boy will be happy when the local bars and restaurants reopen, and one of the best reasons for giddy anticipation is the happy hour at Jackie O’s Public House. It takes top prize for Best Happy Hour this year, just as it did last year.

The West End Cider House (or Ciderhouse depending on who you’re asking) wins second place. Third goes to Tony’s Tavern.

Best Open Stage

Donkey Coffee

Donkey Coffee doubles down on last year’s top finish for Best Open Stage with another win in the 2020 Best of Athens. Who needs alcohol to enjoy good music? I withdraw that question, not wanting to hear from millions of people.

Second place winner is Casa Cantina, where Chris Biester still presides over a longstanding Wednesday evening Open Stage.

Eclipse Company Store, which didn’t even place in this category last year (perhaps because they didn’t have an open stage then?) takes third place for its Thursday evening Open Mic. And guess who’s the host? Yep, it’s the one and only Chris Biester.

Bar for People Over 30’s Tavern

The world has settled back on its regular axis, with Tony’s Tavern reclaiming first place for Best Bar for People Over 30 after briefly losing it last year to the West End Cider House. (To some of us here at The Athens NEWS a bar with 30-year-olds sounds more like pre-school – OK, maybe just to ONE of us.) Anyway, congrats to Tony’s.

Meanwhile, the second-place West End Cider House has nothing to frown about. Its victory over Tony’s in this category last year was on the order of the U.S Olympic hockey team’s earth-shattering victory over the Ruskies. Tony’s had won the “over 30” category every year prior to 2019 since the dinosaurs roamed the earth.

Third place goes to Little Fish Brewing Co.

Local Band or Performer

The Come On Come Ons

Bulletin. Bulletin. There’s been a major shakeup in the Best of Athens’ Best Local Band or Performer category. The Wild Honeybees for the first time in years got overtaken for Best Band, with The Come On Come Ons snatching first place. Only nine votes separated the two bands, both offering great entertainment in their very different ways.

The Wild ‘Bees did win second, however.

Third place goes to Water Witches, another popular local band.

MISCELLANEOUS

Local Issue That Riles You Up the Most

The Lack of Sexual Assault Prosecutions

Taking first place this year in the Local Issue That Riles You Up the Most is the lack of sexual assault prosecutionsThe Athens NEWS has followed this story closely in recent years, and to the credit of local law enforcement and prosecutors, previous problems with the handling of sex assault complaints – some of them serious – have been addressed to some extent. We’ll continue to follow this story, and hope to see continued improvement.

Taking second place this year is “potholes.” We’re not sure if anybody has noticed, but the potholes this year weren’t anywhere near as bad as last year, reflecting the much milder winter we had.

“Parking,” which often wins this category, takes third, and if there’s any consolation to the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s that parking is more available now than ever. Small solace, of course.

The cost of housing and fracking took fourth and fifth place, respectively.

Annual Local Event or Festival

Ohio Brew Week

For the second consecutive year, Ohio Brew Week places first for Best Annual Local Event or Festival. Will there be an OBW this summer? It’s still too early to tell, but if it does get canceled, let’s hope it can be held a little later. The same goes for all of our other favorite outdoor events this summer.

Second place is the Ohio Pawpaw Festival, the mid-September event that’s been getting more popular ever year. We predict it will be a huge draw this year, with folks wanting and needing a great outdoor communal event by then.

The Nelsonville Music Festival, which already has been canceled for this year places, third, and we’re all hoping and praying that it can come back better than ever in 2021.

Local charitable cause

Passion Works Studio

Passion Works gently knocks Friends of the Shelter Dogs out of its first-place spot of the past three years in the category Best Local Charitable Cause. My Sister’s Place, the local shelter for victims of domestic violence, gets third.

It’s not easy to choose which of these incredible local causes deserves the first-place nod, since all three perform exemplary service in our community. 

Best Thing About Athens County 

The People and Community

Best of Athens voters this year decided to give the first-place nod for the Best Thing About Athens County to “the people and community,” beating out “natural beauty” (last year’s winner) by a slender margin.

It’s not easy to decide which is more “best,” our people or our landscape, but during the pandemic crisis, when most of us have drawn into smaller family and friend groups, we really start appreciating (and in many cases) missing the people whom we’re close to. At the same time, Athens County’s beautiful outdoors has provided a much-needed refuge from the sameness of home. It’s easy enough to keep social distance on The Ridges, on the bike path, and in some of our outdoor areas (try the Marie Desonier State Nature Preserve near Coolville for a bracing hike through classic southeast Ohio woodlands).

Third place for Best Thing About Athens County this year is Joe Burrow, which is not surprising since it’s no small distinction to be the hometown of college football’s greatest player ever (arguable but plausible).

Athens’ Best-Kept Secret

White’s Mill

White’s Mill takes first place for the local Best-Kept Secret in Best of Athens. That shouldn’t be surprising since once a certain place or business wins this category, it’s no longer such a well-kept secret. This year’s second-place finisher, Miller’s Chicken, bucked that trend by winning this category two consecutive years in 2018 and 2019 but could no longer keep the secret quite as well this year. 

Placing third is Beads & Things.

Now let’s talk about these three great places a lot this coming year, so somebody else can win this category next year.

FOR STUDENTS ONLY

Excuse for Skipping Class

The Coronavirus

This was an interesting year to ask this question, and OU and Hocking students came through with the obvious answer for the best excuse to skip a class, the coronavirus. The thing is, you don’t need an excuse to skip class this spring since there’s no classes due to… the coronavirus. Stupid virus.

Warm weather/sunshine takes second place (it always places well in this category), with “hungover” grabbing third. That’s always a popular answer to this question, which is odd in that saying you’re suffering the consequences of getting drunk out of your mind probably isn’t an excuse that would work. Just sayin’.

Ohio University Administrator

Kim Castor

Taking first place for Best OU Administrator this year is Kim Castor, director of OU’s Survivor Advocacy Program. Castor moved up from third place in 2019. Castor won this year by a significant margin so she must be doing something right.

Taking second is Dean of Students Jenny Hall-Jones, who won first last year.

Third place goes to M. Duane Nellis, president of Ohio U. (Why do OU presidents always use their middle names? “Always” = the last two.)

Ohio University Professor or Instructor

Jennine Mick

A complete switcheroo took place in the Best OU Professor category this year, with the top three vote-getters – all female assistant professors – not even placing last year. Assistant professor Jennine Mick, who teaches instruction in the Department of Social and Public Health (specializing in child and family studies), takes first place.

Taking second place is Lynette Peck, assistant professor of instruction in the College of Health Science and Professions (social work department).

Lindsay Dhanani, an assistant professor of psychology in the College of Arts & Sciences, wins third place.

OU Student Organization

#SpeakUp

Grabbing first place for Best OU Student Organization this year is #SpeakUp, a group that “focuses on gender issues and violence, (aiming) to create a safe, inclusive space that allows anyone who is struggling to come forward with their experiences.” Sounds like a worthy cause to us! 

The second-place winner makes us proud. It’s The New Political, an impressive student news website that The Athens NEWShas collaborated with for the past several years. Some of our best student contributors in recent years have been staffers for TNP. Congrats!

Delta Sigma Pi, the oldest professional business fraternity at Ohio University, takes third place.

Thing About Ohio University

Court Street

In a new category this year, we asked an obvious question – what’s the best thing about Ohio University? The winner is a quarter-mile stretch of bricked street, yep, none other than Court Street. Yep, if you’re attending OU, or have attended in the past, you likely remember many, many experiences – good, bad and ugly – from Court Street. And you probably can’t remember even more.

Second place is a well, duh answer, “campus.”

Third place goes to Moms Weekend.

Next year, once we vanquish this stupid pandemic, students will be able to enjoy Court Street, campus and Mom, and maybe all at the same time. 

Ohio University Weekend

It’s ironic that the winner of this new category, Best Ohio University Weekend, isn’t really an Ohio University Weekend. In fact, we think it’s safe to say that the university administration HATES this beer-soaked, rowdy event. Yep, we’re talking about Palmer Fest, the biggest student street fest on the spring calendar. If there’s one consolation to OU having to cancel in-person classes this spring, it’s that the move extinguished the 2020 edition of the annual spring street fests. It’s not such a great consolation to OU students, of course.

Second place is a legitimate, bona fide university event, Homecoming. Which has been known to be a bit drunken and rowdy its own self.

Moms Weekend, which also can be drunk and rowdy, places third.

Student Event

Fest season

We confess, we didn’t consider how close this category is to the Best University Weekend category. While a “student event” and “Ohio University weekend” aren’t technically the same thing, in most students’ minds they’re pretty darn close.

So Fest Season takes first place for Best Student Event (whereas Palmer Fest took first for OU Weekend). Second place for Student Event, however, goes to the International Street Fair, which had been scheduled for two Saturdays ago.

Homecoming, which placed second for Best OU Weekend, takes third place.

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