Aaron Smith, M.D.

(5901 Corporate Drive, 355-1956,

At first, it may come as a surprise that a plastic surgeon would win this category, especially since his clinic opened just a year and a half ago. Even the good doctor himself expressed surprise upon hearing he was a finalist.

"There are doctors that are saving lives on a daily basis and they don't get the recognition they should," says Smith, 34. "When I think of excellent physicians, I think of those people."

But he believes strongly in his services, and this win shows that he's not alone. Smith says he improves the quality of people's lives by providing long-term confidence through renewed self-esteem. Of course he offers the standard breast implants, brow lifts, nasal reconstruction, Botox and Juvéderm, but the doctor takes a special pleasure in restoring cancer patients who have been left physically disfigured by their disease.

"We're able to give these patients back something that's been taken away from them and provide them with a little normalcy."

Smith earned his plastic surgery fellowship from the prestigious Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., and his general surgery residency from the University of Arizona. Upon completing his fellowship, Smith moved his family to Colorado Springs from Minnesota to open up his clinic because he says he feels right at home in the great outdoors that he grew up with.

But he also makes it a point to share his talents with less fortunate people outside the Pikes Peak region. Smith has taken part in several overseas philanthropic missions to more impoverished countries; most recently, he visited Vietnam to perform corrections for hereditary defections such as cleft lip and further palate deformities. — SB

Higher Ed for the Money

University of Colorado Colorado Springs

(1420 Austin Bluffs Pkwy., 255-8227,

Add this new category to one of UCCS' many recent achievements. This local extension of the University of Colorado is growing by leaps and bounds, expanding its engineering building, a rec center and, as of last month, approving the building of two new dorms planned for fall 2013, with a price tag of $16 million. Founded in 1965, UCCS now boasts a student body of 9,300, a program list that includes 36 bachelor's, 19 master's and five doctoral programs. And at least one thankful alum: With the help of one of my UCCS professors, I landed an internship at the Indy, leading me to a full-time job on the editorial staff. — EA

Higher Ed for Nontraditional Students

Pikes Peak Community College

(Multiple locations,

PPCC is the largest college in the city, with four campuses and 22,000 students last year alone. According to Community College Week, it's also the 21st-fastest-growing community college in the nation among those with enrollment greater than 10,000. To keep up, it's added dozens of courses recently, including some in high-demand fields like health care and energy. It's also worked to expand and renovate portions of the college, and leaders are currently studying whether bigger physical expansions are needed. But one thing that's not changing much is its affordability: Tuition for a full-time, in-state student is around $1,250 a semester, with all fees and charges included. The average student here is 27 years old, and nearly seven out of 10 are the first in their family to attend college. — JAS

Bank / Credit Union

Ent Federal Credit Union

(Multiple locations,

Ent Federal Credit Union has branches from Longmont down to Rye, but it was founded in the Springs in 1957 (with 30 members and $602 in deposits), it's headquartered here, and most of its 27 facilities are located in the city. Ent has roughly 207,000 members today and we think the luckiest are us old farts over 50, who get our checks for free, and those who bank at the Uintah Gardens branch, where kids get a free sticker and well-behaved pooches are rewarded with a dog biscuit. — MJM


Bobbi Price, Platinum Group Realtors

(6760 Corporate Drive, #300, 499-9451,

'Perseverance and insanity, those are the two criteria" for a good real estate agent, says Bobbi Price. But even the best agents will struggle in the post-boom world of busted real estate prices. So how does Price survive, and even thrive? "It takes way longer to get things together. It takes way longer to hold them together. But if you are patient, most of them close," she says. Price says she got into the real estate business decades ago, during a similarly bad time for the market. "But nobody told me that it was a bad time, so I did pretty good," she says. "And that's really the trick: You just keep doing it." — CH

IndyPick • Hope for a Local Breakthrough



Person gives a buck or two to charity. Person gets a coupon from a business that supports that charity. Person does it again. And again. Why had no one thought of this before? Jonathan Kuiper asked himself the same question, daily, for months after he founded the ChangeMob, which exists to connect those three parties. "The reason I don't think we've seen this yet was because our first thought wasn't to try to make money," he says. "Not to be trite or anything, but it was just like, 'I want to do something cool.'" Investors seem to think he has. Even as it rolled out its first deal in late September, the Springs-based, friend-run start-up continued to bring in hundreds of thousands in outside investment. If you can't get behind this idea, rooted in Kuiper's belief that "people want to do good things," check your pulse. — KW


Vince Linden III

(111 S. Tejon St., #202, 955-0078)

If it's possible to project a warm, fuzzy feeling from a law firm, Vince Linden and his wife, Mary Kominek, come close. "We are a two-person law firm," Linden says. "My partner, who is also my wife, is by far the smarter of the two. I'm a good problem solver; she's an excellent legal mechanic." The civil and commercial litigation practice with an emphasis in liquor licensing is unique, Linden says, because clients don't get the sense the meter is always running: "We try to solve problems. We don't try to generate fees. I'm sensitive to when you get a bill from us, it's for legal work performed for a problem solved." — PZ


Broadmoor Dental

(1930 S. Nevada Ave., 576-5566,

A visit to the dentist doesn't inspire the kind of terror it once did, but it's still rarely seen as something to smile about — unless the dentist in question is one of Broadmoor Dental's cosmetic dentistry specialists. Though the practice does "about a 50-50 split" between general and cosmetic procedures, the cosmetic patients are the ones that make insurance coordinator Micki Lange's day. "The patient was extraordinarily happy with looking so much younger," she recalls about one recent visitor to Broadmoor Dental. "So many people that need cosmetic dentistry don't smile, smile crooked, or put their hand in front of their mouth when talking, and all of that changes. Their personality changes; their confidence changes; they're genuinely happy." — CS

Grow Store

Mother Nature's Sun

(325 E. Pikes Peak Ave., 634-4769,

Owner Rod Jobe says the key to a successful grow store is service. Well, "service and knowledge," he says. "Knowing all the stuff we have; being able to make [customers] successful growers themselves. We're not just here to sell them a bunch of lights and send them on their way." Jobe says people like that Mother Nature's Sun sells products for indoor and outdoor grows, as well as offering a full-service nursery and growing tips derived from 30 years of experience. Plus: "Our advice is always free," the owner says. "No purchase necessary." — BC

Medical Marijuana Dispensary

Strawberry Fields Alternative Health and Wellness

(3404 W. Colorado Ave., 471-2837,

It's been a good year for Strawberry Fields. First, it was named the top center in Colorado by users, and now this win, after finishing second last year. The accolades are not something owner Mike (last name withheld) takes lightly. "We're always driving home two concepts: respect and accountability," he writes in an e-mail. "Respect for living in a state where this industry is even possible regardless of how difficult it may be to operate in the cloud of stringent regulations, respect for our regulators [and] respect for our product ..." When he writes "a sloppy mistake can be criminal," it's really no joke. But when the state Medical Marijuana Enforcement Division checks up on Fields, it'll likely see what our readers did — a winner. — BC


Teresa Lee Photography


Most days, Teresa Lee can be found photographing, say, a 17-year-old girl in a ball gown standing in the middle of a field, or in a prom dress leaning against a brick wall downtown. "I definitely have an unexpected, high-fashion edge, and I think that's what my customers are drawn to," says Lee, Best Photographer for three years running. "They want pictures that look like they came out of a high-fashion magazine, and who doesn't want to feel like a model every once in a while?" After 10 years in business, Lee still shoots every photograph herself, whether family, wedding or even commercial. Her husband is the left brain to her right, maintaining the business side of things. — WB

Trash / Recycling Service

Bestway Disposal

(650 Santa Fe St., 633-8709,

Well, this isn't a category you think of when first asked for the best that Colorado Springs has to offer. But just imagine your life without reliable, affordable garbage removal. Or worse, imagine your life with neighbors without reliable garbage removal. You get the point. Starting at $15.25 a month though Bestway, you get curbside trash pickup, and for an extra $5, single-stream recycling, with special rates for seniors. No wonder this company's been growing and employing people in the Springs since the '50s. — CH

Tanning Salon

Tan Your Hide

(Multiple locations,

How many people does it take to change a high-pressure, ultraviolet light bulb? Forty. Or at least that's how many employees Tan Your Hide, the locally owned tanning enterprise, has standing by. These bulbs provide one of the seven levels of UV and spray tanning offered at any and all of eight locations. But owner Liz Mehlan, who brought her high-end business to Colorado Springs in 1988, also added Red Light machines to two locations this year. "[Red Light] helps with cellulite, tones you all over because you're standing on vibra-plate, which helps with fine lines and wrinkles and any kind of discoloration and scarring on skin," Mehlan says. — WB


Ruth Adele

(1625 W. Uintah St., Suite I, 636-0098)

When I ask a friend of mine and former client of Ruth Adele's about the naturopath, she exclaims, "Oh, I've thought about going back to her" — even though said friend now lives an hour and a half away in Louisville, near Boulder. "I've been to other naturopathic doctors," she continues, "and I don't necessarily like the way they assess patients." She says Adele listens well, but also integrates more conventional medical tests (like blood tests), which appeals to those like my friend who can't completely let go of their "scientific side." On top of all that? "She's warm and wonderful." — KA

Holistic Practitioner

Valerie Blankenship, Sage Woman Herbs & Clinic

(108 E. Cheyenne Road, 473-9702,

Over 23 years, Valerie Blankenship has transformed her once-simple herb shop into a full-service business, featuring her work as a clinical herbalist. For $60 to $110 per session, Blankenship will ask you questions, and check you for abnormalities that she says point to specific problems — say, a black tinge to the tongue, or white spots on the fingernails. Based on what she sees and hears, Blankenship concocts a special herbal tincture to treat your infected toe, your kidney stones and your allergies. Pretty cool. Alternately, you can just buy herbs or tinctures off the shelf at a really good price, as I did on my last visit. So far, my allergy-fighting tincture seems to be helping me battle ragweed. But Blankenship says her herbs are about more than treating a little sneezing. "The most important thing I can offer," she says, "is the ability to help people to balance their bodies, to balance their health." — JAS

Landscaper / Company

Nature Escapes Landscape & Design


His clients call him the "landscape whisperer." First-time winner Brennon Miles, owner of Nature Escapes since 2008, occasionally does commercial landscaping, citing one Dutch Bros. location as one of his recent projects. (You can see a lot of his residential work in his online portfolio.) Miles thrives on turning challenge into opportunity, giving each project an individual personality, a special touch, that makes the final outcome unique to his style and the goal of each client. His passion? Bringing a struggling landscape back to life. "It's both a humbling and satisfying experience." — SC

Pet Groomer

Wag N' Wash

(1625 W. Uintah St., 457-9274; 1234 E. Woodmen Road, 228-9274,

You never realize that dogs have toes until one day you try and wash one and she hates it so much you can see those toes clenched to the edge of the bathtub, while your shirt hangs soaked and shredded, and the shower curtain lies in a puddle, ripped off its rings. Yeah, some dogs don't like baths. And no promise of liver brownies, mackerel ravioli or even a pig's ear will get that dog wet. It's sponge baths for some of us, but for the less hydrophobic, Wag N' Wash is the place to clean your pup and then indulge him or her with gourmet treats, accessories and specialty dog food. Started right here in the Springs in 1999, WNW has expanded to six locations around Colorado and in Arizona, cleaning and feeding our stinky, spoiled pups. — EA

IndyPick • Working Non-Public Works Project

Greener Corners


Since its launch this past Earth Day, Greener Corners and partner organization Waste Management have recycled more than 20 tons from 150 collection bins downtown and in city parks, equating to the diversion of nearly 60,000 pounds of greenhouse gases. As great as that is, the best part to some might be that the company is self-sustaining, requiring no taxpayer or city money for the service: In fact, they pay the city a portion of the advertising fees that fund the effort. Company principal Aaron Klein says to expect to see more bins deployed in 2012: "When there's more recycling, there's more jobs that come from it indirectly. And more money coming from selling those products ... so it just helps to stimulate the economy, the more recycling we can do in our local communities." — MS

Hair Stylist

Chrystal Allen, Tangles Day Spa

(930 W. Colorado Ave., 473-5506,

If you're having one of those days (or weeks, or months) where you're sick of your hair and you haven't the foggiest what you want to do with it, try scheduling an appointment with Chrystal Allen. Not only will you be getting a hair stylist who loves coming to work every single day, you'll find someone who thrives on the creativity allowed by a client "who will let me do anything." Of course, you can give her some limits (for instance, no blue stripes), but know her five-plus years of experience and a commitment to ongoing training will get you right back on the road to feeling sexy. — KA

Day Spa
Nail Salon
Hair Salon

VEDA Salon & Spa

(5182 N. Nevada Ave., 265-5660; 2110 Southgate Road, #201, 578-8332; 7443 N. Academy Blvd., 314-1480,

It's always a brilliant day at VEDA, at least when you call. Of course, really, how can it not be a brilliant day when you know you're scheduling a pampering session for you, your hair, your fingers or your toes? Just walking in to a VEDA salon will put you at ease. From the soothing environment to the attentive staff, every element at VEDA plays into a plan to take some time out for yourself. And you should also be comforted in the knowledge that VEDA professionals stay up-to-date on training and trends — for instance, they'll tell you that you shouldn't even consider adding hair feathers now. Crystal extensions are what you should be rockin' in your locks for the fall. — KA

Human Day Care

Giving Tree Montessori School

(1110 W. Moreno Ave., 630-3763,

Gisela Tilch, director and owner of Giving Tree Montessori School, says her job is to help "supplement and balance the modern child." As she puts it: "They need to be digging in the dirt, they need to be coloring, they need to go hiking, they need to do art." And at Giving Tree, kids 3 to 6 years old do all these things while also learning about the power of peace, respect for self and others, and even the environment. Tilch says she and the other founders all came from other Montessori schools where such tenets weren't emphasized that heavily, and wanted to do "something more." Seventeen years later, Tilch and today's "awesome staff" are still at it, relying not on computers, but on resources such as a Peace Rose and a Serenity Corner. Says Tilch: "It's the best job there is." — KW

Place to Get Tattooed
Piercing Parlor

West Side Tattoo

(2031 W. Colorado Ave., 219-4800,

'I've been to other shops in the Springs, and I've been disappointed," says Jeff Haugland. Three years ago, the local guy checked out West Side Tattoo. Now, he's a regular, and the red dragon koi fish winding up his side is just one product of that relationship. "He comes every other week," jokes West Side co-owner Brian Moore. What attracts and keeps people like Haugland as loyal customers is the connection that the artists create with the clients, says Moore. They take time with clients, to ensure they're paired with the right West Sider. "Every person is different, and so is every artist," Moore says. — CH


Westside Animal Hospital

(1603 W. Colorado Ave., 632-6111,

When you walk into this modern animal clinic, the first thing you might see is Mucho, a long-haired gray tabby, one of three resident cats who lend character to what could be seen as an otherwise sterile atmosphere. You also notice a sign that says, "We treat your pets like they were our own." And that certainly appears to be true.

Westside Animal Hospital, here since 1970, has roughly 4,000 patients, mostly cats and dogs, although the vets also treat an occasional bird, ferret or rabbit. The clinic, open six days a week, even offers pet dentistry. Its personnel use the latest in diagnostic tools, such as an ultrasound that provides images of soft tissue that can be missed with X-rays. The clinic conducts surgery, geriatric and wellness programs (while there, I got advice for my aging Shepherd), feline boarding, pet food and outpatient drop-off services.

"What sets us apart is the people who work here," says hospital manager Leslie Ornelas. "They're very dedicated, and all truly believe in giving the best care for the patients." In fact, back in the operating area when I visited, not one, but two techs doted over a little dog as they prepped it for surgery.

The clinic is owned by doctors Peter De Waal and Rex Johnson, and helps train technicians through intern programs with Colorado schools. It's hosting a vet from Slovakia this fall. And on an especially reassuring note, Westside is a member of the American Animal Hospital Association, a designation that requires an on-site evaluation and is awarded to only the top 15 percent of veterinary practices in North America. — PZ

Pet Day Care (tie)

Camp Bow Wow

(4295 Northpark Drive, 260-9247; 1020 Ford St., 573-9247; 18985 Base Camp Road, Monument, 632-9247,

Lucky Dog

(4401 Mark Dabling Blvd., 599-9663; 2801 E. Janitell Road, 527-9663,

Named most pet-friendly city by Forbes magazine in 2007, Colorado Springs boasts numerous pamper-and-play opportunities for pooches. But Camp Bow Wow and Lucky Dog are your favorites for quality day and overnight care. Both provide live-feed video of play areas, multi-dog discounts and pre-paid discount passes. Along with their standard cabins, Camp Bow Wow offers a luxury suite, painted like a cabin, where "campers" can watch movies like Lady and the Tramp and Fox and the Hound while they settle into bed, says Nick Stadlan, manager of the Northpark Drive location. Meanwhile, Lucky Dog offers hydrotherapy and group swim sessions for an additional fee, provided your dog passes their 15-minute water test. — BA


Import Specialty Auto

(2348 E. Boulder St., 633-3075,

Import Specialty Auto's website points out that cars keep changing, but good customer service should not. Maybe that's why ISA, founded in 1978, consistently ranks high in readers' polls. Kevin Jones, who bought the business in 1997, says, "You have to stay on top of the technology, which is challenging. But you also have to develop relationships." He's seen 8-year-olds come in with their parents and return years later with their own cars. They know their rides will be pampered by mechanics who receive specialized training and use tools tailored for specific imports. Add a clean waiting room, maintenance reminders and a free shuttle or loaner car, and you've got a painless car-repair experience. — RVP

Interior Design / Home Remodeling


1791 S. Eighth St., Suite D, 630-1400,

Dr. Melissa Hocate faces hurting, even dying, people every day as a practicing physician. So when she considered starting another type of business, she says, “I wanted something positive and creative to help me balance the negativity that can come with being a physician.” In 2008, Hocate and her husband opened Tansi’s, a 6,500-square-foot fine furniture store. Hocate passes the responsibilities of interior design to her staff in order to maintain her job as a physician part-time, but says she has a hand in all of the purchases that make it into the store, from a $100 lamp to a $2,000 sofa. — WB

Chain champions

Congratulations to these big businesses that locals love:
Floyd's 99 Barbershop
7252 N. Academy Blvd., #110,593-0011,

Financial Services Business
1855 Telstar Drive, 800/531-8722,

Inexpensive Haircut
Great Clips
Multiple locations,

Realty Company

Multiple locations,

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