Lucky Dog Resort(4401 Mark Dabling Blvd., 599-9663; 2801 Janitell Road East, 527-9663; bealuckydog.com)
Anyone who believes dogs are people will find like minds at Lucky Dog. Each dog gets his or her own plastic box of possessions, like toys, leashes and medicine, marked with their names: Kenta, Sadie, Toots, Whistler, Belle. And if you can't stand the thought of your "child" being alone with 50 others, you can verify that the tail is still wagging on play-area webcams. "We have long-time clients," says front-desk clerk Jennifer Houghton. "Every play group is an hour and a half. Then they rest for an hour and a half." Attendants are constantly circulating, throwing balls and playing referee to assure that bully dogs don't get out of hand. Some owners, like Pat Shipp, are thankful that a day at "camp" tuckers out their pet. Of her German shorthair, Crocket, she says, "He comes home, goes upstairs and goes right to sleep." — PZ
Sara Mascarenas at Eden Salon and Barbershop(12 E. Kiowa St.,520-3336, edensalon-evolution.com)
When Eden Salon and Barbershop celebrated its seventh year in business by making a move to downtown, cosmetologist Sara Mascarenas didn't have to worry about losing her clientèle. A short-hair specialist whose own towering, yet oddly ladylike mohawk is a walking advertisement for her skill with the shears, Mascarenas says most of her customers were only too happy to follow her over from Rockrimmon. But when parts of her old neighborhood started going up in flames during the Waldo Canyon Fire this summer, she returned the love with free stylist services for anyone who'd been affected. To find Mascarenas downtown, just look for the angel wings on the storefront. Sure, it's a common enough motif, but Eden and Mascarenas have really earned theirs. — CAS
VEDA Salon & Spa(7443 N. Academy Blvd., 314-1480; 2110 Southgate Road, #201, 578-8332; 5182 N. Nevada Ave., 265-5660; coloradoveda.com)
Whether you need a trim or a completely new 'do, VEDA's got you covered. And according to our readers, they'll also treat you mighty fine no matter which spa treatments you decide to pamper yourself with — from chakra-balancing massages to skin-renewal facials, for women and men. Owners Carrie Perkins and Sandy Francis obviously take pride in their business, as well as the work they do outside their salons. The VEDA name can be seen across town on fundraisers such as the "Faces of the World" Fashion Show and Greenie Awards, benefitting the Catamount Institute, and this month's inaugural Strides for Epilepsy 5K. — KA
Pens & Needles Custom Tattoo Company(716 N. Weber St., #200, 287-5605, pens-needles.com; 3737 Drennan Road, 391-7367, pens-needles2.com)
Even though Pens & Needles owner Kristina Wright says she's "running out of space" on her body for more tattoos, she still has some personal limits when it comes to body art. One of her master artists had a young lady, "four-eleven, probably 80 pounds, [who] sat for nine, nine and a half hours straight, except for an occasional break for eating.
"She impressed me," Wright says. "I mean, I'm not sitting there for nine hours!"
Wright, who's retired military, has limits for her employees, too.
"It's a requirement — they have to know how to draw," she says. "They have to know how to be a custom artist, which means when the customer comes up to you, whip up some designs. Just start sketching some things. I think that builds way more trust than, 'Hey, I'm gonna get Number 31 from the wall.'"
And people seem to be receptive. Her tattoo artists produce more than 200 tats a month; her piercers, about 75 holes a month. And Wright, who opened the original Pens & Needles on Weber Street in 2008, just opened a second store on Drennan Road six months ago. Each shop is designed to offer a bit of privacy; employees have their own defined spaces, allowing customers to be able to sit longer, watch their own TVs, and relax more, "in their own little zone."
Perfect, perhaps, for the introverted among us, or those who want something more unusual. Wright hesitates when asked about the most outrageous tats her artists have done. "I don't know if I can say this over the phone," she says, laughing. "We've had a couple 'good spots.'"
How do the artists feel about those "spots"? "Some of the old-school guys," she says, "they don't care as long as you're paying for it."
But it does depend on the artist.
"We have one female artist," Wright explains. "She's really kinda flexible also, it just depends on exactly where you're gonna put it.
"She doesn't do too many of the wangs." — KA
Helen's Nails(2832 N. Powers Blvd., 574-8640)
Helen's Nails has been in the same location for 15 years, and when Uyen Le bought the business nine years ago, she decided to keep the name, too. "My mom had a salon, so I grew up in the nail business," says Le, "and my mom's name is Helen. So it was meant to be." Helen's Nails is a busy salon with 14 employees, open seven days a week. "We offer original, hand-painted custom nails, with over 100 designs on our Facebook page," Le says. "If you have your own idea, that's OK, too. We can match anything. We also specialize in bridal parties and birthday parties, even for little kids; it's really fun when we get a group of 5-year-old girls all getting their nails done!" — KK
Locals Barbershop(5230 N. Nevada Ave., #120, 265-5547, localscut.com)
Beer on tap at a barber shop? "Oh, yeah," says barber John Marquez. "It's always an incentive to come in, relax, get a hot-towel shave." Much like the University Village store itself, which features local art on the walls, loud music in the speakers and hip, tattooed employees, offering up Great Divide Brewing Co. beer is a modern twist on what might seem like something out of a history book — the straight-razor shave. Don't worry about Marquez going all Sweeney Todd on you, though — there's nothing sinister about the guy or his job. At Locals, he says, they just "like to keep it old-school." — KA
Tan Your Hide(Multiple locations, tanyourhide.com)
In a city where sun-blocking clouds are scarce, it seems counterintuitive to go inside to absorb some UVA and UVB rays. But, Tan Your Hide owner Liz Melahn points out, "In a salon, it's controlled. When you're outside, especially in Colorado, you're apt to get burned, even in the wintertime." And Indy readers have voted Melahn's 31-year-old tanning studios the top indoor place to tan for eight years running. The spa-like salon offers 10 levels of tanning, including UV, airbrush and sunless, with different levels in each category. However you get it, Melahn says, "You need Vitamin D, you need some sunlight, and you need 15 minutes a day." — DM
ENT Federal Credit Union(Multiple locations, ent.com)
In the spirit of disclosure, I bank with ENT. And further in that spirit, I'm very happy that I do. Here's my story: One day I get a call from a woman with ENT, and she has distressing news. Someone, not me, just called and tried to access my bank account. This person had my name, address, phone number and Social Security number, and said that he just had forgotten the account's password. No dice, ENT told the imposter: If he wanted to get the password, he'd have to do it in person, at a branch. Perhaps this kind of service is provided by most banks, but ENT's promptness and professionalism was very comforting for me in an extremely discomforting moment. Its handling of that minor crisis won it a long-time customer. — CH
Matthew Clawson(115 E. Vermijo Ave., #101, 634-1848; 1155 Kelly Johnson Blvd., 471-7505; clawsonlawfirm.com)
According to an old chestnut told to me by an attorney, lawyers have to love two of these three things: debating, language and money. Matthew Clawson doesn't see it that way, necessarily. "I would add helping people," he says. "I get great satisfaction from helping others. If it was amount of money or debating, I would not practice law. It is all about helping people, in my mind." A second-generation attorney, Clawson has been in private practice for 13 years, and opened his civil law firm with his brother Mike in 2004. This is Clawson's second time to win this category. What makes his firm stand out? "We treat others," he says, "as we would like to be treated ourselves." — CH
Aaron Smith(5901 Corporate Drive, 355-1956, aaronsmithplasticsurgery.com)
This is the second straight year that Aaron Smith, a plastic and reconstructive surgeon, has won our Best Doctor award. That says something, especially since his practice has only been around for two years. "It's a field in medicine that allows you to give something to your patient that they might not have, or that was taken away from them," says Smith, who completed his plastic surgery fellowship at the prestigious Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. Sometimes it's hard to feel comfortable around doctors, what with all that "medical language" sounding like gibberish, but Smith knows that communication is key: "It's about being able to relate to the patient on a regular basis ... having them feel comfortable telling you exactly what they're looking for." — CW
Valerie Blankenship of Sage Woman Herbs & Clinic(108 E. Cheyenne Road, 473-9702, sagewomanherbs.com)
Valerie Blankenship has two small posters under the glass on her desk. One shows photos of fingernails and the other of tongues, all displaying the unattractive symptoms of various illnesses. It could make a visitor bashful about those body parts; you just know Blankenship could read you like a Dick and Jane book. But she's been helping people for more than 23 years, so clearly she uses her wisdom (and fistful of certifications) for good during clients' 90-minute consultations. "What I do is educate people about natural substances and how those substances can help bring them back into balance," she says. "I'm going to try to get to the root of the problem." — RVP
Ruth Adele(1625 W. Uintah St., Suite I, 636-0098)
A doctor of naturopathy for 29 years, Dr. Ruth Adele spends up to two hours in an initial consultation. "We work to find a cause of a problem, instead of just cover up the symptoms," says Adele, who also won this award last year. Whether you're suffering from fatigue, joint pain, depression, hormonal imbalances, digestive disorders, allergies or other health issues, Adele incorporates natural remedies with "fundamental old-time viewpoints on health and healing," for a well-rounded approach to well-being. — DK
Jason Daniels, RE/MAX(5590 N. Academy Blvd., 268-8086, jasondanielshomes.com)
If I had it to do over again, I would ask Jason Daniels this first: "How do you feel about the real estate market right now?" Because as much as he kindly answered my questions about his background (he's 34, a Doherty and Colorado State University grad, with experience in construction management), his geographic focus (the entire Pikes Peak region, essentially) and even how many miles he drives annually (about 20,000), Daniels really got going when he got to talk shop. His bottom line: "Right now is a great opportunity for anyone sitting on the fence, either a first-time buyer or someone who wants to get into real estate investing." If you want more, call Daniels' office: You're virtually guaranteed to reach either the nine-year pro or one of his three team members. — KW
Pure Nutrition(22 E. Bijou St., 322-8766)
Pure Nutrition is actually what 24-year-old proprietor Kati Brewer calls a "nutrition club." Members drink protein shakes or teas in this bright purple-and-green-hued, smoothie-bar-like setting, and/or purchase retail products to prepare at home. The low-calorie, high-protein shakes promote “cellular nutrition,” in Brewer's words, and her staff members offer support for weight loss (or gain, for athletes). Brewer herself wears a badge that proudly promotes the 70 pounds she's recently lost. Drop in between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m., Monday through Saturday to let her share more about her diet programs, and look for weekly yoga and Zumba classes in the space soon. — MS
Johnson Orthodontics(5850 Tutt Center Point, #100; 15435 Gleneagle Drive, #210, 596-3081; coloradospringsortho.com)
The braces verdict is painful enough to swallow. Add the hit to the budget and the hassle, and it can be downright excruciating. After comparing what's out there, I found that Johnson Orthodontics not only gave the best price quote for my kids' dental work, but also the shortest timeframe to get the job done. Dr. Warren Johnson invites parents to be involved, treats each kid like he or she is his most important client, and has friendly helpers. Beyond all that, we pleasantly discovered that the service is kid-cool, from the initial computer check-in. You can play video games, watch movies during procedures, and earn tokens to cash in for surprisingly un-cheesy prizes. — DK
Julia Rohleder, The Downtown Dentist(105 N. Tejon St., 260-0216, thedowntowndentist.net)
A first-time winner, Dr. Julia Rohleder spent her growing-up years in Colorado Springs as part of an Air Force family. She graduated from Rampart High School and then left to get her degree in Illinois. But she returned to start her practice here — with a downtown location to make it convenient — and offers services that run the gamut: preventive (with emphasis on reducing radiation exposure), restorative and cosmetic. As her website says, "Having a beautiful, healthy smile can make the difference in our confidence and self esteem." — PZ
Strawberry Fields Alternative Health & Wellness(3404 W. Colorado Ave., 471-2837, strawberryfieldsmmj.com)
OK, so maybe Frank Sinatra isn't exactly what you'd expect to be echoing through a business that sells a product more often associated with, well, just about every style of music except that of Ol' Blue Eyes. But it's exactly what you'll find in the lobby of Strawberry Fields, which since opening in 2010 has been about as reliable and professional a dispensary as you'll find. Now, if "reliable" and "professional" are too ephemeral of descriptors for you, check out its collection of edibles for something more, um, tangible. "We have over 200 different edibles here," says employee Jake VanLandschoot, which he suspects is the biggest selection in the state. — WM
University of Colorado at Colorado Springs(1420 Austin Bluffs Pkwy., 255-8227, uccs.edu)
From small-town option to full-fledged higher-ed contender, the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs has matured with the city it's called home since 1965. Enrollment has increased 30 percent over the past decade, from 7,446 in 2002 to 9,777 this fall, according to spokesman Tom Hutton. The campus has gone through growing pains to meet the needs of local, regional and out-of-state students, as well as employers specifying workforce desires. And the growth continues: An $18.2 million expansion project is under way for two new dorms by next fall. Plus, the Lane Center for Academic Health Sciences, an $18.5 million building on North Nevada Avenue, will be the university's first structure in the urban renewal zone that brought University Village to the area. Best bang for the buck? You bet. — DK
Pikes Peak Community College(Multiple locations and online courses, ppcc.edu)
Inspiration has to be why PPCC took this category. OK, and some top-notch professors. After more than a decade in journalism, I'm taking anatomy and chemistry there myself this semester. When I'm overwhelmed by the 40 to 60 hours a week I'm spending on these classes, I can always look at a neighbor who's doing the same thing — while working for pennies to support a kiddo at home. When you've got many students who are the first in their family to go to college, or are returning years later to finish a degree or to embark on a new path, the inspirational stories never cease. — SB
Rich Designs(1731 Mt. Washington Ave., 475-1200, richdesignshome.com)
Rich Designs artistically mixes floral shop, art gallery, home furnishings store and interior design business. So it's no surprise that co-owner and designer Rich Schell likes interiors to be fun and spontaneous, and describes his look as eclectic: "I love so many varieties of styles that I prefer to mix them all up." The store accepts jobs of all sizes, from helping someone find the perfect couch or carpet to carrying out full-scale, blowout renovations. Couples redesigning their shared space can be more of a challenge, but Schell is straightforward. "One of you has got to love it," he tells them, "and the other has got to get used to it." — DM
Import Specialty Auto(2348 E. Boulder St., 633-3075, isacarservice.com)
Kevin Jones didn't have a background in the auto-repair industry when he bought Import Specialty Auto in 1997. "I was just looking to go the entrepreneurial route," he says. The Springs native found the perfect business — successful, with loyal customers — and "didn't change anything about it. We just stepped in and tried not to mess anything up." Apparently, he's been doing all right; this is the fourth Best Of in five years for Jones and his seven-employee shop. Part of their success stems from their attention to customers, he says, but it doesn't hurt that they focus on the niche market of imports. By the way, we couldn't let the now-car-expert off the phone without asking: The easiest cars to work on? Toyotas and Hondas. The hardest? BMWs. — CH
Westside Animal Hospital(1603 W. Colorado Ave., 632-6111, westsideanimalhospital.com)
What makes Westside stand out? One word: lasers. OK, the experienced veterinarians, wide surgical offerings and gentle care might also help. But the lasers are pretty cool. Westside uses laser therapy to help pets heal wounds faster, and to ease the pain of conditions like arthritis. "It stimulates cell growth," says practice manager Leslie Ornelas. "So that's why it's a much nicer way to heal, other than medication and time." Staying on top of technology is part of what has set Westside apart since 1970, Ornelas says. But she notes that more patients are probably won over by the fact that the receptionist comes out from behind the desk to greet pets warmly, and calm them with treats. And there's the fact that Westside's three vets have been there for between six and 15 years each. — JAS
Happy Cats Haven(1412 S. 21st St., 635-5000, happycatshaven.org)
Happy Cats Haven is a no-kill shelter that, in less than a year, has rescued about 180 cats and kittens — while welcoming locals who just need their “cat fix,” as board secretary and volunteer program manager Sherri Albertson puts it. Even if you can’t adopt one, Albertson says, you can come in to pet and snuggle a feline during office hours, four days a week. "It's good for the cats and for the people to have that interaction," she says. Happy Cats will celebrate its first birthday from 2 to 5 p.m., Sunday, Nov. 4, with a party/fundraiser at the Old Colorado City Historic Center. The event is free, but your bids in a silent auction will help keep Albertson and her half-dozen other volunteers in business for 2013 and, hopefully, beyond. — KK
Smudge Car & Dog Wash(6295 Templeton Gap Road, 528-1330, smudgewash.com)
OK, so you can't really indulge your Inner Mitt by driving through with your dog strapped to the roof, but you can still clean car and canine, albeit separately, at Smudge Car & Dog Wash. The north side business bills itself as "The Most Unique Dog Wash in the World," with a variety of services — on-site master certified groomer, two fenced off-leash parks, and dog-wash water getting recycled for use in the drive-thru car wash — all sweetening the deal. — BF
Hiner Landscapes(2785 Maroon Bells Ave., 357-5770, hinerlandscapes.com)
Matt Hiner creates more than just landscapes — they're "custom outdoor living spaces." We can't think of a more concise way to sum up just what's so inscrutable about the entire concept of "landscaping," that cryptic practice of tending to the blurry space between nature and nurture, chaos and culture. In its fourth year, Hiner Landscapes makes what Hiner calls "inviting and unique" anti-architecture out of the environment. As for the secret to his success, Hiner sticks with the tried-and-true "attention to detail." — WM
Giving Tree Montessori School(1110 W. Moreno Ave., 630-3763, gtmschool.com)
Satisfying a child's "mental hunger" is what Montessori-style day care is all about, and Giving Tree has become the bar to strive toward in the Springs. Classic Montessori systems rely on student discovery and unobtrusive teacher guidance, allowing children to pursue and find their talents, strengths and self-confidence. "Our Peace Curriculum is still the cornerstone of our school," says Gisela Tilch, the director, teacher and owner. "We not only honor, but we celebrate, the cultural differences in the world. It's not just respect, but celebrating and realizing that differences are genuinely cool!" — BW
Teresa Lee Photography(2480 Shiprock Way, 548-8300, teresaleephotography.com)
Pointing and shooting are small parts of what leads to a great photo. The big part is what Teresa Lee Photography emphasizes: capturing the emerging personality of, say, a 1-year-old; the pride of a graduating senior; or the love of an engaged couple. In short, it's finding that something that makes others say, "Wow, that's really you." Taking time with each client has helped the business grow, says Robert Lee, Teresa's husband and operations manager — and being the designated photographer for a local hair salon, fitness studio and event center hasn't hurt. From fun and whimsical to serious and sophisticated, the end result is unique and unquestionably the reason for the studio's four consecutive Best Of wins. — DK
Chain ChampsKudos to some bigger businesses that locals love:
Great Clips(Multiple locations, greatclips.com)
PetSmart(Multiple locations, petsmart.com)
RE/MAX(Multiple locations, remax.com)