“Egad! Huzzah!” said Gretchen Brinser upon hearing the news that Kernohan’s won Best Toy Store. She and her husband, Greg, have shepherded the business for the better part of the last decade, buying it from the beloved family who first put a big bear out on State Street, the place where the whole town bought its toys. The last years have not been enormously kind since the recession, and not only did they see their business fall off, but a lot of the manufacturers they liked disappeared. “It’s better than it once was, and it has come back a lot,” said Gretchen, who is grateful that her neighbors and customers feel flush enough to let their children play again.
FINALIST: CHICKEN LITTLE
Orfalea Family Children’s Center
While it’s true that the Orfalea Center is set up primarily for UCSB families, students, and faculty, a certain percentage remains open to the general community. “In point of fact, 20 percent of the openings are from non-university people,” said Leslie Voss, the center’s director of childcare and education. She’s all the more happy that the center took number one in the polls. “We’re happy, and we take seriously our privilege and responsibility to care for these children with resources and support for the families.” They promote the idea that kids benefit greatly from their relationships with others. “And we believe in the idea that children learn through play.”
FINALIST: JUST 4 FUN FITNESS
Kids’ Summer Camp
UCSB Summer Camps
And you thought this place was just for people who “interrogate” ideas and think about “fictive” modes while they are “establishing bandwidths of subjectivity.” Boy were you wrong. “We have the best pools in town; we have gymnastic ropes,” said camp director Cathy Czuleger, adding details like surf camp—which was started by rock star Jack Johnson—to the profile of possible adventures. “UCSB camp has been running for 34 summers,” she said. “And I’ve been here for 23 of those years.” It’s good that they won the Best Of category, said Czuleger. “Finally we are bringing it back here where it belongs.”
Children’s Clothing Store
Peanuts Maternity & Kids
9 E. Figueroa St., 618-1640
Ever since Nicki Horne opened this store, her vision was making it more than just a place to score kiddie toys. So, there are used and new clothes, cool toys, and a number of educational and entertainment programs meant to knit the fabric of the family tight. A winner now since it first opened, it’s an urban outfitter for urchins and so much more.
FINALIST: CHICKEN LITTLE
Dr. Jerold Black
51 Hitchcock Wy., 563-6211
This is a new category, and its winner, Dr. Jerold Black, practices at Sansum Clinic. “I’m thrilled and surprised to be honored by my patients and their families,” he said. “I feel blessed to be able to practice what I love, taking care of Santa Barbara and Sansum Clinic’s smallest patients. I’m excited that my passion for children’s health has shown through enough to have my families vote for me to win the S.B. Independent Readers’ Poll for Best Pediatrician 2014. Here’s to a healthy and happy 2014 and beyond.”
FINALIST: DR. PATRICIA ERBE
White’s Pet Hospital
532 E. Haley St., 966-1604
Since the 1920s, White’s has been a town favorite and, since the Best Of began, either a winner or a runner-up in this category. Besides the staff, White’s has always offered a lot in one spot. It’s a hospital, a doggy doctor’s office, a kennel, and dentist’s office, and now it features a new line of laser-based, noninvasive kinds of surgery. This town may seem like it changes at a glacial rate, but there are really very few businesses of any kind coming up on a centenary. White’s Pet Hospital is awesomely modern and, as far as we can tell, the oldest business in town.
FINALIST: ST. FRANCIS PET CLINIC
Dioji K-9 Resort & Athletic Club
Jeannie Wendel’s business is only seven years old, but it’s already soared to the top with the readers and taken off into the world, too. Four years ago, the wittily named biz opened a second luxury pooch hotel on Milpas Street, and now Wendel is moving into Agoura Hills for a third. “I think it goes back to our team,” she said. “I think they are excited to be working here. And it shows.” Wendel has no problem recruiting new workers; she just looks for the real dog lovers, adding that they often say, “Wait, you’re going to pay me to play with dogs?” There’s a lot of play and a lot of direct supervision. Dioji may not be poised to take over the world, but its dogged growth seems assured.
FINALIST: ANIMAL INN/CAMP CANINE
Lemos Feed & Pet Supply
This small chain began on the Central Coast in the early 1970s and now has more than a dozen stores between Paso Robles and Carpinteria. If you’ve shopped for a pet or had to pay for health care, you know that the expenses have skyrocketed in the last decade. People are not complaining, however, and this store is no bargain basement. It isn’t expensive, either, and everybody says that the personal care gotten there gives faithful customers paws to wonder.
Douglas Family Preserve (aka the Wilcox Property)
Officially titled the Douglas Family Preserve, this park stands for a number of things: celebrity charity spending, community activism, the love of untouched nature (or barely touched). But most of all, it stands for dogs off the leash. On a large mesa bordered by Hendry’s Beach, the Pacific Ocean, Cliff Drive, and the ’burbs, this large area features trails through brush and eucalyptus, pines and oak, and dogs happier than any other in the city limits. Whether examining each other’s private credentials, running after sticks, or picking up messages left on the heather and the trees, pooches on parade here clearly experience canine euphoria. The Wilcox is dog heaven, and that’s nothing to sniff at.
FINALIST: ARROYO BURRO BEACH (AKA HENDRY’S BEACH)
The Little Dog House
5758 Hollister Ave., Goleta, 964-2446
Annabelle Hofmann quipped, “We’re cleaning up every year.” And it has been nearly 40 years since she opened her mega-popular dog-grooming place out in Goleta. “I think people like us because we let the dogs run around free,” she said. “And we all live and breathe dogs. I have a rescue group, and we’re very well-versed in rare breeds.” In dog years, that may be half a century of grooming, but Hofmann said she loves every dog day she gets.