Best Garden Store
Reader's Choice: Gethsemane Garden Center
In the New Testament, Jesus went to the Garden of Gethsemane after the Last Supper to pray. That's a pretty heavy handle for this garden superstore, where the most anguish you'll suffer is having to choose from the seemingly endless array of plants and ornaments without tossing your budget to the winds. Gethsemane takes up two city blocks, with a greenhouse, a gift shop, and separate sections for annuals, perennials, trees and shrubs, outdoor furniture, and statuary. Their prices aren't the lowest, but with gas at $4.30 a gallon you might save by tackling your whole list here anyway. a 5739 N. Clark, 773-878-5915, gethsemanegardens.com. —Heather Kenny
Readers' Choice: Gethsemane Garden Center
Best Boutique for Women
Reader's Choice: Tangerine
Yes, its higher price points will make a big dent in the average paycheck, but I know of no better place to find something attractive and wearable than this long-running Wicker Park boutique. The looks tend toward what I call "urban girly-girl"—feminine, but with a touch of knowing chic to dilute the sweetness. I've heard complaints that the sales staff can be overenthusiastic, but I've never felt pressured to buy anything I didn't really want—and I'd rather deal with that than icy condescension any day. a1719 N. Damen, 773-772-0505, chicagotangerine.com. —Heather Kenny
Readers' Choice: Akira
a 1837 W. North, 773-489-0818, and 2357 N. Clark, 773-404-5826, akirachicago.com.
Best Boutique for Men
Reader's Choice: Guise Chic
The coed shop Guise Chic is low on the "party shirts" that are the bane of straight men's wardrobes and big on basics in neutral colors and contemporary cuts, with lines ranging from eco-conscious cult fave Gilded Age to preppy Steven Alan. Plus you can multitask by taking advantage of the barbershop/hair salon in back. a 2128 N. Halsted, 773-929-6130, guisechic.com. —Heather Kenny
Readers' Choice: His Stuff and Jake (tie)
Best Furniture Store
Reader's Choice: Verde Design Studio
Many of the upholstered pieces and case goods you'll find at this Bucktown shop are designed by owner Michele Fitzpatrick, who also designed and sourced the interior of the Museum of Science and Industry's eco-friendly Smart Home. They're stylish, beautifully crafted, relatively affordable—and, best of all, made in Chicago out of sustainable or renewable nontoxic materials. This reduces shipping costs, saves gas, supports several local manufacturers, and cuts lead time down to six weeks. Fitzpatrick's own sleek offerings are informed by midcentury modernism, but she can do just about anything custom; she also stocks wildly creative work by a host of other environmentally conscious Chicago artisans as well as like-minded national lines usually sold only to the trade (think sustainable textiles, window treatments, and floor coverings). There's also an ever-changing stock of refurbished vintage pieces covered in recycled fabrics. a2100 W. Armitage, 773-486-7750, verdedesignstudio.net. —Lisa Skolnik
Readers' Choice: Intaglia Home Collection
a 2831 N. Clark, 773-880-5440, intagliahome.com.
Best Antique Store
Reader's Choice: Douglas Rosin Decorative Arts & Antiques
It's hard to find a balance between chockablock and spare when you're selling antiques: you need enough stock to inspire exploration, but you don't want to overwhelm. Gene Douglas and Barbara Rosin manage to find that sweet spot in their relatively compact but carefully layered 2,000-square-foot River North space. Their focus is on the out-of-the-ordinary, and in that pursuit their collection spans every decade of the 20th century. Furnishings and decorative accessories have been chosen for their singularity, expressiveness, and capacity to bring a room to life. The exceptional jewelry selection features a range of modernist, midcentury, costume, and retro pieces. Intriguing lamps, exquisitely framed fine art, and breathtaking silver, pottery, and glass pieces are all strong suits as well. a 730 N. Wells, 312-337-6556, douglasrosin.com. —Lisa Skolnik
Readers' Choice: Lincoln Antique Mall
a 3115 W. Irving Park, 773-604-4700.
Best Consignment Shop
Readers' Choice: White Chicago Boutique
Specializing in "new, sample, and once wed designer wedding gowns." a 222 W. Huron, 312-397-1571, whitechicago.com.
Best Thrift Store
Reader's Choice: The Ark on Milwaukee
Run by the Jewish social service agency of the same name, the Ark is as notable for the range of used goods it offers as for the volume. Entire dining room sets and eight-place table settings dominate the front of the store; farther back you might find a fancy espresso machine among the decrepit Mr. Coffees; along with food processors and toaster ovens there might be a lone full-size stove. A whole other storefront next door houses most of the rest of the furniture, though there's some cheaper stuff in the basement, along with the old crutches, rollerblades, and computer monitors galore. There's another location at 3345 N. Lincoln (773-248-1117), but although this one is smaller, prices are generally lower—you can sometimes even haggle. a 1302 N. Milwaukee, 773-862-5011, arkchicago.org. —Julia Thiel
Readers' Choice: Brown Elephant Resale Shops
Run by the Howard Brown Health Center, these shops also host free, anonymous rapid HIV testing; check howardbrown.org for times. a3651 N. Halsted, 773-549-5943; 5404 N. Clark, 773-271-9382; 1459 N. Milwaukee, 773-252-8801; 217 Harrison, Oak Park, 708-445-0612.
Best Museum Gift Shop
Reader's Choice: MCA Store
The store at the Museum of Contemporary Art is admittedly overrun with those cutesy Alessi gadgets and Yoshitomo Nara knickknacks that must be the loss leaders of the design world. But there are less overexposed options, like Jeff Koons beach towels and children's clothes (exclusive to the MCA) and eye-catching jewelry and accessories by small-scale artisans and designers. The second-floor bookshop stocks serious tomes, coffee-table titles, and graphic oddities. a 220 E. Chicago, 312-280-2660, mcachicagostore.org. —Heather Kenny
Readers' Choice: MCA Store
Best Sex Shop
Reader's Choice: Early to Bed
How many sex shops have a book club, a seminar series (from the relatively vanilla "Strip for Your Lover" to "Intro to Japanese Rope Bondage"), and regularly sponsor community events (from burlesque shows to women's health benefits)? More than just a storefront, Searah Deysach's Early to Bed is a happy sex community center, with its bright space, friendly, helpful staff, and enticements to pick up and turn on all of the toys on display. And there's nary a bachelorette-party gag gift in sight. The Web site is equally appealing, with entertaining blog posts cheerfully announcing, e.g., "Something New for Your Butt!" along with product reviews and ephemera. a 5232 N. Sheridan, 773-271-1219, early2bed.com. —Kathie Bergquist
Readers' Choice: Early to Bed