Menlo Velo Bicycles, frequent winner of the Readers' Choice award for Bicycle Shop, strives to connect with every customer who drops in, says owner Rainer Zaechelein. Customers like to visit the shop, he adds, because they expect a level of personal assistance they wouldn't likely find at bigger outlets. Keeping stock up to date is a primary priority, Mr. Zaechelein points out. In addition to selling cycling goods and servicing bikes, Menlo Velo rents out road bikes and town bikes for those 18 and over.
433 El Camino Real, Menlo Park | (650) 327-5137


Even though Kepler's Books has traditionally won the top Readers' Choice prize in the bookstore category, the adage "Some things never change" would be greatly off the mark when speaking about this Menlo Park institution. "We are gradually and successfully transforming Kepler's from a traditional for-profit bookstore into a membership-driven institution with a mission of deepening literacy and providing cultural enrichment for our community," says Praveen Madan, Kepler's community engagement officer. "This year we completed a successful nonprofit pilot program to organize literary events and donate books at all seven public schools in East Palo Alto and Belle Haven, and reached over 1,300 students," he says. Another exciting change: The store is hosting a weekly radio show in partnership with journalist Angie Coiro, who interviews a range of authors. It's also developing a monthly book subscription service. Its new nonprofit events organization "has a stellar events program lined up for the fall" with Meg Clayton, Adam Johnson, David Shields and others, Mr. Madan says.
1010 El Camino Real, Menlo Park | (650) 324-4321

Best Boutique, Gift & Novelty Shop: Shady Lane


Although Shady Lane just moved to Menlo Park in March, readers have already named it a first-time winner in both Boutique and Gift & Novelty categories. "We were in business in Palo Alto for 40 years and have a wonderful following," says owner Alice Deutscher. The shop is now housed an an octagon building in Sharon Heights Shopping Center. "A customer told us about the space and when I saw it I knew in my heart it was for us," says Alice. The shop features 15 artists who only sell at Shady Lane. Items also come from all over the the world. Handmade gift items include jewelry, ceramics, glass, woodworking and textiles. "Our gifts are beautifully wrapped and we welcome returns. We also have old fashioned layaway," says Alice.
325 Sharon Park Drive, Menlo Park | (650) 321-1099


The award goes to Menlo Flooring and Design, owned by Eugene Perez, who says customers, both homeowners and trade professionals, like the wide variety of options offered to meet their flooring needs. The store has been adding green and environmentally friendly products, including tiles of natural stone, cork floors and natural wool carpets. Customers appreciate, too, that Mr. Perez is all-local. He not only runs his business in Menlo Park, he lives there, too. His aim, he says, is to continue to provide the level of "good old fashioned" customer service that has been the store's hallmark for more than 20 years.
905 El Camino Real, Menlo Park | (650) 305-1099


University Art, a family-owned business that started in 1948, has this motto: "Real people available to assist you with all your needs." UArt, as it calls itself, has become a center for all things creative. It has a broad selection of frames, from pre-made to custom, and from wood to acrylic. It offers numerous stains, glazes, finishes and three-dimensional treatments. There are ongoing art classes and an abundance of art supplies for sale at discounts to teachers and students. "If it's creative," UArt posts on its website, "it's here."
2550 El Camino Real, Redwood City | (650) 328-3500


The favorite hardware of Almanac readers participating in the Readers' Choice poll is Menlo Park Ace Hardware. "We try to be helpful and solve problems," says owner and store manager Vasile Oros. "That's the first goal. Sometimes we succeed, sometimes not so good, but we try." Coming soon: a handyman area for services such as fixing window screens, sharpening knives and "advice, always advice," on home improvements, Mr. Oros says.
700 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park | 325-2515


For 23 years, the Almanac's readers have given Flegel's Home Furnishings a Readers' Choice award. The business, which has involved three generations of the Flegel family, has been in business 61 years, since its founding in 1954. The store's quality products, including prestige furniture lines such as as Stickley, Baker, Marge Carson and Brown Jordan, attracts not only Silicon Valley titans, but a world-wide clientele for both home and office furnishings. Professional interior designers are available to help shoppers find exactly what they are looking for.
870 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park | (650) 326-9661


Co-owners Marcia De Lima and Dave Nagel of Ela Lingerie in Menlo Park have created a full-service boutique that carries a wide selection of lingerie and sleepwear. As Ms. De Lima explains, women's figures, styles and needs change over the years. What was fine in some years may no longer fit, may be out of style or may lack comfort now. Ela Lingerie aims to provide a custom fit for all women in all walks of life. They have a return clientele who say they enjoy the relaxing and elegant atmosphere and the personal service. This year Ela Lingerie is expanding its selection with hard-to-find smaller and unique sizes not easily found elsewhere.
1139 Chestnut St., Menlo Park | (650) 796-0768


For 23 consecutive years, The Pet Place in Menlo Park has been the pet store of choice for Almanac readers. The store that goes the extra mile for animals and their human companions has operated just fine for years without a website but is about to launch one, says Marc Macy, who owns the business with his wife Lynn. The address will be Meanwhile, for Internet kicks, try out its Facebook page at thepetplacemenlopark. In addition to its wide selection of pet products, The Pet Place offers service and advice, from finding the right diet to referring a customer to a veterinarian, sitter or trainer. The store hosts rescue groups and shelters, and helps with adoptions and in finding temporary and permanent homes for animals.
777 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park | (650) 325-7387


Almanac readers regularly head to Sigona's Farmers Market when they want the freshest vegetables and fruit on their table. And not only fresh, but sourced. "We go the extra mile by writing on all our signage where the product was grown and who the farmer is," says Sigona's Maria Abad. But Sigona's offers more than produce: There are olive oils, artisan cheeses, wines, and microbrews, as well as cut flowers. Too busy to drop by one of the stores at the Stanford Shopping Center or on Middlefield Road in Redwood City? There's an online store, where you can order dried fruit, nuts, olive oils, balsamic vinegars and more for shipping. "Also, we have a bi-weekly newsletter in which we feature produce tips, tips for healthy living, specials (and) recipes," Ms. Abad notes. And, she says, there are free items with an in-store purchase of $30 or more,"
39 Stanford Shopping Center, 180 El Camino Real, Palo Alto | (650) 329-1340


Beltramo's Wines and Spirits has again risen to the top of our readers' list for favorite specialty store. The store was founded in 1882 by Giovanni Beltramo, who immigrated to the area from the Piemonte region of Italy about two years earlier. It's been in the family ever since, with Giovanni's grandchildren and great-grandchildren keeping the doors open and the shelves stocked with wine, beer and spirits from around the world. The store has wine tastings every Saturday from 2:30 to 5:30 p.m., and beer tasting generally every other Friday from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m.
1540 El Camino Real, Menlo Park | (650) 325-2806