Retail

Best Florist, Nursery, Gift Shop: Ladera Garden & Gifts.

BOOKSTORE

Kepler's Books, a mainstay of the Peninsula's literary scene, this year made a Lonely Planet list of "bookstores worth traveling for." According to Praveen Madan, CEO of Kepler's Books and a member of the Kepler's Literary Foundation, the Kepler's known to the community is two community organizations: Kepler's the bookstore, a for-profit enterprise, and the Kepler's Literary Foundation, a nonprofit headed by Jean Forstner that hosts hundreds of free and ticketed events each year in the community — many of which happen inside the bookstore. The foundation has an annual budget of about $350,000 a year, Madan says, and is funded through a combination of major donor individuals and grants. It runs a series of literary seminars, author events, book clubs, a radio show called "This is Now" with Angie Coiro, and a program that brings children's authors to meet with students in the Ravenswood City School District. In the store, Madan says, a makeshift office for the shop's book buyers is being relocated across the street to make space to expand the children's section and improve the shop's layout, hopefully by Labor Day. The bookstore has been profitable since the 2013-14 fiscal year, Madan says, and has been able to raise salaries, improve benefits, and implement a profit-sharing program for employees. Open 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday.
1010 El Camino Real, Menlo Park | (650) 324-4321 | keplers.com

GROCERY/PRODUCE/PLACE TO BUY MEAT/SANDWICHES

The awards for the best grocery, produce, place to buy meat and sandwiches go to Bianchini's Market in the Ladera Shopping Center. Owner Kevin Bianchini says he's grateful to "all of our wonderful customers. We are honored to receive these prestigious awards." His team is celebrating 20 years in Ladera and looking forward to another 20, he says. Customers know they can fill all of their grocery needs at the market, he says, including gourmet specialty foods, organic foods and everyday items. The produce section, located at the entrance, offers produce from Bay Area farms. And the deli offers a range of specialty sandwiches, the most popular being the Firehouse No. 8, made with roasted tri-tip, roasted red bell peppers, ancho aioli, lettuce, tomato and pepperoncini on a sourdough roll. The award-winning meat department offers quality meats, seafood and organic poultry.
3130 Alpine Road, Portola Valley | (650) 851-4391 | bianchinismarket.com

BICYCLE SHOP

Menlo Velo Bicycles has long been a favorite of our readers, this year again taking the award as the best bicycle shop. Owner Rainer Zaechelein credits the store's success to the consistency of the shop. "We have had the same employees for a long time, as well as a consistent product on the sale side." Customers keep returning, he says, because "we treat our customers' bikes like we would treat our own." Zaechelein also says that the technology of bikes is changing, and electric bikes are getting more popular. He said his store will continue updating its bikes as technology develops.
433 El Camino Real, Menlo Park | (650) 327-5137 | menlovelobicycles.com

PLACE TO BUY SHOES

Footwear etc. is known for having great customer service and the most comfortable shoes available, according to the store's website. Footwear etc. is now celebrating over 30 years of business, and has expanded to 12 different locations. Its Palo Alto location has been voted winner of the best place to buy shoes this year by our readers. The store's website states, "Footwear etc. is proud to be a part of such an exhilarating city and we welcome you to stop by." Footwear etc. also prides itself on offering a wide range of shoes for every occasion, as well as orthotic inserts and other footwear accessories.
463 University Ave., Palo Alto | (650) 328-1122 | footwearetc.com

Best Jewerly, Boutique: Shady Lane.

JEWELRY, BOUTIQUE

From handcarved Zuni necklaces, wood netsuke and luminescent art glass to troll beads, Menlo Park's Shady Lane has one-of-a-kind pieces for that special someone or fantastic you. Don't forget those scarves, specimen rocks and crystals. Owners Alice and Rick Deutscher take pride in providing a showcase for both local and international artisans.
325 Sharon Park Drive, Sharon Heights Shopping Center, Menlo Park | (650) 321-1099 | shadylanegallery.com

FLORIST, NURSERY, GIFT SHOP

Ladera Garden & Gifts is this year's winner in three categories: favorite florist, favorite gift shop, and favorite nursery. Mercedes and Juan Navarro have owned the business for 37 years. "We're getting a better selection of flowers and more unusual plants because people want them," Juan Navarro says. "We're growing with the demand." Buckets of fresh flowers greet shoppers outside the entryway, ready to be assembled into custom-made arrangements. Inside, an array of orchids, vases, china, linen, soaps and other "more trendy" gifts fill shelves. A good-sized greenhouse leads into an outdoor nursery, chock-full of plants, shrubs and trees, attracting many repeat customers year after year.
3130 Alpine Road, Suite 380, Portola Valley | (650) 854-3850 | laderagardenandgifts.com

FRAME STORE/GALLERY

If you can't find the sign for Menlo Art and Frame in Menlo Park, that's because it doesn't exist. Marcy Magatelli, the shop's proprietor, says she's been in business for 28 years, but began as part of a franchise called "The Great Frame Up." She moved locations eight years ago, she broke her business away from the franchise — but hasn't changed the signs yet. Her knowledge and experience are key to attracting customers wanting their keepsakes and art framed, she says. And what do they want framed? In her experience, many don't purchase art locally, but prefer the "cachet" of being able to say they picked up their art in the south of France, Santa Fe or Hawaii, for instance, she says. Other times, people bring in sentimental family items for framing, like a grandfather's reading glasses or a great-grandmother's doily. "Anything is framable," she says.
865 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park | (650) 323-1097 | menlopark.thegreatframeup.com

HOME DECOR & FURNISHINGS

Flegel's Interior Design & Distinctive Furnishing, a Menlo Park fixture since 1954, is the winner of The Almanac's Readers' Choice Award in the home decor and furnishing category for the 26th year in a row. General manager Brian Flegel, a third-generation member of the founding family, attributes part of the store's success to the confidence customers have in the staff. "Our customers appreciate our knowledge," Flegel says. "They know that our resources are the best, and that we will make customized furniture to fit their homes." Flegel also says that staff considers how the store's customers live by going into their homes and adapting the furniture and designs to their customers, and winning their trust.
870 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park | (650) 326-9661 | flegels.com

Best Pet Store: The Pet Place.

PET STORE

The Pet Place is a community treasure devoted to the welfare of animals. This year the local store is celebrating its 26th year in business, and its 26th consecutive Readers' Choice Award for best pet store. Owners Lynn and Marc Macy are lifelong Menlo Park residents who care deeply for the well-being of animals. The shop is among the first to offer holistic and natural products, to go green, and to host adoption fairs to bring homeless animals into loving homes. Among the food and toys available at the Pet Place, you will find specialized products for disabled animals, and referrals for veterinarians and pet sitters. Check out the website — thepetplacemenlopark.com — for more information and the store's specialized services.
777 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park | (650) 325-7387 | thepetplacemenlopark.com

SPECIALTY STORE

Penzey's Spices in downtown Menlo Park has a tidy selection of cooking spices likely to add flavor to any culinary concoction. The shop boasts exotic-sounding herb blends like "Tuscan Sunset," "Pico Fruta" and "Mural of Flavor," plus foreign-sourced ingredients like Tellicherry Indian Black Peppercorns and Madagascar vanilla beans. The shop also offers goods including spice storage items, a selection of cookbooks, mugs and dish towels. And if you're stuck on just what flavor to give to your foodie friends, the shop also offers gift boxes and gift cards. Open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sunday.
771 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park | (650) 853-1785 | penzeys.com

Best Hardware: Portola Valley Hardware.

HARDWARE

The new owners of Portola Valley Hardware, Richard Crevelt and Stig Nybo, are "thrilled" to be voted Best Hardware Store for 2018, Nybo says. "It's 100 percent organic because we were completely surprised by it. We didn't campaign at all." The two most common comments they hear: "You guys have everything," and "Your team is so helpful," Nybo says. The pair plan to continue studying the store's layout, staying with what's been successful, but with an eye to "changing a little bit of the aesthetic" to be more appealing to people, Nybo says.
112 Portola Road, Portola Valley | (650) 851-0116 | portolavalleyhardware.com

FLOOR COVERINGS

The award for the best floor coverings goes to Abbey Carpet & Floor in Menlo Park. The Diamond Certified recognition for the Menlo Park store, based on an independent and random customer survey, indicates customer satisfaction of at least 90 percent, store salesman and manager John Christensen says. As for the coming year, the plan is to stay flexible and keep up with product trends, he says. Those trends, he notes, include area rugs, stair runners, hardwood floors and high-end wool rugs.
626 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park | (650) 462-0800 | menlopark.abbeycarpet.com