After sampling sushi and steaks, ice cream and pastries, and talking to scores of vendors from preschools to contractors, more than 600 guests cast their votes for the Best of the North last fall at Mason's Manor House. The West Chester â–  Liberty Chamber Alliance partnered with Cincy for the inaugural measure of the best Cincinnati's northern communities have to offer. Businesses north of Ronald Reagan Highway were eligible.

From music lessons to Italian food, car washes to florists, and landscapers
to personal trainers, opinions were registered in 68 categories.

Drum roll, please!

Best Fitness Class - Reform Your Core

The Pilates physical fitness system relieved Jessica Heizman's lower back pain when she was in her early 20s so she took the step "” she became an Pilates instructor.

"I did it for 10 years as a client. I figured I should just become an instructor and I could do it all the time," Heizman said.

Heizman had a career as an on-the-go TV reporter in Evansville "wearing pumps and pounding the pavement," which contributed to her back problems. While working at WKRC-TV here, she took classes to become an instructor. She left Channel 12 in 2009 to concentrate full-time on her Pilates business, Reform Your Core.

Heizman's a firm believer in Pilates, which has become one of the most popular techniques to strengthen the body's core muscles. "In five or six sessions, I do see a difference in how people stand, their posture, how they move and how they feel," she says.

Heizman says the workout needs to be part of a person's lifestyle to get the most out it, but regular lessons can be costly. She realized, with the low overhead of her Liberty Township home studio, she could help customers save money.

"I structure package pricing for personal or duet lessons for what it would normally cost for a group mat session. My goal is pricing that makes personal coaching accessible."

Heizman also teaches group classes at studios and goes mobile with her mats for workplace sessions or neighborhood groups.
 
(513) 256-0256
www.reformyourcore.com
                                                                                   

Best Bakery - Wyoming Pastry Shop

Phil and Kim Reschke, the owners of Wyoming Pastry Shop, have discovered the secret ingredient to success.

It's not flour, yeast, butter or sugar, although all of those make their products very tasty. What the Reschkes add is heart.

That comes as no surprise after spending some time with the couple, who will celebrate their 21st anniversary on Valentine's Day. They met at the bakery when they each started working there in 1989.

"Every product has our hands in it," says Phil, whose father, Erich, owned the business from 1980 until he passed away in 2007. "This is our life, and we still have a passion for it."

For Phil, that life begins at 1 a.m. six days a week. Kim sleeps a little later, but has put in hours before the doors open at 6.

The couple is justifiably proud of the bread, pastries, donuts and cakes that are made in the store. Phil is a Master baker and Kim has been decorating cakes for 30 years.

What sets them apart, however, is the secret ingredient.

"I decorated a wedding cake (recently) for a guy, and I had decorated his graduation cake, too," Kim laughs. "He moved to town when he was 2, and has been coming in since he was a little boy."

The pride in the Reschkes' voices is obvious. It comes from the heart.
 
505 Wyoming Ave.,
Wyoming, OH 45215
(513) 821-0742
www.wyomingpastryshop.com
                                                                              

Best Independent Coffeehouse - Kidd Coffee

322 Reading Road, Mason, OH 45040
(513) 398-0718 or www.kiddcoffee.com

Victor Kidd opened his first coffeehouse in Mason in 1999 with a simple goal: Offer people a good cup of coffee in a comfortable setting.

Thirteen years later, Kidd's template has proved successful, and he has opened three more locations "” in Mason, Fairfield and Middletown.

"The shops are similar," Kidd says, "but they might have something different for the people in their neighborhood."

Each store has free wi-fi, sandwiches, gourmet coffees and one more thing: Plenty of fans on its Facebook page who tout the benefits of their favorite coffeehouse.
 
322 Reading Road, Mason, OH 45040
(513) 398-0718 or www.kiddcoffee.com
                                                                                  

Best Dance & Theater Instruction - Mason Dance Center

600 Reading Road, Mason, OH 45040
(513) 398-0353 or www.masondance.com

Bobbi Wyatt is not a dancer, but she has become one of the area's more visible advocates of the discipline since opening the Mason Dance Center with two partners in 1995.

Those partners are gone, but Wyatt is surrounded by an appreciative group of alumni, instructors and students who have learned discipline and responsibility in addition to ballet, tap, hip-hop and jazz among other lessons at the studio just south of downtown Mason.

"Quite a few of our students have gone on to dance through college," Wyatt says. "A few have danced professionally. Several of our former students are now on staff training the next generation."

For the past 11 years, competition has been keen among the students for a spot in Nutcracker "” All Jazzed Up, a holiday production that benefits Mason High School's After Prom program. Wyatt is proud that it has raised more than $40,000 over the years.

And she is just as proud of the performances by her dancers during that reign because she was instrumental in their growth.
 
600 Reading Road, Mason, OH 45040
(513) 398-0353 or www.masondance.com
                                                                                         

Best Master Stylist - Statements in Hair

Pam Brooks sounds like a math teacher when she explains hair-cutting technique to the 12 stylists who work with her.

"It's about weight distribution," she says. "It's pretty much basic geometry. It's really a protractor concept."

Brooks, a hair stylist for 35 years, opened Statements in Hair in Glendale in 1999, and then added a West Chester location two years ago.

Even though she opened a new salon in the depths of the recession, Brooks believed her model would work in any economic climate.

"The secret is to offer a great haircut at an affordable price. I thought doing that would get us through the recession. And we are moving in the right direction."

Brooks has developed her own haircutting system, modified from principles she learned from mentor Robert Farwick. That's where geometry comes in to play.

"Beauty schools teach you haircuts. They don't teach how to put a haircut on a particular person," Brooks says.

"I teach a method of haircutting that takes into consideration weight distribution, design adaptability, hair texture, growth patterns, natural fall lines and face shape analysis.

"All these things come into play designing for an individual."

Brooks insists her stylists become proficient in this method, even if "they sometimes joke how bad they did in geometry."

The salon offers services including color, cutting, perms, relaxers and manicures.

Her relationship with the community is not just one way.

Over the years Brooks and her staff have raised thousands of dollars hosting fundraisers for nonprofit organizations and disaster relief, including the Gulf of Mexico oil spill and Hurricane Katrina. Each Thanksgiving she and her staff donate free haircuts for clients of City Gospel Mission.
 
13 Village Square, Glendale
(513) 772-7262
8179 Princeton-Glendale Road, West Chester
(513) 942-7262
www.statementsinhair.com
                                                                                             


Best Barber - Gary's Barber Shop

Whether it's the deer heads on the wall or the rows of seats from Crosley Field and Riverfront Stadium, opening the front door of this shop in downtown Mason is like walking into a different era. Put it this way: it does not scream "salon."

Gary Oglesby, affectionately know as Worm to the locals, has been cutting hair in the building since 1966. He is 72 now and has deservedly earned a two-day work week (Friday and Saturday).

If you wander in earlier in the week, however, you'll meet Gary Baker, another native son of Mason who went to barber school in his 50s after working for the phone company for years.

"I've been working here seven years now, but I've been coming in here since I was in school," Baker says. "This is a great place to work. Where else can you come to work, see your friends and watch ESPN all day?"

314 W. Main St., Mason, OH 45040
(513) 398-8801
                                                                                  

Best Home Remodeler - Neal's Design & Remodel

Neal Hendy knows how to build things.

The founder of Neal's Design "” Remodel started a construction company in 1972.

He was the driving force that made Neal's one of the top remodeling contractors in the country.

And he was 50 percent responsible for six children (check out the family photo under the History tab on the website).

Four of Hendy's children (and one grandson) work for the family firm these days, but the 80-year-old patriarch keeps on eye on things.

"He still comes in the office in the mornings," says Leanne Matthews, Hendy's daughter who is the marketing and events coordinator for the company.

"We keep him up on the technology. It's hilarious."

But Matthews says that it's also gratifying to work with her family in a business that they obviously love.

That dynamic is probably responsible for the success of Neal's, which can be seen in detail on its top-notch website.

If there are any questions, Neal Sr. will be happy to explain the technology.
 
7770 E. Kemper Road,
Cincinnati, OH 45249
(513) 489-7700 or www.neals.com
                                                                                           
 
Best Charity Race - Shamrock Shuffle

When the Shamrock Shuffle debuted in 2007, about 200 people took part in the event sponsored by the Community Foundation of West Chester/Liberty.

Six years later, more than 4,000 signed up to raise money for their favorite community organizations, according to Melissa Benedict, vice president of donor services for the foundation.

"We've doubled in size each year," she says, "although I don't know that we can do it again. But I hope so. The community has really turned out to support it."

The event, scheduled for March 9 this year, benefits about 50 different nonprofit organizations that participants designate as their recipients.

The Square at Union Centre,
West Chester, OH 45069
(513) 874-5450
or www.theshamrockshuffle.com
                                                                                          

Best Wine Store/Tasting - Little Sonoma

Gina Arens has built a loyal and appreciative following at her shop in Union Centre. Now it's up to the folks at Bella Vino to build upon those relationships.

Bella Vino, which has a store in Springboro, bought Little Sonoma last year, and will expand the operation a few doors west in the West Chester Billiards Center.

"We'll have a little more floor space, a full-service bar and food in the new spot," says John Feltz, the new general manager. "We'll serve lunch but gear up for dinner."

Arens will stay through March during what Feltz calls a "soft transition." Daniel Schmerr, who worked with Arens, will remain with Bello Vino.

So, West Chester wine aficionados can relax. Your palettes are still in good hands.
 
6064 West Chester Road
West Chester, OH 45069. (513) 942-9463
www.littlesonomawines.com
                                                                                           
 
Best Place to Pamper Your Pet - Mandy's Dog-O-Mat

Mandy Watts has a ringside seat to one of the most entertaining shows in the area.

Watts, who owns Mandy's Dog-O-Mat with her husband Jade, smiles as she talks about the folks who bring their pets "” not just dogs, but cats, and on one occasion, a pot-bellied pig "” into the shop that features wash-them-yourself bays on one side of the room and grooming stations on the other.

"This is a meeting place for the dog world," Watts says, describing the business that she bought from the previous owner last year after working there for two years. "It can get crazy in here (when it is crowded), especially during the holidays. But we've never had a dogfight."

The concept is simple: Like a car wash or a laundromat, customers pay for time in the giant stainless steel sinks that can hold the biggest canines or multiple smaller ones. Pressurized nozzles dispense shampoo, conditioner, flea and tick spray, and deodorizer from one setting and water from another. There's also a dryer attached to the time box. People can bring their own towels or rent them for $1. The pet owner gets seven minutes for each $5 token.

On a recent weekday, Jeanie Citron of Liberty Township was washing Hunter, her 95-pound German shepherd. The pair are regular visitors to the shop.

"I love this place," Citron says. "I work at West Chester Hospital, and we had an event recently for people with congestive heart failure, and Mandy donated (prizes) to it. She's a loyal supporter of the community, and that means a lot to me."

Watts ticks off a list of events with which the Dog-O-Mat is involved, including support for the Animal Friends Humane Society of Butler County.

Honorable work is rewarding in itself, but it's always a bonus if you enjoy it, too.

"It's fun to come to work every day," Watts says, looking at her small empire.
 
6896 Tylersville Road,
West Chester, OH 45069.
(513) 847-1240 or www.mandysdogomat.com
                                                                                                      
 
Best A/C Heating Co. - Watkins Heating & Cooling

In a service industry, your reputation is your calling card.

Watkins Heating & Cooling is a family-owned business that will celebrate its 20th anniversary this year, but its roots go back to 1979 when David Watkins Jr. started Meridian Mechanical in Middletown as a commercial firm.

His son Randy started the Springboro company in 1993 for residential customers. When his father retired, he absorbed his customers.

Randy's son David joined the family business 15 years ago, worked every job in the company and now oversees the department heads as well as marketing.

That's three generations that know how to make their customers comfortable.
 
10 Parker Drive, Springboro, OH 45066
(937) 748-0220
www.watkinsheating.com
                                                                                  

Best Italian Cuisine - Pitrelli's Italian Ristorante

It all starts with the sauce.

Jim and Linda Pitrelli had a catering business and people loved their homemade basil and garlic marinara sauce so much that they bottled it for sale.

One thing led to another, and soon the Pitrellis opened a small restaurant near downtown Mason in 2004.

The original dining room was so small it could not hold everyone who wanted to eat there.

In 2011, they moved up the street and around the corner where 165 people can now enjoy dinner in three comfortable rooms Tuesday-Saturday nights. The ambiance "” it's unlikely that many chain restaurants celebrate "Sinatra Night" "” is a far cry from the bustling suburban atmosphere surrounding the town.

Better yet, the sauce remains the same.
 
404 Second Ave., Mason, OH 45040
(513) 770-0220 or www.pitrellis.com
                                                                                                                     
 

Bagel - Bruegger's Bagels
Mason

BBQ - SmoQ
Cincinnati

Breakfast - First Watch
West Chester

Burger - Flipdaddy's
Cincinnati

Deli - Dave's Quality Meats
West Chester

Catering - Vonderhaar's Catering
Reading

Chili - Skyline Chili
Multiple Locations

Chinese Cuisine - Twin Dragon Buffet & Grill
West Chester

Family Dining  - Troy's Café
West Chester

Farmers Market - Montgomery Farmers Market
Montgomery

Fresh Catch - Seafood Station
Loveland

Ice Cream - The Cone
West Chester

Chef - Debbie Spangler (Yummy~issimo)
Cincinnati

Mexican Cuisine - El Rancho Grande
Sharonville

Dessert - J. Annette's Cheesecakes & More
Cincinnati

Outdoor Dining  - The Silver Spring House
Cincinnati

Pizza- Dewey's Pizza
West Chester

Sandwich Shop - Cornerstone Café & Bakehouse
West Chester

Sports Bar - Putters Sports Grill
Liberty Township

Steak - Carlo & Johnny
Montgomery

Sushi - Sushi Monk
West Chester

Vegetarian - Aladdin's Eatery
West Chester

Car Wash - Mike's Car Wash
West Chester

Car Repair - Lakota Auto Body
West Chester

Dry Cleaners - Springdale Cleaners
Mason

Florist - Oberer's Flowers
West Chester

Landscaper - Natorp's
Mason

Manicure/Pedicure - Mitchell's Salon & Day Spa
West Chester

Garden Center - Berns Garden Center & Landscaping
Middletown

Place for a Spa Day - Massage Envy Spa
Lebanon

Place to Have a Wedding - Manor House
Mason

Plumber - Steve Jones Plumbing

Bookstore - Barnes & Noble
West Chester

Jeweler - Yelton Fine Jewelers
West Chester

Maternity Clothes - Motherhood Maternity
Cincinnati

Men's Fashion - Blaine's Fine Men's Apparel
Cincinnati

Place for Home Accessories - The Silky Way
Cincinnati

Shopping Center  - Deerfield Towne Center
Mason

Women's Fashion  - Stein Mart
Cincinnati

Festival - Taste of Blue Ash
Blue Ash

Golf Course - Blue Ash Golf Course
Blue Ash

Happy Hour - Dingle House Pub & Grub
West Chester

Live Music - Jag's Steak & Seafood
West Chester

Movie Theater - Rave Motion Pictures West Chester
West Chester

Bike Shop - Montgomery Cyclery
Cincinnati

Fitness Trail - Loveland Bike Trail
Loveland

Health Food Store - Whole Foods
Mason

Healthful Menu - Wildflower Café
Mason

Personal Trainer - Trisha Dehall
Cincinnati

Place To Buy Fitness Gear - Fleet Feet Sports
Cincinnati

Yoga Studio - Gracetree Yoga & Growth Studio
Cincinnati

Birthday Party Location - Lazer Kraze
Maineville

Gymnastics Center - The Little Gym
Mason

Music Instruction - West Chester Academy of Music & Dance
West Chester

Park - Sharon Woods
Cincinnati

Preschool - The Goddard School
Mason