As 2012 comes to a close, you’ll see lists of top movies, books, music and more, in review of this last year. I decided to start out with my top 7 businesses of 2012. To come up with this list, I looked at those whose products and/or services really impressed me and have that special something that has me continually returning or wanting to go back. I focus not so much on big chains and stores, but some that are more boutique and original. These are businesses I have grown to love, truly support and would highly recommend. To be honest, for each one I have to exhibit a serious amount of discipline to ensure I don’t give them all my money as they are that good…lol. So here’s my top 7:

Brown Sugar Bakery – Chicago, IL
I was originally hooked on Brown Sugar Bakery from the moment I tasted their caramel cupcakes. I’ve found myself treating myself and others to their variety of cakes, cupcakes, pies, cobblers and cookies not just for the holidays, but birthdays or even a special treat on a regular day. The sweets are dangerously addictive. Owner, Stephanie, one of the sweetest and most down-to-earth people I know, not only has me loving her apple & peach cobbler, but in the fall/winter season, she got me hip to her sweet potato cobbler. If you’re looking for custom cakes for weddings & birthdays, holiday desserts, or just want to appease your sweet tooth, this is the place to go.

Bandera – California, Arizona, Illinois
Hillstone Restaurant Group Website
This restaurant will probably stay on my top and favorites list, because the food is so good. Located on Michigan Avenue, it’s a pretty exclusive place with an amazing view of the Magnificent Mile and an alluring atmosphere with occasional live jazz. The menu is relatively simple, yet refined. One of my favorites is their huge handmade veggie burger, like no other and better than any cheeseburger or turkey burger I’ve ever had. Their cornbread has actual pieces of corn in it and compliments their chicken chili. Other highlights include the salmon, rotisserie chicken, mashed potatoes, and house-made Oreo ice cream sandwich. This is a great place for dinner, date, or to pick up a cocktail.

Akira Clothing – Chicagoland Locations
Akira is one of those shops that I hate to love, because if I go in, I’m bound to come out with something. Their various locations cater to specific gear including Akira for Women, Akira for Men, and Akira Shoes & Accessories. This is one of my favorite spots because I can find things I won’t find anywhere else. They have some of the coolest and unique garments and pieces. You can go in Akira and find things for special occasions, to enjoy the weekend clubbing, sundresses, distinctive body jewelry and much more.

My Day Spa – Canton, MI
Experiencing a professional massage at My Day Spa, was an experience like no other. I still can’t even describe how relaxing, therapeutic, and amazing the Swedish massage made me feel. The interior is gorgeous and co-owners Kendrah and Kendall have created an atmosphere of peace and tranquility from hot tea to the mints to even the cozy bathrobes (which though may not be for sale, I still want one). The staff is very warm and Kendrah was especially gracious the weekend of my visit. They have various events and spa parties, as well as a variety of packages and products, including their own private brand of skin care products, KJSkincare Essentials. If you need a place to unwind from stress, this is where you want to treat yourself.

The Bongo Room – Chicago, IL
Breakfast and brunch and The Bongo Room, is not your average eating experience. If you go there to get plain pancakes, you are seriously cheating yourself. Each seasonal menu has a variety of different pancakes and waffles, (ie. pumpkin, apple, cheesecake, gingerbread), drizzled/topped with crèmes, anglaises, coulis’, and/or fruits. I’ve had the pleasure of having dishes like Red Velvet Pancakes w/ Vanilla Bean Bioche, Raspberry and Crème French Toast, and their Vegetarian Croissant Breakfast Sandwich. Every season (Fall/Winter or Spring/Summer) they come out with a slightly different menu introducing new dishes. Both locations are very popular especially on the weekend which comes as no surprise because the food and service are superb.

A’Gaci / O’shoes – New York, Illinois, Tennessee, Florida, Texas, Arizona, California
A’Gaci / O’shoes is one of those stores that turns someone like me, who’s not the biggest shopper, into someone who’s found a clothing store that is hard to stay away from. For someone who is not trendy, doesn’t like to look like everyone else, and likes clothes that are different and unique, this is the place I go to find that special something. They have some unique dresses. One I specifically rocked on my birthday. I like shoes but I’m not the kind that has a closet full of them, though one day in O’shoes I found myself leaving with 3 pair of shoes. Throughout this year, I’ve bought quite a few items that are favorites in my wardrobe. Their clothing and accessories are very affordable so you can splurge a little.

Onehourtees – Chicago, IL
Onehourtees is the only place I’ve order specialty t-shirts from in the last few years, particular for my youth organization. Owner & CEO, Ryan and his staff, have always come through for my orders. This year they embarked on a new location and now have mobile t-shirt printing for birthday parties, corporate & sporting events, and more. Their inexpensive fees and the variety of t-shirt and clothing for print makes them the place I favor for any custom designs. They are very thorough in how they process orders and receptive to various types of orders to meet your needs.

* * * * * *

I wanted to also include a few businesses to check for in the upcoming year. Each one offers something unique that has me looking forward to what they will be bringing in 2013. Having had a glimpse of what they are doing, I’m sure I’ll be buying and supporting these listed below:

Peace Images Jewelry – Atlanta, GA & various
If you love unique pieces that speak to your soul and a cultural consciousness, you will love Peace Images Jewelry. As an African American woman that celebrates our history and culture, I’m always inspired by these creations. Owner and designer, Camille is not only a beautiful person; the beauty of her spirit is captured in the art of her work. She is also a true go-getter as you will find Peace Images at various events and traveling throughout the U.S., as well as the online boutique. You can always look forward to something incredible when a new line or item is launched, so definitely keep an eye out for some fascinating pieces to come in the new year.

Petals Studio – Memphis, TN
Petals Studio is doing some remarkable things in the world of floral, decorating, and interior design. I have seen some of the most stunning flowers and accent for weddings, parties, corporate events, windows and door décor, and so much more. Owner and creator, Nakeisha, has a way of beautifying and accentuating a simple fixture, bouquet or piece of furniture. Bows, bells, flowers, balls, netting, candles, you name it; they have what you need to re-create the ambience of a space or room. If you’re especially looking for a way to jazz up your holiday decorations or event, as well as planning for a special affair for 2013, look no further than Petals Studio.

GetOnDown – Online
As a lover of music, I’m so digging the latest items released by this “collective of music nerds, heads…creative types”, Get On Down. They have the coolest and most unique packaging and marketing of music items. I have to say I truly missed out by not getting Raekwon’s ‘The Purple Tape’, which was the latest big buzz item. Next year I’m looking to get that Pharcyde bundle and was impressed by the DJ Nu-mark record player needle-shaped USB flash drive…that is just hot! I’m definitely gonna be checking to see what they are coming with in 2013.

Under Pressure Ink (Michael Demps aka IX Lives) – Los Angeles, CA
Flickr Gallery
In the world of art, you will often find a variety of individuals that have distinctive work; however, Michael Demps as Under Pressure Ink has some fascinating pieces. I’m a big fan of 3D and multi-dimensional (in space and meaning) artwork. His ‘Ones and Zeros’, ‘Pray Prey’, and ‘Soul Our System’ pieces are truly extraordinary. I’ve only had the opportunity of viewing his work online, so I can imagine how amazing it would be to see and have some in person. I hope to make it to an upcoming showcase and get a few items, as he’s definitely an artist (both visual and musical) to watch in the next year.

Park 52 – Chicago, IL
Interesting enough, after bringing in the New Year last year at church, my next stop was Park 52. This restaurant not only has great food, but is increasingly becoming a location for celebrations, parties, and events. It has a sophisticated and alluring décor and atmosphere. Becoming a preferred location for promoters and event planners as one of the few elite locations to have events on the South Side of the city, I look forward to seeing what new things they bring in 2013.

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