My wife and I have owned Mountain Top Toys for three years now. We recently celebrated like so:
Me: Hey, today marks three years since we became owners of Mountain Top Toys.
Joanna: Oh yeah? Are you going to do anything special?
Me: I may go dish myself up some ice cream.
Our excitement for celebrating store anniversaries may have waned a bit, but one thing that still gets me fired up this time of year is the Chattanooga Times Free Press and their "Best of the Best" categories.
This is an annual PR event for the paper, and voting is open to the public starting on May 1st and running through either July 1st or July 5th - depending on whether you choose to believe the Times Free Press newspaper or its website.
But here's the truly impressive part of Best of the Best - you can vote in 180 categories. That means 180 happy winners come September, along with 1-2 very pleased Honorary Mentions per category. A good way to honor local businesses. And not a bad way to sell some advertising.
Still, though... that's a lot of categories. And with that many categories, here's how precise some of the list becomes:
You can vote on the best "Meat and 3" dining.
Or best "place to throw darts."
Best mattress store? Yes.
Best divorce lawyer? Um, yeah. (Was "Best Lawyer" too broad a category?)
But that's just the start of "The Niche List" - you can vote for the Best RV Dealer, Best Emergency Room, Best Funeral Home, even Best Locksmith. Best locksmith.
The specificity doesn't stop there, though - you can voice your opinion on Best Floor Covering Store, Best Place to Have a Baby (I'm voting for "A bed"), and yes, Best Internet Service Provider.
Did we mention there are six categories dedicated for "Spirits"? Including "Best Place to Have a Cold Beer", which is not to be confused with "Best Place to Buy Beer." The latter, it's presumed, should be voted upon by the merits of an establishment's decor, prices, and staff demeanor, and not the ease by which beer may be procured by under-age citizens. (After all, young people don't read newspapers.)
So with 180 categories in total - did we say you can vote for Best Locksmith? - what business category could possibly NOT have made the list?
Oh. Right. Best Toy Store.
In an area of Tennessee that includes a Toys R Us, Babies R Us, Learning Express, Green Door Toys, and one of only seven independent non-franchised specialty toy stores left in the state (us!), Best Toy Store didn't make the cut in the Times Free Press. Again. For the however-many-years-this-people's-choice-award-competition-has-been-in-existence.
Alter the category name slightly to "Best Place to Buy a Toy" and you could expand the nominee list to Target, Walmart, Kohl's, Belk, Barnes & Noble, convenience stores, nurseries, pharmacies, any tourist destination, hobby and craft stores, gas stations, the Aquarium, IMAX Theater, Creative Discovery Museum, Chattanooga Zoo, hospital gift shops, AT&T Park and creepy dudes wheeling around carts at summer festivals and county fairs.
Suddenly, this becomes the most hotly contested category not included on Best of the Best.
Now I know there will be a debate regarding how adding this category could take attention away from other popular categories, like the dozens of options for Best Bicycle Shop. Or Best Medical Supply Store.
And sure, there are no less than five Best Clothing categories broken out into children's, men's, women's, shoe and consignment, but that's fair because we all buy clothes right here in Chattanooga. But toys? Apparently the TFP is saying there's no need to buy local when Amazon Prime is just $100 and a click away.
Best Place to Have a Birthday Party? Yes, there's a category for that.
Best place to buy toys for a birthday party? Send in the drones.
Of course, we did give some thought and consideration to the fact that these narrow categories include nominees that are already heavy advertisers in the paper. How else does one explain asking the general public to vote for Best Mortgage Lender? (Answer: whichever one has the lowest rate on the day you need a mortgage.) Or, Best Hearing Aid Center. (You heard me correctly.)
Now, those businesses and those categories have every right to be included. But so do we.
It's a tough pill to swallow when something as fun, light, nostalgic and smile-producing as a toy store gets left off a Best of the Best category list - and Best Vape Shop makes it.
If we sound bitter, we are... kinda'. Look, while we like to claim that Learning Express is our biggest competition, that Toys R Us feels like the least fun place to purchase toys, and that Walmart is crushing the little guy, the reality is... well, those are all true. BUT regardless, we would love to have some fun campaigning for the write-in* vote against those and other brick-and-mortar toy-centric stores. It would be good theater, and raise awareness for all of us in the category. And we say this knowing full well we'd never win this category. Or get Honorable Mention. Or second runner-up.
We love being the underdog. But we've yet to see an underdog win a competition that doesn't include the underdog's category. Just as it is with the Oscars and its many categories, it would simply be enough to just be considered. Even if that meant pushing the category list to 181.
* While a Best of the Best newspaper vote is write-in only, the TFP website offers voters a selection of what we assume are editorial choices in each category. Worth noting - no Signal Mountain business is included in any category. Despite the fact the TFP does accept money for advertising from our businesses. Including Mountain Top Toys. Look for our ads in November and December. We're gunning for next year' s Best of the Best Print Ads.
Patrick Holland, born in a Cabbage Patch and raised inside the Honeycomb Hideout, is a former Oompa Loompa. He is now co-owner of Mountain Top Toys (with his not-so-silent partner and wife, Joanna), and parent to two daughters, both of whom are beginning to realize their father is just plain nuts. .