Onward and upward.
That’s a phrase which can be applied to the annual Best of the Best survey.
Now into its 24th year, the popular reader-driven poll conducted by the Lethbridge Sun Times/Shopper continues to grow in terms of categories and voter participation.
This year’s survey attracted a record 194,000 votes in a record 148 categories. That marked a 65 per cent increase in voting, and as the voting numbers continue to grow, so does the validity of the results, says Brian Hancock, director of sales for the Sun Times/Shopper.
“People were voting in a lot more categories than ever before,” Hancock said of the online voting.
The greater number of votes meant it not only took more votes to win a category than in previous years, but led to some close races in some of the categories, with the top finishers sometimes placing within 10 votes of one another.
“The competition is getting more fierce,” said Hancock, noting it means every vote is important when the races are tight.
“Your vote does matter. It all adds up in each and every category.”
The reason the Best of the Best has such a loyal and active following of participants is that people enjoy sharing their opinions about the places they like to take their business.
“Everybody likes to tell their friends where they go and what they like,” Hancock said.
It’s with that in mind that the survey includes some categories that have nothing to do with businesses.
“There are some fun categories like Best Park and Best Concert,” he said, adding when it comes to choosing the city’s best park, “Henderson is still the beauty.”
In the category of Best Live Entertainment, Lethbridge’s New West Theatre came out on top in spite of a season made difficult by Yates Centre renovations that forced the theatre company to take its show to other venues throughout the city.
New West artistic director Sharon Peat acknowledged the nomadic year was a challenge.
“People struggled to find out where we were,” Peat said.
Fortunately, New West’s first production back at the Yates in September, “Million Dollar Quartet,” “was a great welcome home,” she noted.
“It was a roaring success. I think people missed us as much as we missed them.”
Winning the Best of the Best serves as proof that people appreciate the entertainment New West Theatre provides.
“We’re really honoured that the people of Lethbridge would choose us and we will continue to try to make them proud of us,” said Peat.
The New West troupe has a long history of providing top-quality entertainment not just to local residents, but visitors, too. The company is into its 30th aniversary season.
“The quality of the shows just keeps getting better and better,” said Peat, noting the New West members do their best to keep raising the performance bar.
“I’m fortunate to work with a whole bunch of like-minded individuals,” she said. “Everyone is trying to up the ante all the time. (Former music director) Paul Walker strove for excellence all the time, and Kathy Zaborsky and Scott Mezei are doing the same thing … ‘what can we do musically that’s interesting and challenging.’ Erica Hunt and Scott Carpenter always strive to find really interesting comedy for us. It’s such a team effort and collaboration that it’s not that hard to maintain that level when everyone is striving to do that.”
The same could be said for the Best of the Best survey.
“It’s going to keep growing,” predicts Hancock, adding people continue to call with suggestions for new categories.
As the survey grows, its value to residents increases as a registry of local businesses that provide top-quality products and service.
“This has become a huge word-of-mouth tool,” said Hancock.