“Every election is determined by the people who show up.” —Larry J. Sabato
The above truism must be heeded. Best of the West reared its beautiful head yet again this year, and every aspect of it was determined by those who showed up: the voters.
We started completely from scratch, with absolutely no nominations pre-written in — every single winner you’ll see in the pages ahead was initially put on the ballot by a reader who believed enough in that person/place/business to get the ball rolling. And that’s really what Best of the West is all about: letting people shine a light on everything they love about West Michigan.
We had nearly 8,000 (valid) nominations roll in across 128 categories. That’s twice as many as last year. All in all, 75,342 votes were cast, which is humbling to say the least. But let’s be honest, we’re greedy, and we can only hope the competition will grow and grow in the years ahead.
Last year’s inaugural contest held a certain excitement in its newness — we had no idea what would happen. Well, OK, it was pretty easy to predict certain winners (Founders for best Brewery, Yesterdog for best Hot Dog, etc.) But still, it was a blank slate. This year, there’s just as much excitement in being able to have something to compare to. You’ll notice a lot of that in the pages ahead, as we analyze the results and even pick our favorites that didn’t make the Top Three.
That Was Then, This Is Now
So what exactly changed from last year? Well, to start, we added a few categories and took others away. Dog Parks, Tattoo Artist and Massage are all new, to name a few. We also split Asian Cuisine into Vietnamese, Chinese and Thai, because it was kind of dumb to lump an entire continent’s cuisine together in the first place (even we, the greatest entertainment guide in the Midwest, make mistakes sometimes).
As for the chopping block, Drag Show went away — not for lack of love, but just because Rumors Nightclub was literally the sole nominee last year and we didn’t see that changing.
You’ll also notice a new feature, or whatever you want to call it: Honorable Mentions. These are places that came SO close to tying for third place but just barely fell short by a few votes. Obviously, we didn’t do this for the categories where margins are already razor thin (i.e. Visual Artist), but we couldn’t help but give a nod to the places clearly beloved by many that didn’t quite make the cut.
As for the winners, you may or may not be surprised to learn that 77 (out of 128) first-place winners from last year held their spot. Many of these places are true community establishments, known for being the best — or at least the biggest — at what they do. For some of them, that may never change. It would be a true upset to see Founders, for instance, knocked from its many thrones; or to see Maru ever lose its title as best Sushi in the region. Then again, if you’re part of the competition, we absolutely encourage you to try.
The Grandest Rapids of Them All
Speaking of “regions,” did you know Best of the West covers all of West Michigan, and not just Grand Rapids? Because our voters didn’t seem to.
We kid, we kid. But really, only five first-place winners are based outside of Grand Rapids this year. That’s even less than last year! The conclusion that you should draw from this is not that Grand Rapids has the only good people, places or things on this side of the state, but that a majority of our voters live in the greater Grand Rapids area.
And that’s not too surprising when you consider that GR has a higher population than Kalamazoo, Muskegon, Holland and Grand Haven combined. If you add in the surrounding areas like Jenison, Kentwood and Forest Hills (and you should), the gap grows even larger.
There’s not much more to say at this point, so let me just throw some random facts at you because statistics is fun.
We had 16 ties this year, and some categories had multiple ties on different levels (just wait ‘til you see the Visual Artist winners).
The Grand Rapids Art Museum received the most votes of any single nominee this year, so it seems like the museum’s efforts to bring in a wider audience are paying off.
Of the larger sections of the survey, Dining had the most votes by a loooong shot, disproportionately even to how many categories it holds. People are passionate about their food.
And that’s pretty much it. At this point, it’s up to you to read the results and celebrate, cry, get mad online — whatever you want.