Bellingham Alive’s Best of the Northwest is both our biggest magazine issue and biggest shindig of year.

The Best of the Northwest (BONW) contest, now in its ninth year, has readers vote for their favorites for everything from best bookstore to best yoga instructor. Top three businesses in each of more than 125 categories get a certificate to hang on their store’s wall, and it has become a badge of honor to have one.

After all the votes are counted and results published, we have a party. A big one. About 400 people attended the BONW bash last year, and it has become one of the hottest tickets in town. But the contest reverberations don’t end there.

“Businesses who win get a huge push in their sales typically over the next six months,” says Lisa Karlberg, Bellingham Alive president, who started the contest.

As for the misconception that we, the magazine, chose winners? Fake news. Just ask office manager Jenn Bachtel, who holes up for days in August tallying and categorizing thousands of votes. “We do a huge survey and we put it out to our readers, and they’re the ones who choose who the best are in the community,” says Karlberg. (One person wrote “Anywhere but my house,” as a vote for Best Kids’ Birthday Party last year. Another answered “My neighbor’s free WiFi” for Best IT Service Provider. You think we could make that stuff up?)

Thanks to social media and improved online voting, last year, a total 522,217 votes were received from more than 45,419 individual voters, a record and a big jump from the year before.

“It was crazy,” says Karlberg. “It was huge, and it just continues to grow every single year. The more the businesses share it on social media, the more they share it with their customers, the bigger it’s getting. It’s a ton of fun to watch.” This year’s 2018 voting begins July 1 on BellinghamAlive.com

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"Top three businesses in each of more than 125 categories get a certificate to hang on their store’s wall, and it has become a badge of honor to have one. After all the votes are counted and results published, we have a party. A big one."