Best of Charleston 2021 is the largest single Charleston City Paper issue to be published since April 2019. Nearly a year before masks, lockdowns and social distancing, no one had any idea of what was to come just a few short months later. But, we made it, and the issue you’re holding is a testament to the strength and creativity of our beloved city.

The human toll of the COVID-19 pandemic in South Carolina has been staggering — more than 9,500 deaths are attributed to the virus, according to state health officials. The cultural and commercial impact of the pandemic over the past year has been seen in the pages of Charleston City Paper, as businesses whose ads regularly fill our issues were forced to cut back or close altogether. But as you can see this week, many are coming back.

Best of Charleston 2021 feels different. Winning the City Paper readers’ poll in any year is an accomplishment for owners and workers, but Best of Charleston 2021 will bring to mind so many different things for winners. For The Terrace Theater (Best Movie Theater), it might be memories of drive-ins. For Hyams Garden Center (Best Garden Store/Nursery), it will be taking phone orders from handwritten inventory lists posted on Facebook. Chef/owner Sermet Aslan credits loyal locals for keeping his business (Best Daniel Island Restaurant) alive over a tumultuous year.

And of course, with each winner there are runners-up and finalist businesses and individuals who also poured everything they had into their work over the past year.

Here’s a quick look at the numbers for Best of Charleston 2021:

Total votes: 1.07 million votes were cast by 65,286 people in Best of Charleston 2021. Considering less than 27,000 people voted in Charleston’s last mayoral election, we’d say that’s pretty good. (Visit scvotes.org and register to vote next time.)

Growth: Votes were up by 62% year over year.

New categories: Nearly 30 categories were added or changed. Additions include: Best Frozen Drinks (Home Team BBQ), Best Local College (CofC) and Best Local Instagram (@coopsullivans).

Most votes: Best Attraction (South Carolina Aquarium) lured more than 7,000 total votes. Best Restaurant (Halls Chophouse) earned more than 5,300. Best Place to Work (Medical University of South Carolina) drew nearly 4,000.

The City Paper is lucky to have a dedicated team of newspaper professionals who wake up everyday to make this funky paper better. Look for an alternative weekly in the next city you visit. We think you’ll agree the City Paper stacks up with the best.

City Paper readers make each week’s issue possible. Curious, energetic local residents and visitors like you who seek out local news, find new things to do and support our local advertisers bring life to the City Paper.

Thank you. And congratulations to this year’s winners. We look forward to celebrating with you — in person — at Firefly Distillery Sept. 29.