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Community votes on best of ‘Burg, ‘Belt


When customers call Computer Karma during business hours, an automated message includes the shop’s record as the Pine Belt’s best computer shop for two years straight.

“It’s actually four years — we need to update that message,” said Brian Townsend, Computer Karma’s general manager.

As of March 1, Computer Karma was listed as a finalist for its category in the 2016 Best of the Pine Belt competition and hopes to continue its streak.

“It’s an honor for us,” Townsend said. “It shows that we’re trending in the right direction, doing the things that we’re suppose to do and shows the level of respect that the community has for us.”

Another four-time winner, Main Street Books again competes against both rival small bookstores and chain giant Books-A-Million. Owner-operator Diane Shepherd said the Best of the Pine Belt award has meant a lot to her because it is given by her customers.

“It’s a huge honor and it’s humbling because the people vote for this, and we’re very thankful,” she said.

The Best of the Pine Belt competition extends well beyond naming the best book and tech stores in town.

Publisher David Gustafson of Signature Magazine, which hosts the competition, said it serves the dual purpose of recognizing those who contribute to the community and providing a list of recommendations to locals and visitors alike.

“We partnered with Festival South to create the Best of the Pine Belt competition, which is something that we use to recognize local businesses and individuals who excel in their specific craft,” Gustafson said. “We cover everything from music and fine arts to the best cheeseburger and best chips and salsa.”

Now through April 30, members of the public can vote for their favorite nominees once per day in each of the nine voting sections containing more than 100 categories by visiting Signature’s website.

“By the time it’s all said and done, we anticipate 7-800,000 votes,” Gustafson said.
When the votes are all in, the winners will be listed in Signature’s June issue, which will be released directly following a special event during Festival South.

“Last year was the first year that we did an actual award show and it exceeded all of our expectations,” Gustafson said. “It’s sort of Hattiesburg’s version of the Grammys and Oscars all kind of rolled into one. It’s a red carpet affair at the Saenger Theater. We shut off the road and have a DJ out front. We have nine or 10 live musical acts perform during the night.”

Tickets for the award show and an afterparty at the Thirsty Hippo will be available on Signature Magazine’s website within the next two weeks and are expected to sell out quickly.

“At the Thirsty Hippo, we’re bringing in a great brass band from New Orleans, The New Breed Brass Band, [and] it’s going to be a lot of fun so people can continue the celebration,” Gustafson said.

To see the complete list of nominees and to vote for The Best of the Pine Belt, visit

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Community votes on best of ‘Burg, ‘Belt