Best Of :: Shopping & Services
Following another marathon of TLC's essential Trading Spaces, we've continually found ourselves full of enthusiasm and...not much else while nursing a grand homeowner "vision." It's the kind of scheme that works perfectly within the old gray matter, but if it were to be realistically applied, a catastrophe of Fawlty Towers proportions inevitably would occur. Quality programming or no, Lesson No. 1 is "Don't get delusions of grandeur from a reality show." Still, if While You Were Out has you as wrapped-up as it does us, then proceed directly to our best of choice at hand and visit the kind employees of Lakewood Hardware. To the casual eye, this store looks just like any other of its ilk: Well-lit, adequate room and efficient displays rule the day. Still, it's the expert knowledge and advice from the staff that make a trip somewhat off the beaten path worthwhile. Yes, we know that homemade gazebo complete with Francis Bacon-inspired gargoyles will look fabulous in your back yard, but please, talk logistics with the folks at Lakewood Hardware first.
This bookstore on the first floor of the main Dallas public library is like a perpetual yard sale. You never can tell what books you might find, but they're guaranteed to be cheap. You can walk out the door with an audiotape, a couple of hardcover books and some paperbacks for less than 10 bucks. At these prices, the time spent looking for something interesting is worth it.
Handbooks, mouth books, bum books. Crossroads Market and Bookstore has sex manuals of every type. And they're just there on the shelf, not behind a counter or hidden beyond a velvet curtain. Just there by the cookbooks and romance novels and magazines and various knickknacks and greeting cards. But accessibility is only part of the issue. No one will look at you funny if you browse. Sure, you may giggle and blush to the shade of red found on the rainbow flags all around Cedar Springs, but no one will care. Not even the cashier, the woman standing in line to buy pie at the cafe or the guy using the Internet. Not that we would know, of course.
If you're looking for a way to get on Bowser's good side, this is the place to call. Co-owners Braden Tripp, a former chef, and Jonathan Pickens have a list of freshly made goodies that will have your pet slobbering more than usual. The menu has everything from Bow Wow Bagels ($4 a dozen) to Paw Paw's Old Fashioned Oat Meal Cookies ($5 per dozen) to Canine Cheese Sticks ($6 per dozen). None of the treats contains preservatives, artificial flavoring or color, and they're not all hot out of the oven. They'll even deliver frosty Pupsicles (with peanut butter and bananas) for the pooch who's been in the sun all day.
Yes, get a pet...and love it, and care for it, and KEEP it! In doing the research for this tender category, we were privy to far too many animals abandoned in moves or given away because they cost too much to feed (what?). And, of course, there's the unfortunate "he was cute when he was young, but now he's grown and, well, not so much." We advise never to utter those words near us. That's why we adopted our little babe (turned over for no apparent reason) at the Animal Adoption Center. It's a nonprofit, no-kill shelter, and it's in dire straits. For providing such amazing service and surviving for years on donations and the aid of volunteers, they've been "awarded" the daunting task of raising $50,000 or being forced to close. That sucks, because they care. For the adoption fee, the center has arrangements with vets in the area for complimentary spaying and neutering, and all animals are up-to-date on shots. Five years later, we're still grateful to the center for providing us with such an amazing companion, and he's grateful to them for making sure he lived to see adoption.
At some point, almost all of the big mall computer stores decided they couldn't afford to hire salespeople who actually know anything. Micro Center is the exception: Prices are competitive, but Micro Center also puts smart salespeople on the floor. Their own line of computers is usually a good buy, and the shelves almost always offer a fuller line of choices, from peripherals to software, than what you will find anywhere else. Another miracle: When the salespeople don't know the difference, they say, "I don't know the difference."
It may be time to retire this category for one simple reason: No one comes close to matching GameStop's selection of new and used video games and hardware. That's why this Grapevine-based company, with more than 1,300 stores nationally, is a perennial winner in Best of Dallas. The clerks know their merchandise; the prices, while not greatly discounted, are reasonable; and we doubt that it's possible to drive more than a few miles in Dallas without being near one of the chain's locations. But why do we love it so? Here's why: We wandered in looking for a copy of the coveted Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic on the day it was released. "Have you preordered a copy?" the clerk asked. "No," we said, lip trembling, tears welling in our childlike, 41-year-old eyes. No problem. He felt our pain and reached under the counter to find us a reserve copy. The guys at GameStop? They know your joneses, fellow gamers, and they sympathize.
Comic-book auctions have become quite a lucrative market in recent years, and the king of this particular hill is Dallas' Heritage Comics Auctions. For example: Last year, when Nicolas Cage decided to sell off his entire comic-book collection--which contained such prize books as Action Comics No. 1 (the first appearance of Superman) and All-Star Comics No. 3 (the debut of the Justice Society of America, the first superhero team)--he went with Heritage. Spider-Man/X-Men/Fantastic Four co-creator Stan Lee also tapped the auction house when he wanted to sell off a sizable chunk of his (obviously) extensive assortment of books. Though Heritage still deals primarily in rare coins, the comic trade made the company more than $10 million since it began dealing in funny books in 2001--and that was before they helped Cage sell his collection. If you've got a big wallet rubbing up against a set of Incredible Hulk Underoos, look no further. Oh, and the second-best place? Mark Cuban's house.
Dial-up service is fast becoming antique, but Texas.Net's $20-a-month home service is the best cheap and reliable Internet access we know of. The 9-year-old Austin-based outfit is a boutique among giants, but the big guys could learn a thing or two from them about service. In five years we've never had access or billing problems, and the e-mail is as reliable as it comes. Perhaps the best part is the e-mail address you get on their system: yourstrulytexas.net. Nobody will think you hail from Philadelphia with an address like that. It's Lone Star all the way.
So we needed some leather cleaner. Nearly $100 later, we left Elliott's with things we needed and things we didn't and were once again assured that this is probably the best hardware store on the planet. Not to be sexist, but the male buying impulse is so well identified and satisfied here that even the cookware looks good. Of course, the formula is simple. High-quality goods are well displayed and backed up by a knowledgeable sales staff. Sure, this is the perennial pick. But to send you anywhere else for the sake of novelty would be untrue to the double-blind-test, peer-review standards we employ in these matters.
Sure, you can buy one of those hardware-store chain saws that are light and dainty and easy to start. But what's the point? Would you buy a hybrid-electric Harley? You need a big damn chain saw. Loud! You need one of them orange helmets with a visor. You need chain saw chaps. In fact, if you get the orange helmet and the chaps, you might not even need the saw! So don't go to the hardware store. Go to Gassett, where the real lumberjacks and lumberjills go. They got Stihl (pronounced "Steel," by the way). They got Echo. The real stuff. Don't be a chain saw wannabe. Be real! Get Stihl!
Whether you're a pro or just a weekend hobbyist who loves the eau de toilette of freshly cut grass blended with two-cycle engine emissions, Casey's has the goods--even those heavy-duty back-mounted leaf blowers that look like flamethrowers (Die, leaf pile! Die!). Casey's has all the brands that draw lawn grunts--Toro, Honda, Echo, Snapper, Stihl, Shindaiwa, Lawn Boy--and offers pickup and delivery service. Plus the staff is polite, knowledgeable and accommodating, which isn't easy when your head is humming with a two-cycle weed whacker buzz all day.