Paul Frank, that is. Don't know who he is? Ask any teen or young woman. The designer of apparel and home décor is the beloved creator of Julian the Monkey and other cute cartoon creatures such as giraffes, frogs and elephants. He may sell his T-shirts, backpacks, anklet socks, journals and purses to several sources--Fast Forward, Gadzooks, Pacific Sun and catalog company Delias all carry selected items--but Gifted has everything. And if something's not in stock, Gifted can special order. Owners Michael and Rebecca even promise that if Frank still makes it, they can get their hands on it. We just hope that includes the "animal crackers' parade" shirt we saw three years ago in Kansas. It was just the absolute cutest.

Two condom stores sit nearly side by side at the intersection of Greenville and Lovers Lane. While Condoms to Go is a Greenville Avenue mainstay, Condom Sense popped up more recently. What does it say about your neighborhood when two condom/sex-toy stores go mano y mano there? We're not exactly sure but definitely prefer to have condom stores than strip clubs as our neighbors. While others fear they represent Times Square-style blight, we think these stores add to the spice of life in the neighborhood. Where else can you get soap on a rope shaped like an oversized phallus, or gift bags that say, "Happy Birthday, you sexy bitch!" We also want to know: Should competition heat up between the two condomeries, will a prophylactic price-drop follow?

The best place to shop for ski clothes in Dallas is in McKinney. Has been since 1979. That's when Doug and Lynda opened what their son and current owner Brad now claims is the largest ski shop in the area (13,000 square feet) dedicated solely to winter sports (skiing and snowboarding). With skiing so damn costly, the shop caters to the average skier, forgoing the high-end lines for popular brands at reasonable prices. But don't expect to find any summer bargains here; the place will be locked shut. It's only open from September 1 to April 1, packing a year's worth of business into seven months, seven days a week. Hey, it works for them.
So much of this "Best of" business is subjective, but about Bobbye Hall's we can objectively state the following: Bobbye Hall's Hobby House is the best hobby house owned by a 92-year-old woman named Bobbye Hall who still comes to work every morning at 9. Additionally: Hall's is the only full-service hobby house in the city. Other places may stock more model trains and what have you, but only Hall's carries the full range of remote-controlled model vehicles and rockets and kites and paint sets and so on. Hall's has stood at the corner of Bryan and Fitzhugh for 55 years. Every time we drive by it, we're amazed it's still open for business, that area of East Dallas not striking us as housing a high concentration of hobbyists. And every time we drive by, we promise ourselves we'll stop in when we have more time. Maybe this weekend.

Best Oddball Extravagance for Giftgiving

The Nest

The Nest is tangled with pricey whimsy crafted by local and other artists. You'll find dazzling blown glass ornaments, painted furniture that should only be approached under black lights with the aid of hallucinogens, iron/steel works (things to stick in the ground and all that), candles that smell like a grandmother's dressing table and magic wands that don't vibrate. Plus, they have daffy table chess sets that serve as metaphors for nature's most virulent struggles: fish vs. fishermen; cats vs. dogs; and rockers vs. country crooners, among others. We're waiting for Rottweilers vs. Rugrats.
The thing we like most about Mark & Larry's Stuff is the vast selection of unusual greeting cards. We were particularly delighted to find one that featured a medical-like photograph of an anus. It was perfect for the boss. It also carries cool magnets with bizarre cartoons, political statements, film icons (including scenes from John Waters' films). This store also offers a large selection of artsy or unusual gift items, including custom jewelry, odd toiletry items, unique books and picture frames.

Half Price Books
With its huge selection, its reasonably nice shopping environment and half-decent coffee in the restaurant, this is the place to try before, which, by the way, is a great place to find used books. The last time we hunted for an out-of-print gem, Sebastian Japrisot's One Deadly Summer, even Amazon couldn't deliver. But there it was on one of Half Price's endless shelves, an unread paperback copy for $5.95. On the way to the check-out, we passed on the recycled Blue Oyster Cult albums, but the selection looked pretty deep.

A Jewelry Place
Like our high school prom date, A Jewelry Place isn't much to look at, but it gets the job done. And quickly. We have visited this 3-year-old store on several occasions with watches in various states of disrepair. Each time, the problem was solved while we waited and so inexpensively that we had to ask twice to make certain we'd heard correctly how much the fix would cost. It's also possible that we had to ask twice because the staff is from Vietnam and more facile with jeweler's tools than with the king's English. In fact, on our most recent visit, to have a pin in a watch band replaced, they took the time to explain that the pin bent because we wear our watch too tight, then refused to be paid at all.

A recent expedition in search of some comfortable sandals uncovered something that was otherwise unavailable elsewhere: a sharp-looking new design from Ecco, a British company that specializes in shoes made to be walked in. (Imagine that: women's shoes that are meant to be walked in for sale, here in Dallas!) The helpful salesman said the shipment was brand-new and in the store because this is the place where Dillard's tests new designs. Think of it as a year-round Detroit Auto Show for feet: If a design goes over well here, Dillard's will sell it at all of its stores nationwide. All this means that Dallas women can go to Dillard's, buy the latest design and actually help set a national trend. Oh, what fun!
Stuck in between a Kroger food store and a Mama's Pizza, the adventurous can pick up a little Armani sweater for a fraction of the original price. Sometimes, the garment hasn't even been worn. The owners of this place have a good eye. They arrange sleek threads in a way that even the not particularly skillful shopper can spot a tailored deal.

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