Dallas Museum of Art
Skip the chains and find something unique for your young'un. They have both educational and the just-plain-fun variety of playthings at the museum's colorful store. If you take the tykes, you'll have to steer them clear of the fine blown glass and objets d'art. But you might even inject a little culture into their pea-sized brains at the same time as supplying their expensive toy habits. And isn't that nicer than Barbieland or Gameboy speak?

It may not have all the amenities of the Big Bs (Borders and Barnes & Noble), but if you parents can defer your double espresso cravings until you get to Starbucks, there's a little shop around the corner that can service your children's literary needs without the faux community atmosphere of one of the book chains. The shop's mom and pop, Jennifer and Will Anglin, know their merchandise, promote local kid writers and entertainers and do much in-store programming such as puppet shows, kid camps and author visits. Although it is truly "of the community"--Lakewood--its stellar reputation has spread throughout the city.

Chain stores are a lot like chain-smoking. They are as addictive as hell. That's why it's great to celebrate an independently owned establishment that has found success and is not the Gap. Carrying tried-and-true clothing lines like Flapdoodles as well as funky, pint-sized versions of clothes mom and dad wear, this North Dallas business does amazing business with its end-of-the-season sales, which reduce the price of its merchandise by as much as 75 percent. Its partner store--The Biz--has found a niche in pre-teen girls, those Britney Spears wannabes who must look cool but lack the body mass to fit into grown-up sizes.

What makes this Preston Center location a veritable institution for children's walking wear are soft-sell salespeople, a snazzy selection and all the lollipops you can grab as a reward for good behavior. That's your kid's, not yours. A small play area with toys and TV can entertain those extra children who have been momentarily put on hold. Or plan for a kid haircut with Ginger et al., before or after the actual shopping. Be prepared to wait on weekends and back-to-school days.

Let's say little Junior just won't sit still for that pricey photo session you've arranged with Gittings. Let's say you decide to give it one more try and you drop into Kiddie Kandids, where walk-ins are always welcome. Junior is wowed into stillness by one of their many backdrops and props--an oversized flowerpot, a neighborhood fence and a bevy of beach balls. And the photographer begins clicking away, not on some large format camera that will require negatives and contact sheets. But on a digital camera, which flashes its photos on a large computer screen so you can select the first one that works before little Junior breaks down with his third tantrum since breakfast. There is no sitting fee, and in only an hour you have a quality portrait, a gift for any occasion. Now if you can only figure out what the hell to do with little Junior the rest of the day.

Froggies 5 & 10
Imagine being a child again, only with money of your own. No more allowance; no more begging Mom for a dollar. No more promising to go to bed on time, do the dishes, take out the trash...Now just whip out the credit card and start filling your adult-sized arms with everything you wanted as a child. Froggie's 5 & 10 has super bouncing rubber balls, yo-yos, gliders, finger puppets, funky keychains, glow-in-the-dark stars and toothpick-dispensing birds. It also fills the needs of grown-up pranksters with hand buzzers and whoopee cushions and collectors of classic TV items with bobbing-head dolls, metal lunch boxes, T-shirts, cookie jars and mouse pads. And you can eat yourself sick with wax candy lips, Nik-L-Nips (wax soda bottles filled with fruity liquid), Necco wafers and candy bracelets, necklaces and cigarettes. There are also racks and baskets full of Pez dispensers. Froggie's counterpart, Tadpoles, has books, games and toys to suit first-time kids, too.
We've had plenty of arguments about whether or not Zeus is the best comics store in town, and we still think if you've never read a comic book before or haven't since you were a kid, this is the best place to start. Owner Richard Neal and the staff don't sit around engaging in impenetrable fanboy discussions, like who was the better Green Lantern: Hal Jordan or Kyle Rayner? (Dude, Hal Jordan. Come on.) They might have an opinion, but they know the Marvel zombies and fans of their Distinguished Competition will come in anyway, so it's best to cater to the people who've never stepped inside a comics store. Maybe the people who just saw Ghost World at the Inwood and want to read the Daniel Clowes comic it was based on, or the people who saw the yanked Spider-Man trailer and want to read about the wall-crawling superhero they forgot they loved as a kid. Part of catering to that audience means stocking their store with bright and shiny baubles that remind you of being a kid, sometimes literally. Not only does Zeus traffic in new action figures--which have more points of articulation than most humans--they also have plenty of the original toys you remember from childhood. An old Aquaman doll? Got it. Ronald McDonald, the Hamburglar, Mayor McCheese and the rest of the McDonaldland gang? Got those, too. It's like going on eBay without having to outbid someone. They've got it all, new and old, from comic book to Star Wars characters to WWF superstars to an entire wall of Barbie dolls for the ladies. If you want it, they probably have it. And on the slim chance they don't, Neal probably remembers it and will reminisce with you as a consolation prize. Come for the toys, stay for the comics. You'll be glad you did.
Awhile back, we got it into our heads that we would enjoy a small pond in our back yard. Maybe a modest waterfall. A couple of fish. Surely, we figured, even a klutz like us could handle a simple project like that. Well, we were wrong. Weeks later, after multiple trips to Home Depot, we were enjoying a black, fetid bog that produced all the mosquitoes we ever could have hoped for. So we found our way to Creative Water Gardens, and, for a couple of hundred dollars, they held our hands (both of them) and set us straight. Not only do they offer the largest selection of koi in the area, from a simple $5.99 version to a 3-year-old costing $2,000; not only do they have the widest selection of aquatic plants, 250 varieties at last count; not only do they carry all the pumps and filtration gadgetry and chemicals and food we needed; but they also have a resident kitty cat who rubs against our leg every time we visit. (Please note: The kitty is as yet unnamed. Suggestions are welcome.)
Bridget Barfield was a teacher for many years but quit her job over frustration with her administrators. Eventually, she found herself at one of those career counseling services that uses a personality test to recommend what course in life for which one is best suited. The test said she should sell shoes. And that is how Heart and Sole came to be. It is the only all-Birkenstock store in town. Barfield opened the store with her daughter Brooke a little more than a year ago. We are very particular about our favorite, hard-to-find model of Birkenstock. Heart and Sole carries it, along with about 400 other styles.
Titan Comics
A few months back, the fine owners of Zeus Comics and Collectibles in Turtle Creek Village took umbrage at our insistence that Titan Comics is "the only comics shop that matters." Hey, we can see why they'd be a little unhappy--you don't advertise in a paper expecting it to label your establishment a moot point--but hear us out. Now, Zeus is a fine place to buy brand-new (or close to it) comics, and it's an excellent store for those in search of action figures, high-priced Barbie dolls and other geek errata (count us in on all of it). It's a dilettante's paradise, actually. But the hard-core collector--the fetishist who still lives with Mom or the fanboy with a wife and mortgage--spends his days and long green over at Titan, tucked away in a predominantly Spanish-speaking shopping center across from Bachman Lake. Jeremy Shorr and his knowledgeable girl wonders (as always, it's refreshing to find women behind the counter in a comic-book shop) preside over a store filled with nothing but comics, many of which date back to the Silver Age and beyond (Shorr recently began purging the action figures at bargain prices). Titan's got what the purist craves: a staggering smorgasbord of boxes filled with bagged-and-boarded back issues, a wall of trade hardbacks and paperbacks, cases crammed with history books about the oft-maligned medium and two walls papered with new and current issues. It doesn't discriminate between DC, Marvel and, oh, Fantagraphics: You can find Chris Ware's hypnotically clever work mixed in among the latest Marvel (ironically named) Ultimate title, and you'll find old Neil Adams' Green Lantern-Green Arrows alongside Kevin Smith's recent take on the subject. Fact is, we're thinking of moving in...or applying for a job when this journalism thing doesn't pan out. It's the dork's home away from home, and we couldn't be more delighted to pay some of the rent.

Best Of Dallas®

Best Of