For three years, we were this close to buying patio furniture from Target; the stuff was cheap but not cheap-looking, good enough. But not quite good enough: We stalled long enough to wind up at Sunnyland, which we heard was expensive but worth the price--and not so exorbitant if you scoured the discounted section hidden away in the back, where prices are slashed like tires in a bad neighborhood. The selection is pretty impressive, and so are the prices; these guys are proud of their patio furniture. We almost walked out and cursed ourselves for not shopping at Target after all, which has since ditched the furniture for its back-to-school section, till we stumbled across the oddball stuff kept on the side--the cedar swings and gliders, say, and the other handmade wooden products that look more at home on a rancher's front porch than a suburban back porch. Our salesman added it up, and after giving us 15 percent off (not an irregular custom here), we realized we could deck out our deck at a not-unreasonable price and make it look a little different from the usual four-chairs-and-a-table--more Giant than Queer Eye for the Straight Guy in the end, but we're still giddy as schoolboys.

The workers behind the counter don't throw the fish around, and you can't see any blue water, except in snapshots on the wall, but the tidy little market has an excellent selection and outstanding customer service. While grocery-store fish-counter personnel always seem to say everything is fresh and never frozen and then recommend the stiff trout with milk-covered eyes, the workers at TJ's educate you on how to tell if fish is fresh and offer good recommendations. The goods are flown in daily. The Maine lobster was as tasty as the owner promised, and the store's smoked salmon could go up against any found in an American Indian gift shop in the Pacific Northwest.

Rent generally is not the happiest check to leave our tight wallets, but there is one leasing company that makes us glad each month. Since their signs have been cropping up more and more in Dallas neighborhoods, rental units owned by the family business have seen improvements in façades, tenants and amenities. Maintenance calls are returned almost immediately (which, in our experience, is unheard of), and the owners themselves follow up on the work. Shady characters are few and far between in the complexes, and the single girl can reside in a Turner property feeling as safe as one can near Lower Greenville and the like.

Best Place to Get Antique Prints and Cool Old Maps

Beaux Arts

Cool is hardly good enough to describe the 16th- to 19th-century antiquarian prints and rare maps you will find at Beaux Arts. The prints are of botanicals, natural history and architecture and can really class the place up (more so than the college posters). The gallery sells huge maps of Texas and elsewhere from the 18th and 19th centuries. Some of the maps show old borders and railroad routes. They will also frame the prints. Prices vary widely, but some prints are surprisingly affordable.

Cotton Island offers enough glitz, goof and glam to make up for the ferocious Snider Plaza parking. It's a fun store, and at first glance, one might think it's all too young and flirty. The boutique is young and flirty, but it also offers a great selection of wardrobe staples such as Michael Stars shells, Mavi jeans and Baked Beads earrings. It's one of those places where customers should try on before they write off the look as too immature. Some of the pieces (mesh tops by Just in Time, for instance) look fantastic coupled with a power suit and heels, and a vintage-wash denim skirt could replace that suit skirt and liven up a sales meeting without going too Carrie Bradshaw. The shop also offers dorm-room décor, an expanse of seasonal shoes (brands such as Rocket Dog, Puma and more) and some seriously fabulous gaudy-chic jewelry. Moms: Take your daughters--and we want to see both of you in the dressing room.
Face it: You've been addicted to customizing every corner of your life ever since you installed aftermarket neon tire valve cap lights on your Olds Delta 88. Now you can customize your own body fluids, too, with body lotions, bath oils, massage creams, bath sprays and shower gels--among other toiletry oozes and goops--tailor-made to your specifications. Choose from more than 100 fragrances and virtually any color your eyes can detect--even neon green to match those spinning tire cap lights.

Walk into the white-on-white wonder that is The Apple Store, and be forewarned: You will buy something. It will be sleek. It will be silver or white. It will be so effin' cool you'll want to take pictures of it and hang them in your hallway. It will have an "i" in front of its name (iPod, iMac), but if you are trying to justify the expense to your spouse, best to change that up a bit. ("No, honey, I got it for both of us. It's a wePod.") Now, you can tell yourself that you're too practical to pay top-of-the-line prices for computers and their accessories. Sure, you can. We did the same thing. Oh, have you seen our Titanium PowerBook?

This must be hard times for independent retailers of high-end fashion, particularly when clothes can be marked down for next to nothing at chain stores such as the Gap, knockoffs make function secondary to form and folks just don't have the bucks to shell out for designer labels. How Harry DeMarco (H.D. himself) weathers the economic storm is a testament to his good design sense, entrepreneurial instincts and indomitable personality, which makes shopping at H.D.'s feel more like schmoozing with a close friend. No uptown suits are sold here, just cutting-edge shirts, sweaters, shoes, pants and jeans. For decades, Harry and his true love, Vicky, who runs the nearly adjacent H.D.'s for women, have built up a devoted customer base and brought Europe back to Dallas for the hip and hip hopefuls. And they have done it with the kind of high style that will charm the pants right off you. Or right on you.
There was a time--before most of us at the Observer were born--when it wasn't enough for a gas station to sell gas. It needed a little something extra: a petting zoo, a reptile display or (a favorite from that trip to the Grand Canyon back in 1966) a full set of 20-foot-tall Flintstones characters complete with an oversized replica of Fred's log car. Decades later, the spirit of the roadside attraction is alive and well downtown at Fuel City, where they've moved in a herd of genuine Texas longhorn cattle, a fake pump jack and some nice cactuses native to parts nowhere close to here. Country music on the loudspeakers and a Ponderosa-style store/taco stand only enhance the mood. For the big kids, there's a handy drive-up beer window with a killer selection. Gas, beer and cows--now that's some fine Lone Star living.

DSW has various locations, but the Preston Road store is our fave, with its rock-star boots, clunky clogs, dainty sandals and even some Kenneth Cole dress shoes for the guys. Name brands abound, and with the self-serve setup, there's no guilt from sending salespeople back and forth to the stock room. What's more, the whole experience offers a sense of bonding with other shoe fanatics. Not once have we been to DSW and not asked a total stranger, or been asked by one, "What do you think of these?" The clearance section beats all (except maybe Nordstrom Rack) with an array of sizes and styles to satisfy every member of your shoe-shopping squadron. Shoppers swarm on weekends, so if you take sanity with your shopping, go on a weekday or weekend evening. The true shoe whore values the waist-high displays for quick scanning and the plethora of mirrors for the necessary one-legged examination. Don't be surprised (the clerk won't be) when you head to the checkout with four-plus pairs of kick-ass Sex and the City-worthy kicks.

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