Any cobbler worth his bootblack can polish wingtips or resole a pair of Winklepickers, but when your shoes need something extra, try John Ngo at Ventura's. He'll make custom insoles and build up (or shave away) outer soles to correct pronation, supination or just plain irritation. We took a large friend with severe ambulation problems here and Ngo crafted a pair of corrective soles for a pair of leather shoes that made all the difference. He'll also repair cowboy boots, purses and belts. English isn't Ngo's first language, so be patient. But he'll make those Dr. Martens last a lifetime.

Borders Books & Music West Village

Actually, we're loath to recommend any Borders location these days; the selection seems to have dropped off precipitously since the good ol' days, when local managers had more control over inventory and seemed determined to stock one of every title no matter how obscure. Still, more often than not, Borders seems to have what we need, and we're particularly enamored of this new location in the West Village, which is two stories tall and has that clean new-bookstore smell. Really, there's nothing better than catching a movie at the Magnolia, a bite at Ferre and then spending the rest of the afternoon or evening cruising the CD bins and magazine racks, which still stock a healthy collection of weird titles. We did notice the staff seemed to be a little clueless during one recent visit--three times a call for register backup went unheeded, despite the growing line of impatient customers--but at least the shelves were stocked and the coffee was hot, which is all you can ask for some days.

Readers' Pick

Barnes & Noble

Various locations

So you've scoured the mall for that perfect gift. Maybe you found it; maybe you didn't. Either way, now you need the finishing touches: a card that says just the right thing and some gift wrap or bag that will make your perfect gift even better. That's where Papyrus comes in. This chain of paper-supply stores has outlets nationwide but only two in Texas, and those two happen to be right here in Big D. The stores carry everything from stationery to customized wedding invitations, but it's those gift goodies that we love so much. The greeting cards are oh-so-cute, and the gift bags are some of the sassiest we've seen. We're especially partial to the Glam Girls and Sassy Chic lines. They're funky and flirty and just waiting to be the icing on someone's perfect gift.

With the handmade poncho and fuzzy scarf making big comebacks for cold-weather fashion, the crafts of knitting and crocheting are tying lots of fingers in knots. At this recently expanded shop, owner Jill Brown and her mother, Sue Tuley, patiently guide newbies through the tangled web of fiber arts. With shelves stocked with fine yarns, from simple cottons to imported cashmeres, plus Skacel crochet hooks and Addi-Turbo knitting needles and a constantly updated supply of new patterns, the store also offers group lessons and one-on-one help in starting and finishing projects. Sue and Jill often join knitters at the work table, where needles and gossip fly. Knitting is a "great equalizer," Sue says. Drop in more than once and they'll greet you by name. A great place to unwind, in more ways than one.

Fish Gallery

We love cichlids, those hearty freshwater fish from Africa, Central and South America and India with perch-like bodies and colors that could put Las Vegas eye shadow to shame. And people are passionate about these things. Some claim they can train them to do aquarium loops. Others say they can urge them to leap from the aquarium surface, triple Lutz and then dive down to the gravel and spit a few grains into Egyptian hieroglyphics (the Central American ones do Mayan inscriptions, while the Indian ones fashion dazzling Bollywood movie trailers). Ours bungee jump. Sure. All we know is, when we go to the Fish Gallery and gawk and pluck from their rows of crystal-clear cichlid tanks, they tell us to buy only plastic plants (they'll shred the real ones into taco filler, man) and urge us to make sure we put up the few extra dollars to get the dull female with each vibrant male (it'll keep the male's colors trippin' true, you know? Hormones man, they rule). But the best part is that some cichlids are mouth brooders, which means the females swallow the fertilized eggs and then spit out the babies awhile later, labor pains be damned.

Emeralds to Coconuts

Don't be suspicious if your wife won't stop talking about how soft Zelda is, how supple she finds Agnes, or the shapeliness of Bridget. On one hand, she might be secretly Sapphic, but on the other, she might simply be slavishly devoted to the Vintage line of Hobo International handbags. Thankfully, Emeralds to Coconuts carries many examples of the Vintage line (colorful, retro-inspired purses and clutches), along with a sampling of other Hobo lines, including sophisticated leather bags and carryalls. As our "purse closet" can attest, there's no such thing as too many handbags--and don't tell anyone, but we really think Simone is sexy.

No, not the strip club--we mean the importer and wholesaler with the "largest collection of sterling charms, findings, chains, semiprecious stones & jewelry." This shop on the Harry Hines strip is small, but so is its merchandise. We've never seen so many silver charms with so much variety in one place. On the same table with the unicorns and fairies sits a skull with a movable jaw. And on one trip, we even spied a CZ-encrusted pendant of a hand throwing a gang sign. It weighed in at 40 grams. And by "spied" we mean "bought." There's also a large selection of beads and stones for those of you who get some sort of thrill out of being "creative" and making your own jewelry. That's fine, we suppose, but let's see you craft a sterling silver wheel-spoke charm that spins when you flick it. Yeah, that's what we thought.

The architecture of Flash Mart is, to put it mildly, garish. But we like it. The sign on the front of the building juts up toward the heavens and is painted the color of a cartoon sky. A bright yellow lightning bolt adds some extra flair, and the words "Flash Mart" scream for your attention. You can't help but notice this convenience store and gas station on Abrams Road, and on second glance you'll see that the store is flanked by a taqueria and a Church's Chicken. Even better. Inside, it's your typical quick-stop shop, stocked with salty snacks and various carbonated beverages. A little disappointing, really, considering the fabulousness of the outdoor décor.

To fellow members of PJA (Product Junkies Anonymous), do not enter Avocado tree. You will immediately be enticed by the cubbies of freshly cut soaps and the baskets of "aqua seltzers," luxurious bath products in scents ranging from oatmeal cookie to wild lavender to chocolate almond. Your resolve will be weakened by the silky lotions and creams, created in small batches with fresh ingredients and minimal preservatives by co-founders Cory Clark and Jesseca Zollars, who is also an aesthetician. Do not let the smiling faces of the accommodating staff lure you into smelling the soy wax candles, because if you have a functioning nose, you will not be able to leave Avocado tree empty-handed; you will find that you've bought enough deliciously scented products to last through months and months of baths and massages. You'll forgive yourself--probably while soaking in a spicy chai-scented bath--but as long as Avocado tree's around, you know you won't be able to kick the habit.

Best Locally Based Store That Sells Kiddie Clothes

Bebe Grand

We'll admit it: We don't really dress the kiddo in clothes from this Lakewood legend--because, well, he's a boy, and even the boys' clothes from Bebe Grand make him look, well, kinda like, uh, he's a girl. Or just, ya know, a little feminine. Hey, nothing wrong with it, especially when the clothes from Babies "R" Us make him look like a dork; better a sense of style than none at all. It's just that Bebe Grand carries fancy stuff from faraway places--like Petit Bateau from France, among others--which look awesome and last forever (oughta at those prices) but could make a linebacker look a little frilly. So why's it the best? Because no matter where else you go you will come back here for the dresses for the little girls or the jumpers for the little boys or the blankets or the baby books or the toys or the mommy accessories and everything else they sell here that turns a room into a nursery in which you'd wanna wake up on Christmas morning. In Paris, even better.

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