Hundreds of years ago, maybe thousands, computer stores were staffed by smart people. You had to write your questions down before you went in the store so you wouldn't get snapped at. Now the big-box computer stores are staffed by people who got fired by Wal-Mart for not being smart enough. You hope they won't ask if they can help. Ah, but there is an oasis of know-how: Micro Center in Richardson, in the Keystone Plaza on the southbound service drive of Central Expressway, half a mile south of Spring Valley Road. They build their own line of computers, stock all the peripherals. Great deals. Lots of really capable salespeople. Can't last.

Readers' Pick

Fry's Electronics

Various locations

www.frys.com

It's possible we should be older in order to admit how much we like the area around Knox-Henderson. Sidewalk-strolling, coffee-sipping, feeding the birdies--kinda sounds like a midlife urban experience. Still, we love Smith & Hawken, and when we don't catalog-shop (another blue-haired pastime?) we head to the cool historic building at Knox and Travis where the best garden decorations, hardware, birdbaths, flower-bed edging, mailboxes, topiary frames and yard art of all types are there for the taking. Residents of Knox-Henderson remember the 1920s building originally housing a flower shop--how quaint! We do think it's cool that, besides all the amazing products, Smith & Hawken maintains a patio for people-watching and brings plants and some merchandise out on the sidewalk on Saturdays.

Virgin Megastore

CD World, we love you. CD Source, you're all right, too. In fact, we have a special place in our heart for independent music stores the world over. But sometimes the big red letters of the Virgin sign are just too much to resist. Corporate America may be cold and impersonal--some would even say evil--but it also employs a slew of marketing geniuses. The listening stations at Virgin Megastore in Mockingbird Station are just one example. Whether your tastes are for rock, country, dance, jazz or gospel, Virgin has it all. Slip on the headphones, press play and you'll almost forget that you're browsing the aisles of a mega-rich megastore. One drawback, though: We're convinced the headphones are rigged, because more than once we've fallen in love at the listening station only to wake up the next morning with a CD in our changer that seems to have lost its luster. Maybe corporate America is evil.

Readers' Pick

CD World

2706 E. Mockingbird Lane, #110

214-826-1885

Best Place to Shop Young and Hip, or Best Place to Feel Like a Pervert

Hollister in the Dallas Galleria

In Hollister you will find the faded, tightly fitted ironic/retro/vaguely California T-shirts and washed, tattered jeans that are the rage among the young and hip. Some of the jeans, however, don't come off the racks; they're tied to the pair before them, which are, in turn, tied to the pair before them. So you ask permission to try them on, which brings the sales associates--beautiful, young, hip and eager to help--into the mix. These people want you to become them and suggest ways to achieve this end. Everything's overpriced, but for the sake of hipness, you buy. Or you don't. In Hollister, you either congratulate yourself on your coolness--if nothing else, Hollister's cool--or you look at the means by which you could reach coolness, and you walk out the door. Because acting cool is, duh, acting young. Does a 30-year-old want to dress as 17-year-olds do, even if the shirts are retro and remind the 30-year-old of shirts he wore at 17? Does a 25-year-old woman want to shop next to a 14-year-old boy? And why is it so dark in Hollister? Are there teenagers and college kids making out somewhere?

Half Price Books

New York City has The Strand, Portland has Powell's, the Internet has Alibris.com, and Dallas has Half Price Books. It's as simple as that and has been since 1972, when Ken Gjemre and Pat Anderson stocked a converted Laundromat with some 2,000 books from their personal libraries and started the place. Thirty-two years later there are some 80 stores in 13 states, but we're betting none is as essential to its community as the Northwest Highway flagship is to Dallas; without this place, trust us, Dallas would be as culturally barren as Los Angeles. The recent addition of the Penguin collection, consisting of thousands of Brit paperbacks costing around eight bucks a pop, has only made us love this place that much more, if such a thing were possible. One tip, though: Never go here looking for something too specific, because odds are you'll come out disappointed; happens to us every other week, which doesn't stop us from going anyway. Just go to browse, and then scour every nook and cranny and corner, because you'll walk away with something you didn't know you needed but couldn't imagine living without.

Readers' Pick

Half Price Books

A quick self-test for the high-bottom neurotic: Are you afraid you're going to stay fat? Afraid you're a fraud? Afraid you're going to die alone? Afraid your lover man has a hidden pimp stick? Have you tried therapy, self-help groups and mixed drinks but still have this compulsive negative chatter that makes you a real turd in the punchbowl of life? Then it's time for hypnosis. Rex Rasor is a certified hypnotist--though he prefers the term mind training coach. His game is to teach you how to improve yours using such techniques as visualization, relaxation and neuro-linguistic programming that can be practiced at home or even on the golf range. The former stand-up comic and raconteur has been delving into the subconscious realms for years and showing people how they can open up cans of cosmic whup-ass to develop a killer tennis serve, quit smoking, lose weight or simply become a sexy muthafucka. You're guaranteed a good laugh and a change of mind. Or, as George Clinton said, "Free your mind and your ass will follow."

In our perfect world, we'd skip through the streets, pockets overflowing with Slo Pokes, coconut Long Boys, Dubble Bubble and saltwater taffy. In this world, we might also have saddle shoes, cat-eye glasses and a burning desire to run home and watch My Three Sons (that Mike is such a dreamboat). Just one bite of a Skybar or a Cherry Mash can help you revisit your youth--or your mom's or your grandmother's youth--in such a sweet way that there's no reason not to indulge over and over again at Metro Retro's "Shuga Shack," a selection of old-timey candies and glass-bottled sodas. Whether it's Satellite Wafers that blow your mind, or candy cigarettes that help you unwind, you can sugar up and wash it down with Dublin Dr Pepper (made with Imperial pure cane sugar) or Frostie Blue Cream Soda.

We have to wonder if sisters Donna and Erica Barton have spent their entire lives fighting about clothes. At just four years apart in age, there had to have been some unauthorized sharing in childhood. And, for the past three years, they've run Slinky Whistle Bait, a retro, recycled and renewed clothing store just off the courthouse square in Denton, focusing on post-World War II vintage, punk, mod and other specialty items. Now it's "I want to use the leg warmers in my window display" instead of "I want to wear the leg warmers to class picture day."

The corner of Gus Thomasson and Ferguson roads is the nexus of the world for thrifters. The shopping centers on each corner hold three cool secondhand stores: Value World Thrift, Ferguson Thrift and Casa View Thrift. These aren't nicely organized, well-ventilated Goodwills--you need some grit to dig through shelves of old Christmas decorations and worn-out shoes to find that one treasure. And with the enormous variety of items, that treasure just might be a vintage Christian Dior shower wrap, tags still attached; an authentic Army-drab knapsack; or a black leather biker's jacket. Plus, a wee drive back to Garland Road will land you on another thrift store-rich strip--check out Garland Road Thrift and 2 Friends Resale for more used goodies.

Shopping in Mexico is hot. And dusty. In a country where outdoor markets are more the norm than the exception, you must come to terms with the fact that during a Mexican shopping adventure, sweat will spill forth from pores you didn't even know you had. That's one reason we love Casa Mexicana: It's air-conditioned. The store offers some of our favorite Mexican goodies--from colorful pottery to Christmas ornaments to items emblazoned with Frida Kahlo and La Lotería images--all in an enclosed space where cold air flows down from a Freon-fueled heaven. The owners of Casa Mexicana frequently journey to various parts of Mexico and bring back the loot to share with us retail-lovers who can't stand the heat and don't mind the markup. Of course, we prefer to take our own Mexican shopping trips, but generally we're content with shelling out the extra pesos for some cool air and conversation that consists of more than a bungled "Cuanto cuesta?"

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