Gardening in Texas is literally a tough row to hoe. Brutal summer sun, voracious insects and prolific weeds make producing that perfect tomato a long shot at best. Maybe the wisest thing gardeners here can do is what the rest of the city does in the summer--stay indoors. Texas Hydroponics in Deep Ellum--they have shops in Watauga and Arlington, too--has all the gear you need to keep your garden growing year-round, safe from the great outdoors (and prying eyes). The store offers a full range of efficient hydroponics and aeroponics systems along with lights and eco-friendly organic nutrients. "I can set you up with a $50 system or a $50,000 system," says owner Tom Marek, a plant physiologist. (They also do consulting work.) This isn't like some corner counter in your local head shop--they've helped commercial growers and universities set up soilless systems as well. What you grow is your business; helping you grow it right is theirs.

The continuum here runs from extremely cool to very extremely cool, or, as the store puts it, "Standard, Phantom and Global." Standard is reminiscent of classic-cut, instead of being truly classic. Phantom involves more black. Global is wacko. Ted Baker of London is a major seller, with suits, jackets and trousers that travel from classic to out-there. Some of the store's most fashion-forward offerings would win you favorable nods in London or Rome but might also get you fired from your average Dallas insurance company (two birds with one stone). In the West Village across from Tom Tom Noodle House, Premium 93 is about as cool as it gets.

Khandoo and Umi Nagar opened Lakewood Ace 21 years ago in a smaller space around the corner from their current hardware emporium. Since then the store has become a Mecca for homebuilders, home-fixers, homemakers and home-escapers. Sure, you can find all the shrink-wrapped packages of way-more-stuff-than-you-need here, just as in the big-box stores. But you can also buy one bolt, and you can even find a salesperson who knows where that bolt is and what it's for. And he or she can recommend a better bolt for the job. That's why the Nagars are the best: They know hardware.

Readers' Pick

Elliott's Hardware

4901 Maple Ave.

214-634-9900

Die-cut figures. Decorative borders. Acid-free paper. Stickers and rubber cement. The tools of a scrapbooker are many, and the possibilities are endless. You should see what these people can do with some construction paper and leftover ribbon. Any doubts? Just pay a visit to ReCollections. The store has everything you need to preserve your most precious memories, and the walls are lined with sample pages so you can get ideas and learn new tricks as you shop. But since ReCollections bills itself as "The Scrapbook Experience," it would be remiss if it didn't offer activities other than the usual selling of merchandise. Customers are also treated to classes, lectures and other events with scrapbooking "celebrities." And on Fridays and Saturdays, cropping sessions last till midnight. Call the store for information on specific events.

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.

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