This place is so great--better than just best--that we feel as though we're violating a sacred oath by telling people about it. We're pretty sure we're not, but we still have mixed emotions about doing so. See, if we tell people, they might buy something we want before we have the chance. On the other hand, if enough people buy things, the store will stay open, so we can keep shopping there. It's a double-edged sword, which, by the way, we think we saw there for sale. Bon Ton is a vintage wonderland, a weathered general store building with books, framed art, baseball pennants, knickknacks, children's clothing and other detritus on the ground floor, watched over by a white-haired man in suspenders and Converse. His wife keeps shop upstairs in the retro-clothing gold mine with everything from old military and marching band uniforms to every piece of women's clothing needed for a Hitchcock film, including dainty sheer stockings, feathered hats and demure dresses. 'Round back in a separate storefront, their daughter keeps the groovy '60s and '70s shop with Nixon campaign buttons, mushroom-print dishes and a Hollie Hobbie tea set. We've never walked out empty-handed; nor should anyone else. It's worth the hour drive south. (It's past Waxahachie.)

Whether you are a serious cyclist or just have a single-speed Schwinn cruiser with a bell like we do, the right gear is imperative. Recently, we went on a bike accessory hunt with our sister, new to the cycling world. The friendly guys at Debo hooked her up with cycling shorts (lovingly referred to by us as "diaper pants"), the perfect helmet, a bottle and pump to keep on the bike frame, a bag for emergency parts, a tire tube and various other things that she was convinced she'd need for a few miles around White Rock Lake. They set her up, made her feel confident about the new venture, and they never lorded over her like know-it-alls. We all agreed that wearing a helmet is a necessity, and the diaper, er, cycling shorts will keep your ass from lighting on fire around mile three, but she still hasn't used that spare tube...although they did instruct her on how if the need arises. Debo also carries the bikes themselves--Cannondale, KHS and Jamis. Recumbents and tandems are available. And if you're just starting out, they can set you up with some sweet training wheels.

Readers' Pick

Richardson Bike Mart

Various locations

Dr Delphinium Designs & Events

Too bad nobody really goes to a florist anymore. It's mostly a phone or online transaction to send an "I'm sorry I'm such an idiot," "Congrats on the new poop dispenser" or "Get well soon because your work is really piling up around here" gift of flowers. They used to say, "Say it with flowers," and we kinda like that idea. Dr. Delphinium speaks about 2,000 languages, though, so we tell them what we're thinking, what we can afford and where to send it, and then we let them do the rest. If you can stop in, you're in for a true European flower market experience, with helpful sales staff and designers who can show you how the very best bouquets are conceived.

Readers' Pick

Dr Delphinium Designs & Events

We are openly, unashamed, serious cat people. We call them our children. We've considered lint roller companies on our investment profile. We support pet rescues and the unabashed pampering of our fur-babies. So why wouldn't we back a shop that feels the same way? Open the door to Cat Connection and immediately there's an unsaid camaraderie between the employees and the customer. No one is going to make fun of you for upgrading from the original Panic Mouse to the Panic Mouse 360 (a fully rotating electronic contraption that flings a tethered fur pouch randomly). And no one will rush you if you stand stymied in front of the collar wall, unsure if paw prints or rhinestones are the way to go. The store is also an excellent place for the budget-conscious pet parent as it stocks feline finery that ranges from 69-cent Mylar Krinkle Balls to custom cat loveseats and TreasureKnit Photo Blankets. Foods, litter, pest control and kitty-themed goodies for humans are also available. Plus, they have a bin of Greenies dog treats if you can't go home without a gift for the canine kids.

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

Best Of Dallas®

Best Of