OK, look, we know. Richardson Bike Mart is bigger, and the prices on bikes and accessories are pretty much the same everywhere, so why not go with the perennial favorite? Here's why: We traded in our old Trek 1400 this year for a sleek new Specialized beauty. We shopped both places and found the prices were identical. The difference? At Richardson Bike Mart we were waited on by some kid who called us "bro," who kept looking over our shoulder at the customers in the $3,000-plus bike racks and who tried to up-sell us to a more expensive bike. At Plano Cycling & Fitness, the sales help was friendly, attentive, professional and actually provided us useful information on a number of bikes--without once calling us "bro." (They also understood that $900 was plenty to spend for a bike when you have $2 legs.) Same bikes, better service--the nod goes to Plano.

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Richardson Bike Mart Multiple locations
To block out the sound of a noisy neighborhood or nearby highway, there's nothing like a water feature. And to help you realize those fantasies about turning your backyard into a pond paradise, there's no place like Creative Water Gardens. The store stocks pumps, koi food and water additives, while the grounds offer a neat stroll through several pond set-ups complete with waterfalls, lily pads and live fishies. Give your kids a few quarters to buy food from the vending machine and they can feed the koi while you discuss your water garden dreams (and realities) with the friendly salesfolk. Our dream: the $9,000-plus dual-level koi pond. Our reality: a freestanding piece of pottery and a goldfish.
It's kind of a mystery why intricately detailed dollhouses and elaborately laid-out train sets hold such fascination, but there's no doubt that people love things in miniature. Combine the unfathomable love of wee things with hipster America's general obsession with Eastern culture, and you'll understand why bonsai trees are simply adorable. Sunshine Miniature Trees has hundreds, possibly thousands, crowding their shop. From banyans to fukien teas, tiny trees are available in all price ranges. So whether you're looking for a way to cultivate a Mr. Miyagi-like state of Zen or just need something to coordinate with your Urban Outfitters placemats, you'll squeal with delight (of course, in a calm, Zen-like way) over Sunshine's selection.
You want two things from your tree-trimmin' folks: your limbs cut and your cut limbs hauled away. Simple as that. And if you can get it done at a reasonable price, so much the better, though we've been known to pay a little more to get a little more. Turns out with AP Professional Tree Care, you need not go out on a limb (ugh, pardon) to find great service at a great price. For three years we've used Henry Peeples and his peeps to do our dirty work. He's always brought in the best bid and matched it with topnotch work. From the folks who answer the phones back at the office to the guys wielding blades up in the trees, they're all about making you happy. How delighted we've been to leave the house in the morning to return in the evening to find our jungle's been hacked to bits and hauled away, as though it never even existed.
"Make yourself at home," said a Walton's employee as we wandered through the humid, verdant outdoor plant display. And that's just what is so charming about Walton's--a feeling you can't get at a big-box garden center. It's like you're walking through a friend's garden, and boy, does your friend have an amazing selection of plants. From flowers to fruit frees, Walton's is well-stocked. You can get a hibiscus, crape myrtle and grapevine all in one spot. And it's not just plants. Walton's also has a nice selection of fountains, statues, pots, gardening supplies and gifts. Every gardener needs a friend like this.
The Pooch Patio
If your dog's wardrobe, bed, dishes and collars cost more than DISD's annual per child budget, Pooch Patio is not for you. This place is for the everydog: the four-legged fashionistas sporting Isaac Mizrahi for Target, the Saturday-morning dog park dachshund, the pug in the Passat whose mom wants to drop him off for day care and get her morning coffee buzz at one place. The colorful little house near the intersection of Oak Lawn and Maple avenues offers doggie day care (with webcam!), a self-serve grooming area, the Bark Boutique, a lounge with a bar, fireplace and wireless Internet and--as the name suggests--a patio. There's coffee and pastries in the morning, a small lunch menu, beer and wine and, for the pup on the go, take-home canine cuisine from Bone Appetite Meals 2 Go 4 Mutts. Check your e-mail, have a drink, wash your dog and hang out with friends--two- or four-legged--because Pooch Patio is dog- and people-friendly.
There is a myth that farmers and ranchers just treat their livestock like, uh, well, livestock. But at places like Roach Feed & Seed Inc. (lovingly referred to as Roach's by customers in Garland), there seems to be a mindset that it is all right to feed and treat your animals better, and we fully agree. The wooden-plank floors creak a bit as the workers haul 50-pound bags of birdseed, rabbit pellets and corn feed. They even carry monkey chow. Bins of loose seed (radish, various greens, etc.) sit atop wooden tables near the front door, and on it, of course, hangs a bell. There's a small pet shop out back with birds, small rodents and fish. It seems like your basic feed store, supplying everything from a parakeet to a pair of rubber gloves for palpating a cow, but there's an added loving touch. Cans of gourmet Merrick dog food signify that Rufus isn't just a ranch dog, he's another son. And they'll give you tips on giving Sweet Bertha diatomaceous earth in her cow grub, so she doesn't have to be treated for worms later. They even have chickens for sale in the spring, if you want to cultivate that urban farmer mystique.
Dirty Dawgz
You bring your muddy mutt in. They show the two of you to a booth equipped with a big hose and a squeeze bottle full of dog shampoo. You wash the beast. It's great. All of the stupid flapping and shaking and slobbering gets done within the confines of a nice metal stall instead of in your house or apartment or, worse, out on the lawn where other people can watch. They have a big blower so you can dry off the cur before getting back to the car. There are all kinds of steel brushes, combs and scissors available to deal with tangles. The tubs are large and sit about waist-high (your back will thank you for that), and aprons and towels are provided. Besides the wash, grooming and nail clipping are also available. (For all services, the do-it-yourself bit is optional.) And the best part is the price: One clean pup with clipped nails ran about $13. It's way cheaper than a groomer, and though you might end up a soggy wreck, your dog comes out looking better fur the effort.
We once left City Vet for a more "convenient" veterinarian, one that was closer to home. But we ended up coming back. City Vet has the hours, the friendly staff and the services that we wanted and needed. Convenience? You can drop off your pet before work and pick him up on your way home. Services? They offer standard animal medical care, plus grooming, day care and boarding. Location? Near Central Expressway and Interstate 35, it's easy to get to. Quirky perks? You can while away your workday watching your pet on City Vet's doggie day care webcams. And with the addition of City Pet Supply next door to the Oak Lawn Avenue office, they'll soon offer even more, including pet food and treats, "urban gear" and a canine-friendly coffee shop where you can share strudel with your poodle or relax over a hot meow-cha latte while kitty gets a check-up.
Sure, theoretically you could fish for bass with a fly rod in the Trinity River. You could also fish for boots with a fly rod at the city dump. But what if you want to do some real fly fishing for trout on a gorgeous mountain stream like Robert Redford in A River Runs Through It? With a full string orchestra playing behind you. Blue Drake Outfitters can set you up with almost all of that scene (you'll have to do the music in your own head). Full line of equipment and clothes, full range of prices from competitive with Bass Pro Shops to the high end of the high end. Great instructors. Perfect venue for the wannabe or the ultimate angler.

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