Some music stores are content to overwhelm with their massive selection, but in the Internet age, racks and racks of CDs aren't a big deal when Amazon.com's warehouse is a click away. Five listening stations dedicated to the new Mariah Carey album? Oh, you have overpriced DVD box sets in stock, too? Yawn. These days, the best stores understand what music fans want from a retail outlet in an iTunes world, and Good Records does all the right things to earn its title as the premier bricks-and-mortar music stop in town. The best independent and underground albums of all genres are always front and center, as are the clerks--you can't walk through the store without having a great conversation about music with C.J., Rubberman and the rest of the gang. Stop by every week or so for in-store concerts from some of the most exciting local and national acts coming through town. Sign up for Good's e-mail list for show times and you'll also get a massive, detailed list of recommended new releases every week. The bigger stores just can't keep up with that kind of dedication.

Readers' Pick
Tower Records 3707 Lemmon Ave. 214-252-0200
Every nerd at the Dallas Observer (and, man, for a hipster rag, this place is crawling with them) counts himself blessed to live in a town raging with toy, game and comic book stores. Most local comic shops deserve--and usually earn--Best Of awards for their various strengths, and even if Keith's Comics' best trait is a niche category, we'd commit a crime for not lauding the store's offbeat comic collection. It's easy to miss on a casual walkthrough. The store's front is full of kiddie toys and mainstream comic books. But in the chained-off half of the store, many steps past the violent and sexually suggestive material, sits a good-sized pocket of the best, weirdest comic books in town. The material is painstakingly organized by publisher, author and style, which means jumping from '30s funnies collections to studies on African-American cartoon characters to Daniel Clowes books to gay and lesbian stories is made a whole lot easier than it should be for a comic book newbie.
Under what other roof in town would you find contemporary rocker Bryan Adams, Texas picker Jerry Horn and Queer Eye guru Kyan Douglas? All were special event guests at Dallas' newest Borders bookstore. Surrounded by the ultra-hip venues of the West Village, this store tried to do a story time for children but had to call it off because there weren't enough kids in the neighborhood. No kids! A book-lover's dream come true. Maybe in the future they'll consider an R-rated story time for 20-somethings. Bring your own blankies.

Readers' Pick
Barnes & Noble Multiple locations
Paperbacks Plus
OK, nobody really beats Half Price Books for selection, location, price, service--if that's the kind of stuff you care about. But don't you ever want to go into a place that just feels like an old ex-hippie East Dallas bookworm hang-out? Paperbacks Plus has been at or near its La Vista Court location for pretty close to 30 years, and it still offers the same intimate ambience--handmade signs, faint aroma of yellowed paper, poetry readings upstairs, sections like "Drugs, Alcohol, Recovery" and "Peace Studies." There's a wonderful hideaway cubbyhole at the back of the kids' room, and if you're not an egg-head, they've got used Harlequin Romances like you won't believe. It's a used bookstore in the tradition of used bookstores.

Readers' Pick
Half Price Books Multiple locations
Tight bunches of bright, sturdy, long-lasting flowers packed in fine glass or pottery vases--the hallmark of the Cebolla arrangement is its dramatic brilliance, and it won't droop before your dinner guests arrive. Cebolla (pronounced se-BOY-yah) also does elegant hatbands, head wreaths and chokers, if you're in an especially "horti" mood. Owners Luit and Jaime Huizenga can create door wreaths and other decorations for occasions festive or somber, at prices ranging from $15 to many thousands (if you've got that much green to spend on posies). And Cebolla sells a full line of gifts, from art glass to candles. It's a great place to turn your money into elegant compost.

Readers' Pick
Dr Delphinium Designs 5806 W. Lovers Lane 214-522-9911 400 NorthPark Center 214-346-9525
You think you're organic? You have no idea what organic is till you come here. Do you wear earth-friendly clothes? Sleep on organic bedding? Use hemp hair care products, aluminum-free deodorant, recycled toilet paper, culture preservation tablecloths, an all-natural oven, buckwheat pillowcases, natural rubber mattresses? Do you have a green baby? Are your sisal baskets from a women's cooperative in Kenya? We rest our case. All the products here reflect the philosophy of owners Michael Johnson and Kate Macauley, who stock consumer products that are biodegradable, recycled, organic, or produced by "socially aware" manufacturers. They offer information about local environmental resources as well. They even have registries for weddings (organic cotton sheets and recycled glassware) and pregnant moms, like "Bummis," cloth diaper covers for that new little environmentalist on the way.
You'd have to be socially responsible to the point of obsession to do your everyday grocery shopping at Whole Foods. Unbleached, recycled coffee filters that cost twice as much as the other kind probably aren't that appealing to fans of, say, a free, not to mention witty and urbane, weekly newspaper. But while organic may not be an everyday necessity, the fact is that sometimes it just tastes better. That's where Whole Foods gets the nod, because if it's possible to make, raise or grow an organic version of a product, they've got it. And vitamins? You can make a meal just from the allegedly essential compounds offered at Whole Foods. They've got multiple varieties of homeopathic remedies for everything from the common cold to poison ivy. Show up on weekends and you can graze your way to a pretty fine free lunch, too. If that's not socially responsible, what is?

Readers' Pick
Whole Foods Market
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.

Readers' Pick
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.

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