To win this category, a shop has to cover several problem gift receivers. The frilly grandmother. The distant aunt. The whimsical uncle. The new sister-in-law. The tinkering dad. And of course, Mom. In previous years, maybe you've resorted to goofy gifts, giving tchotchkes that barely graze their interests. This year, Urban Flowers & Gift Market can help you give loved ones something they'll like. In addition to a variety of breathtaking flowers and modern, unusual vases, the shop carries Elizabeth Beck stemware (wrapped with wire and colorful stones), Creature Comfort gourmet pet treats, The Thymes bath goodies, Votivo candles, Phat Tran silk purses, Love Testers (glass/liquid experiments), newsprint vases (our favorite, of course) and a ton of pieces by local artists. Their jewelry is fun and funky and ranges from around $5 to $75. We bet you'll even find a little something you'll keep for yourself. And you should be rewarded--especially for buying distant Aunt Audra those funny chattering teeth last year. Who knew she wore dentures! The horror!

Readers' Pick
Mark & Larry's Stuff 2614 Elm St. 214-747-8833
Imagine a garage sale where the only things being peddled are top-notch kiddie clothes--the kind you hate to part with, even though Baby Junior hasn't been able to fit into his onesie for three years. Then imagine if that garage sale took place in an auditorium and was filled not only with one family's stuff, but the toss-outs of a few hundred families needing the room and the scratch. That's precisely what this twice-yearly children's consignment sale is: a place where mommies from all over the city come to buy and sell what Divine Consign's Web site touts as "the highest quality gently worn children's and maternity clothing, toys, books, games, videos, baby equipment (strollers, car seats, etc.) and baby and children's furniture." In other words, anything and everything you need and didn't know you needed, times 100. Divine Consign holds two sales: a fall-winter event in September and another spring-summer sale in April. We've taken stuff there, but still walked out down a few dollars. Leave it to the missus to find that Little People airport the kid never knew he needed and now can't live without. As a bonus, if you bring stuff to sell (and it gets approved, because, after all, it has to be of high quality), you get first pickin' of the stuff other people are parting with.

Readers' Pick
(Best Kids' Clothing Store) Gap Kids Multiple locations
Froggies 5 & 10
We hate getting older, but not for reasons most people think. We're fine with gray hair and, frankly, it appears as though the paunch is unavoidable. What really sucks is how, as the years pile on, it becomes less acceptable to play with toys. So we step into blissful Froggie's, where everybody's a kid. The friendly staff encourages you to push buttons on farm animal noisemakers and give Walter the Farting Dog a squeeze. Froggie's folk really want you to check out science kits, Gnomads, Wonder Woman lunchboxes, Pull My Finger pens, glider kits, toy horses and the other fun stuff on the kid-level shelves. They're happy helping customers pick out gifts like Inventive Travelware luggage tags ("You Don't Look Like My Owner") or Wash Away Your Sins bath products and even provide what's needed to wrap them in. They carry old-timey candy lines like Banana Bikes and Blackjack gum. For the younger bunch, there's Tadpoles, a connected storefront that features children's literature, clothing and toddler toys. Even Fric and Frac, the longtime store cats, help out with selection by lounging in shopping baskets or on the checkout counter. Froggie's proves some toy stores don't just want to make money--they want people to have fun.

Readers' Pick
Toys R Us Multiple locations

Best Kids' Book and Video Store for Cheap Bastards

Dallas Public Library

The stacks are packed at the local library--not only with the obvious kiddie classics, but with popular videos, too, among them everything the Wiggles have ever released. Better still, you can renew online, which means we still have our copy of Wiggle Bay some four months later, and it ain't overdue yet (far as we know). But the books are sort of a bonus (not to mention a given). What we love most are the pretty regular events various branches host for the kiddos, during which a librarian or other special guest will huddle all the young 'uns together and read from a classic work. During one recent visit, our boy was asked to gather 'round for a performance of Where the Wild Things Are, during which the children were invited to read and roar along.
In 2003, Kristen DeRocha developed something no parent (kangaroos excepted) thought was possible. She created a way to securely carry a baby and use both arms for another--or possibly two--tasks. Trial and error at her sewing machine finally produced the first Hotsling, a pouch-like holder for baby using no rings, snaps or fasteners. DeRocha, at the time a teacher at Woodrow Wilson High School, started whipping out Hotslings as fast as people requested them. Hotslings became a full-time gig and eventually DeRocha developed stretch cotton, fleece, reversible and Pool Pouch styles in seven sizes. The company, though based in Little Forest Hills, has expanded to production sites elsewhere in Texas and Kansas. Being all about the little ones, Hotslings donates most scrap fabric to charity and is sweatshop-free. Sizing charts are available on the Hotslings Web site, but local moms and dads (check out the cool masculine fabrics before you go naysaying) try one on for size at Lakewood's Green Living. Once you're "hotslung," DeRocha provides complete instructions on the three different ways to carry one's child: "cradle," "kangaroo" (told you so) and "hip carry." Oh, baby, what a great invention.
As much as it may surprise some of our readers, the Observer is a kid-friendly place. We like 'em and sometimes they even stop by to hang out. Another surprise: We don't mind splurging on them every now and then--as long as the splurge is incredibly adorable. And that is exactly what Claudine Roberts offers with her handmade clothing line mish MOSH. The line is for girls and boys, and Roberts personally designs everything. The business, which she runs from her home, is several years old and has grown over the years, but not so much that she doesn't have time to become friendly with new customers and provide a quick turnaround for baby shower or birthday gifts. You can't buy mish MOSH in stores, so when you stop by to pick up that adorable dress with cute fall colors, make sure you pick up a bunch of Roberts' business cards. Chances are that all of your friends will be asking where you got that absolutely darling little dress.
Whenever the weather's lousy or we're just looking for something fun to do with Junior Boy that doesn't involve a rusty playground, we like to head over to the Learning Express toy store in Snider Plaza, where an hour can turn into an afternoon and you can escape without spending a penny if you play your cards (or trains) right. See, this toy store is staffed by people who actually love kids, which means they let the tykes run loose, play with the toys and they never, ever hover or scold the wee ones. We spent an hour not long ago playing with a device that inflates long balloons and shoots them skyward with a high-pitched whine, the very same sound our little one made every time we let a balloon loose. Fact is, the place ain't that expensive, so if you do have to walk out with something, chances are you'll escape with plenty of change left for a trip down the sidewalk to Dough Monkey, where you can watch from the outside window as they make the very cookies your kids will devour about five seconds later.
If you couldn't tell two knits from three purls, the Woolie Ewe can help school you in the way of stitch witchery. At first glance, two pointy sticks and a ball of yarn don't seem to add up to much, but learn a couple of stitches (with the help of the Ewe's classes, book selection or mother/daughter owners Sue Tuley and Jill Brown) and that skein is on its way to becoming an afghanif an afghan is what you want. If there's one thing the friendly shop doesn't hold back on, it's patterns. However, the Ewe is also notorious for an expansive yarn selection featuring hand-dyed varieties as well as yarns from all over the world. Some can get fairly pricey, so Tuley and Brown help out budget-wise needlers with a sizable area of discounted yarns. All levels of experience are welcome in this wooly world, and the store covers notions other than knitting; classes also tackle crochet and needlepoint. Knitting and other such textile arts may seem daunting, but take a seat at the table with other folks in this cozy shop and it's a cinch to "cast on." In 10 minutes, they'll have you in stitches.
The British Emporium
Anglophiles, unite! Join us for a trip just past the insipid wineries and knickknack pushers of "historic" Grapevine to discover a heaven rich with Earl Grey and black currant. Pop a Fruit-tella chew and say hello to owners Alexandra Evans and Sheela Kadam. While you're at it, thank them for a fine array of Heinz tinned baked beans and soups (better than any American versions, trust us), a freezer stocked with English butter and bangers, "proper" bacon and sinful Cadbury yummies. If you're brave, you can have a go at some Scottish haggis, spotted dick or Vegemite--they stock all three. The welcoming shop also offers a selection of gift items ranging from Pimpernel table décor, Queen Mother memorabilia, flags and stunning Richard Blenko glassware to silly little fun stuff. But Alex and Sheela don't just stop at the stock. The savvy duo also schedules classic car shows with "bonnet and boot" contests. It's a hop across the pond without that horrendous airfare.
Chocolate is damn tasty and shopping iswell, honestly, who doesn't like to splurge on themselves every now and then? That's why we love Chocolate Secrets, a fantastic little chocolate shop on the northern edge of West Village. The store specializes in delicious concoctions like traditional truffles and fudge. There are fun pieces like rock chocolate and scrumptious chocolate-covered cherries like you have never, ever had before. For great non-chocolate buys, they also carry fancy jewelry, cute little gifts and amazing beaded purses. After you've picked out your favorite bag (don't worry guys, just tell the people at the counter that it's for your sweetie), we suggest buying anything made with coconut or caramel. This place is suh-weet.

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