Best Of :: Shopping & Services
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.
Toys R Us Multiple locations
The beat goes on. Can Bill's Records and Tapes?
Bill Wisener does not know this story, because I've never told it to him; to others, meaning his friends and customers, I've repeated it often. It takes place not long after Wisener opened his eponymous record store on Spring Valley Road 25 years ago, which, as it turns out, is when the Dallas Observer began publication. I was all of 12 or 13 when I'd saved up some 40 bucks to buy import records that, back then, one could only find at Bill's Records and Tapes; I believe they were Adam and the Ants' Dirk Wears White Socks, a Wall of Voodoo EP and a Clash record, as well as a few others. My mother had driven me to Bill's, where I collected my vinyl and placed them on the counter. Wisener thumbed through the small stack and demanded twice what I'd brought, $20 for the Adam and the Ants record alone. I recall trying to argue with Wisener, who did not and still does not put prices on his product, but he was a veteran salesman, and I was a spindly nerd with an allowance. My mother, sensing my tirade was about to melt into tears, grabbed my hand and led me out of the store. I would not return for more than two decades, no matter how often people like Decadent Dub Team co-founder and Observer contributor Jeff Liles, The Adventure Club host Josh Venable and former Observer music editor Zac Crain insisted that Wisener had softened over the years.
Today, the place looks as it did during my first visit: as though someone had set off a bomb in 1980 and no one ever noticed. The left wall is still lined with cassettes, some from 1980 still in the shrink-wrapping; the right wall is now covered with CDs, piled alphabetically, but just barely. The middle of the place overflows with loose posters that poke out from cardboard boxes like discarded treasure maps, and next to them are boxes and racks of old rock-and-roll T-shirts. The shelves and shelves of vinyl are still here, too, and so is Bill--good ol' Bill, much, much kinder than I recall as a kid, this blessed patron saint of the vanishing record store. He has been here damned near every day, every hour, since 1980. And he will never leave, unless his landlord and his lease force him to go in about 15 months.
In April, Wisener thought he was on his way out even sooner: He got word from the landlord that an auto parts store was moving in and needed the 8,000-square-foot space. The Observer, with whom Wisener has had an umbilical-cord relationship for almost three decades, ran a story documenting his woes; the landlord's grandfather, former Dallas Mayor Robert Folsom, told the kid Bill stayed for as long as he wanted. But the mere thought of moving plagued Wisener, perhaps because he's come to realize that one day, and maybe one day soon, he will need to go after all. Business isn't what it used to be, because the neighborhood ain't what it used to be: His is one of the only businesses in the Northwood Hills Shopping Center where English, not Spanish, is spoken. Long gone are the kids who dropped in after high school to plow through the bins for the latest new wave import or local-band offering; long gone are the customers, period, save those who stop by for Friday afternoon concerts and the free beer.
"I just started thinking about what all I needed to do, and it just becomes overwhelming," Wisener says, filling up his cup of Diet Coke. It's a Friday morning, around 11, and only he and an employee are in the place. He has time to talk, and uses every second.
"I don't want to have a nervous breakdown because as you get older..." The 61-year-old Wisener pauses, grins. "I'm happier than I've ever been in my whole life about living my life. And I feel sad about a lot, too. From the time I opened--I started doing this in 1973 at Vikon Village--it got a little better every year, and then I came into some money a couple of times, and I put it all into inventory because I wanted to have something for everybody. I wanted to have no regard to what I bought. The word was out that I would buy whatever. It's just a lot of water under the bridge. It's my life. It's really hard thinking about doing anything else. From the very beginning, and I didn't know what it was, it was like magic. It used to be packed. I used to have nine people working here."
Wisener loves to talk about this store, why he's here every day, why he can't stomach the thought of leaving though he knows he ought to. He grew up here. He lived with his mother and father when he opened the store, but they're dead now. Many customers have become his closest friends; one, Jeff Liles, has even made a poignant documentary about Bill's, called The Last Record Store, which he would like to screen in the Deep Ellum Film Festival in the fall. Radiohead and Jeff Buckley, among so many other beloveds, have shopped here. Ben Harper and Wisener have even become good friends: Among the few times Wisener skipped work was to go to one of Harper's concerts. In Paris. On Harper's dime.
There is a chance Bill's will move in the near future. But pulling up roots will be akin to tearing down a redwood forest: Not only does he have this expansive mess to clean up, but also three warehouses full of clutter, including one he hasn't been inside since the 1970s. No wonder he is overwhelmed: Some people have memories kept in their heads and hearts, and others store them in thousands and thousands of feet of warehouse space.
"I think it would be OK if I had to move, but I don't know," he says, fidgeting one of his Carltons. "It's like, I've always been..." He pauses, begins again. "I like to know the results of something before it happens! I think my biggest problem all my life, and I'm sure it is with a lot of people, is fear. I think, because there's so many things I think I would have liked, that I wished I had not been fearful to do something or make a change...I feel comfortable in this routine, but I'm not comfortable in the fact that I can't pay all the bills on time here. But I'm comfortable in the fact that I've done it so long." --Robert Wilonsky
Attention, urban cowgirls. Are you looking for something to set you apart from all the other faux cowpokes at Dallas' current hottest hot spots? Well, if you're tired of seeing some skank gankin' your style, then check out Acid Cowgirl. These ladies take regular old cowboy hats and spruce 'em up real fancy. They have a variety of designs (all hand-painted) to choose from--including a skull-and-crossbones version we're quite fond of--or you can submit a design of your own. The only limitation is your imagination. Custom hats start at $150, but that's a small price to pay for individuality, don't you think? With a one-of-a-kind design to top your noggin, you'll be sure to stand heads above the crowd.
We don't know how CD Source gets so many used copies of hot albums and sells them for less than 10 bucks a pop. Maybe it has something to do with the manager who's always sitting at the front of the store, staring at customers like a Mafia kingpin. Then again, we aren't the kind to question a good thing. The used rock and rap selections at this Old Town institution are the best in town, but the store's jazz shelves hide some great gems, particularly the large number of remastered classics from Blue Note and Impulse. After you're done picking through the convenient--and gigantic--"new arrivals" section, you can't miss the wall stocked with a bajillion DVDs on the cheap. The service isn't too shabby, either, as employees will dive through the sea of used discs to find a cheaper copy of whatever album you're hunting for. That is, when they're not staring at you. And ladies, if you're wondering where all the music-loving guys hang out on Sunday afternoons--this is it.
CD World 5706 E. Mockingbird Lane 214-826-1885 5000 Belt Line Road, Addison 972-386-6565
Ashira Tosihwe and Emma Rodgers started Black Images in 1977 as a mail-order business after they had experienced frustration finding books with positive images of black people for their own kids. Since then, Black Images has blossomed into 2,600 square feet of books, cards and incense specializing in stories and images of the African diaspora. Author appearances and panel discussions at Black Images provide some of the best book fare in the city. Readings in the months ahead will include Francis Ray (Any Rich Man Will Do), Eric Pete (Don't Get it Twisted) and Niambi Jarvis and Lisa Bartley-Lacey (100 Words of Wisdom for Women).
The owners of this local, all-organic nursery chain call them "Redenta's 50," unique plants they grow themselves that are usually available only at their nurseries. Like teucrium cossinnii (creeping germander) and justicia spicigara (orange shrimp plant)--catnip to discriminating gardeners. In addition, Redenta's offers a great selection of herbs, native roses and perennials. The plants are always in good condition, unlike droopy flats often found at the big chains. A knowledgeable staff can advise on organic solutions to plant probs. In addition, they offer neat statuary, fountains, pots and objets d'art. During the spring and fall planting seasons, each Redenta's store hosts a gardeners' get-together at 10:30 a.m. Saturdays. Learn about the best plants to attract hummingbirds and butterflies or just shoot the breeze about mulch and manure.
Luxuriating on her Tiger Dreamz pet bed as you walk in the door of the feline-friendly shop is Maggie, regal store cat. The deed might say that Anne and Jay Horwitz are the owners of The Cat Connection, but as her bio on www.catster.com states, she is the co-owner. Ask them, and well, they won't exactly deny it. Her lush tabby mug is all over the store's Web site, www.thecatconnection.com, and even printed up on her very own Texas pet driver's license displayed behind the counter. Maggie greets customers and does a good job pushing the merchandise. One look at her gobbling Kitty Kaviar or Feline Greenies and who needs to question how good it tastes? It's a sure sale if you can see her live in actionor inaction, rather. The otherwise cool and casual polydactyl (a.k.a. a Hemingway cat, meaning she has extra toes--seven on her front paws and six on her back) is only sensitive about two things: people poking her paws and prodding her belly. Hey, it's all right, Mags, those stripes of yours are naturally slimming.
La Mariposa is Spanish for "butterfly," which is quite fitting for this Mexican imports store on Henderson Avenue. Butterflies are beautiful, delicate creatures admired for their vibrant colors and grace--much like La Mariposa. Upon entry into the shop, visitors are met with an array of bright colors. From the Talavera pottery to the Dia de los Muertos figurines, La Mariposa is filled with beautiful handcrafted items from our neighbors south of the border. There's clothing, jewelry, handbags, piñatas--and just when you think you've seen it all, you stumble upon another hidden gem that has your credit card number written all over it.
In the world of tattoos it seems like there are two kinds of shops. There's the low-calorie, squeaky-clean place that specializes in Tweety Bird tattoos and belly-button piercing, and then there's the kind where if you're not well on your way to full yakuza regalia and your tongue is still in one piece, you're clearly not cool enough to breathe the same air. Holdfast Tattoo on Greenville is that rare breed that inhabits the middle ground. These guys are old school, don't get us wrong. There's no shortage of full-sleeve tattoos in here, just without the accompanying chip on the shoulder--or as manager and artist Jeff Brown puts it, "We're trying to abolish cool." An admirable effort, but doomed to failure as long as walls are still plastered with the brilliant "flash" art demonstrating the considerable talents of Jeff and fellow artists Caleb, Jorge and Bobby. Call it the mark of quality.
Tigger's Tattoos 2602 Main St. 214-655-2639
How could we pass up an opportunity to recognize someone known as the "Creatrice of Exquisite Soft Toys"? Gilmer, Texas, native and Southern Methodist University grad Phebe Phillips has designed and created the Phebe Phillips Company animals since 1983. Available at Neiman Marcus and on her website, these upscale plush babies (some price out at $175) come in the bunny, cat, dog and bear varieties. The cool thing is, the Dallas resident also designs a more affordable line of dressable characters and costumes called "Tweakie P." for folks who can't drop upward of $35 on a Phebe Phillips stuffed critter. Priscilla the Bunny, Coco the Black and White Cat, Bailey the Honey Bear and Colette the Pink Poodle are available at Michael's craft stores, along with their snazzy accessories. After meeting the gracious and spunky Phillips, we realized that this woman deservingly has the coolest job on the planet. That inner child of hers can play dress-up as long as it wants to...with Bunny Pudge and Kitty Prima and Little Silly Pup and...
Our neighbor thinks we bake all the time. On Sundays, he thinks we have a thorough house-cleaning regimen. It's doubtful he knows we have cats, not to mention a brimming litter box. Our neighbor can thank Gary Stone, owner and creator of the Dallas-based online store Make Scents candles for the aromatic front we put up. The hand-poured candles come in more than 600 scents--some classic, some pretty unusual. We love White Tea, Rosemary, Pet Odor Eliminator and Sugar Cookie. Then again, we have to admit that while they might not be common candle scents, Dirt, Tide Type (like the detergent), Ben Gay Type and Bourbon & Coke win us over with nostalgia. Lick Me All Over, MD 20/20 (don't pretend you don't know), Super Chiffon, Butt Naked and Puppies' Breath deserve honorable mention as titles alone.
If you've been here once, you know what we're talking about. If you've never been, well, sucker, you're probably still renting from Blockbuster Video (the ones still open, anyway) or using NetFlix (seriously, why?) or trying to get your rabbit ears adjusted on your black-and-white Philco. This is a serious place for serious cinephiles--a haven for import fetishists, a refuge for indie lovers and a crack house for anyone who just wants to watch a good movie or BBC Britcom or wacky documentary about Hunter S. Thompson or anything oddball and/or brilliant and/or hard to find. They have everything here among the 20,000 videos and DVDs in stock, even movies not yet in theaters, thanks to Sam Wade and Heather Hankamer's ability to find Euro versions of forthcoming American art-house releases. Man, we saw The Warrior months before it was in U.S. cinemas, which might mean something if people actually saw it in U.S. theaters, but still. If this place were in Los Angeles or Seattle or some other town much cooler than Dallas, you'd never be able to get in.
Movie Trading Co. Multiple locations