Another Time and Place
Exploring this tiny shop on Henderson Avenue is like burrowing into a Middle Eastern street market in search of handmade treasures. From their travels, owners Mehmet and Lisa Celik bring back things like Afghani wedding hats, elaborate headpieces of bright fabric, embroidery, beads and metal pieces that are individual works of art. Carvings from Africa, brilliantly colored ceramic platters from Turkey, wall hangings from China and stone carvings from Vietnam are scattered throughout the store, along with skirts and tops from India and Pakistan. This is one of those places to visit every few weeks to stock up on unique gifts or to add something to your display cabinets or walls. Pretend you bought that embroidered silk jacket the last time you visited Thailand. Who's to know?
Why should "ladies who lunch" be the only ones who get to enjoy a massage? Certainly, instructing a housekeeper, shopping at Prada and attending a charity gala make for a stressful day. But what about those of us who actually, uh, work all day? Whether you're employed in a cube farm or with a jackhammer, you deserve an oily rubdown, too. At least, Massage Envy thinks so. That's why they have extended hours (open till 10 p.m. weeknights) and reasonable prices--just $39 for a one-hour massage on your introductory visit, $60 after that. And if you decide massage is definitely your thing, Massage Envy offers memberships that lower the prices even further--just $49 for one massage per month and $29.95 for subsequent visits that month. Which is more relaxing, $49 worth of drinks at happy hour or a one-hour massage? For our money, we'll pick the one that doesn't leave us with a hangover.
Full of statues of Jesus, the Grim Reaper and the good ol' Virgin of Guadalupe, Chango's window displays have probably caused more than a few auto accidents. Located near the Bishop Arts District in Oak Cliff, this botanica is your one-stop shop for everything needed to practice Mexican Santeria, the hybrid faith of Catholicism and Pagan Afro-Cuban religion. You name it, they've got it: herbs, holy water, votive candles, statues, incense and even aerosol sprays that can keep your in-laws away or help you win a court case. It's way better than that measly holy window stain over in Fort Worth. And even though the lotion may cost an arm and a leg, one bottle we found had a label featuring a picture of Jesus Christ flanked by some big marijuana leaves. It seems all of our suspicions about the Savior have been confirmed.
The ubiquitous big-box we-have-everything stores really don't have everything, and they may never, but Costco.com never quits thinking of how to better satisfy its customers. It carries caskets now. Ten kinds, ranging from $924 to $2,699. The manager at Costco in Dallas informs us his store, sadly, does not carry any of them but that an online delivery is as quick as one needs it to be. This is good news. Any time we can buy a bucket of butter and an Argos Cherry Casket--that's the expensive one--from a single store, well, that's the ingenuity of modern shopping. Creepy, sure, don't get us wrong, but ingenious nevertheless. And don't think just because it's coming from Costco, the caskets are of a lesser quality. These are high-quality numbers, some of them with premium ivory crepe interiors, all of them painted in shades of muted sobriety, perfectly acceptable--and indistinguishable--from any casket you could find anywhere else. So there, Mr. La-Di-Dah.
Counter Culture
Counter Culture, a little vintage store that started out in Deep Ellum, also wins the award for Best Expansion. This spring, CC opened a second shop at Mockingbird Station--this one's a little more upscale, with a boutique-y feel--and we couldn't be happier. Not that we don't like the Deep Ellum version; we do, really. But sometimes MockSta is more convenient. And sometimes, what takes us so high can also bring us way down. The thrift-store vibe at the original store gets us 43 kinds of excited--the possibilities of the search, the joy of the unknown--but there are times when that same euphoria turns dark. The racks and racks of color-coded T-shirts, the trinkets, the jeanssometimes it's just too overwhelming. There's good stuff there; we just know it. But what if someone else gets it first? What if we're not fast enough? What if they don't have our size? Clutch the pearls, we need a sarsaparilla.
The basis for this award is purely anecdotal: We had a framing project a while back that seemed quite simple in our mind--in concept, that is. The work it would require was not so simple; some would even call it tedious. But we wanted it done, and we wanted it done right. After being given the brush-off (and an outrageously high quote) from a local big-box retailer, we felt a little downtrodden. No one seemed to appreciate our vision. Then we found 3 Day Framing. Not only did the person who helped us say no problem of course we can do it thank you very much, she seemed genuinely excited to see the results of our beloved project. It was refreshing and uplifting and downright beautiful. Our visionary frame job now hangs in our dining room, and we swear we've seen it blush at all the compliments it receives.
Stained glass windows, sparkling wind chimes, mosaic tiles, mirrored gazing balls--if it's colorful and glimmers in the sun, Splendor in the Grass has it. This Lakewood gift shop also hosts classes for budding "beading" artists. The two-hour classes in beginning bead-stringing and beginning earrings cost $25, which includes use of tools and beads for the projects. Choose from their selections of semiprecious stones (turquoise, amethyst, onyx), new and antique glass beads and unique pendants. More advanced classes in making multi-strand necklaces and working with "memory" wire are also available.
Sure, you can buy video games almost anywhere these days, and the prices from store to store don't vary much. So, why GameStop? Two reasons: First, if you're just browsing and are wondering whether that game in your hand is any good, the clerks at GameStop most likely have not only played the game, but will give you an honest answer. (Just try to find a clerk at Best Buy, let alone one who's played the game you're considering.) Second, when we called GameStop in late September to ask what our chances were of getting an Xbox 360 before Christmas if we reserved one now, the answer was "high." Those big-box electronic stores sell games--along with refrigerators and stereos. GameStop sells games, from gamers to gamers.

Readers' Pick
GameStop
Yes, we're somewhere between a quarter and half a century old and, no, we'd rather not discuss which we're nearer to. Despite our years of wisdom, our past spent studying tomes of philosophy and other generally impressive things, we love some good time just playing with our toys. Action figures, comics, dolls, you name it. It's just that, well, even though we've got all that wisdom, we don't exactly have the paycheck to prove it. That's why we love the boys over at Zeus for almost always having a bargain bin where we can find a gem or two for around a buck apiece. The clearance comics are also a Marvel-ous (Ha!) idea for unusual and affordable prizes, favors or decorations for kids' parties...or, um, your house. (Not that we'd know anything about that, of course. We're adults, thank you!)
Half Price Books
Don't mind the employees' looks of dismay as a large, excited group of you and your posse come running into the store with a mission. You have to get the next item before the rest of your competition does! The vault that used to hold Sterling Jewelers' exquisite diamonds and pearls has now become Half Price's nostalgic National Geographic collection and a key location for many adolescent sleepovers. But the first thing most people see upon entering the store is the information desk located smack dab in the middle. If you're creating the list, add a specific magazine issue or out-of-print book to the hunt. Average book price: $5.98. Seeing the grimace through the grin: priceless. Now, if only you were there when the group behind yours enters the store.

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