Tents and camp stoves and solar showers and all of that stuff you need for camping--at least in the lower to middle price range, it's all pretty generic nowadays. Everybody has the same brands. So the point is to pay the lowest possible prices. Academy consistently hits that mark, with fully stocked shelves and friendly salespeople who give you the impression they actually like working there. The merchandise covers a broad range of outdoor activities, from camping to backyard grilling to passing out in a hammock.
REI
Sometimes people get the idea that REI is a camping store only for extreme rock-climbers and people who trek through the Alaskan wilderness, which is not really right. They have some of that stuff, but more of what they offer is aimed at the average family willing to shell out some extra bucks for equipment that will last. Small tents at REI, for example, cost $50 to $100 more than the ones at the big-box stores, but REI's tents are just about bullet-proof, backed by a no-questions-asked lifetime satisfaction guarantee. And anyway, haven't you always wanted titanium tent stakes? Sure you have. The store's tricky to find: You have to drive westbound on the north service road from Welch toward Midway and watch for it on your right, set back from the road.
In the years since they set up shop at the corner of Abrams and Gaston, Green Living has become much more than simply a store. Their seminars--including those on gardening, keeping chickens and being bat-friendly--are informative and usually include tasty baked goods. They've launched community efforts to keep electronics out of the landfill, and their Web site is a cornucopia of info on how to live greener in the metroplex. The 10 principles by which they select what products they sell--including sustainability, recycled content/biodegradability and fair trade practices--ensure that whether you're picking up a onesie, a low-flow showerhead or a gallon of no-VOC paint, you can purchase with a clear conscience.
Whole Earth Provision Co.
Amazing "tech" fabrics have been invented for outdoor wear. They keep you dry but not sweaty, cool but not wet, warm but not itchy, even bugless. Whole Earth sells the best selection, including socks and caps in "Smartwool"-- real wool from real sheep but re-jiggered so it never gets scratchy. This is where you also can get Prana knickers in a blend of nylon and Spandex that's abrasion- and wrinkle-proof and also quick-drying. Mountain Hardware jackets here are made of "conduit silk" to let them breathe. Or you could go for a Marmot hoodie made of "microporous polyurethane impregnated with silicon dioxide particles." How about Ex Officio's "Buzz Off" line? The clothes themselves repel mosquitoes, ticks, ants, flies, chiggers, midges and charging rhinos, according to the label. Well, not the rhinos. We made that up. But it might work if you put the clothes on first and then run real fast.
Buffalo Exchange
The closet swap always seemed like such a good idea in theory. You grab all the stuff you'll never wear, such as those disastrous purchases, made on a whim, now living rent-free in the back of your walk-in. Your friends do the same, and everybody trades. One girl's trash is another girl's treasure, right? Wrong. Turns out nobody really wanted those lime green leopard-print pedal-pushers. But at the Buffalo Exchange, things are different. The salesmaidens (and misters) know good stuff when they see it, and they're happy to buy it from you. And you're happy to rummage through the well-filtered selections from other emptied Dallas closets. Great finds have been made at the Exchange, from a $30 Betsey Johnson sundress to just $5 for that vintage Alf tee. Would that all other swaps--spit, wives, whatever--were such positive experiences.
Your all-time favorite dress shirt is missing buttons or frayed at the collar and cuffs. Before it becomes Goodwill fodder, take it to Q Shirtmakers and have it cloned into custom-made duplicates. They do men's and women's shirts, suits and dresses and will find fabrics that don't itch, fade or fall apart. Custom clothing isn't out of the reach of the ordinary working stiff. In fact, the better made the garment is, the longer it will last. And in true shirts-off-their-back style, Q organizes a charity drive every year. For several weeks each summer they give discounts on custom-made shirts and suits when customers donate used ones. All donations go to Family Gateway, which helps people get back in the workforce. Wish more businesses were cut from that cloth.
Walk into the Village Shoe Service shop and you'll instantly know that Mr. B.H. Hawkins and his crew mean business--and they get plenty of it. Shoes, boots and sandals in various states of repair litter every corner awaiting "Hawk's" ministrations. He'll also work wonders on leather goods and luggage on the bench in back. Not only will Village Shoe fix your flats as good as new, they'll tell you straight up when you'd be better off finding a whole new pair, even if it costs them the job. Guess that's why it's called "service."
Pandemonium
Need to party like it's 1969? This boutique is stuffed to the rafters with wearable vintage clothes reflecting the height of youthful fashion from the Laugh-In era. Go-go boots, macram belts, minidresses, floppy hats, dashikis, Nehru shirts, poly flares, mod sunglasses--this is where the wardrobe of the Woodstock generation waits to be recycled. Owners Debbie Cardenas and Leslie Daum cheerfully help customers navigate the crowded racks in their cozy shop and they might even unearth some special finds from the mysterious back room. Most items run in the under-$50 range (with vintage T-shirts going for as little as $6), and they make an effort not to stock only tiny sizes (thank you!). Accessorize your sock-it-to-me outfit with retro bracelets, hoop earrings and swingy bags. A fun place to shop? You bet your sweet bippy.
Held a couple of times a year (most recently at the end of August), the Fashion Industry Gallery Finale sale gathers under one roof loads of designer markdowns from Dallas' highest-end retailers, including Tootsies, Forty Five Ten, Rich Hippie, Krimson & Klover, Turtletique, La Femme Couture, Elements, Octane, Friction, Crimson in the City and others. For a $10 entry fee, shoppers can comb two floors of clothes (men's and women's), shoes, bags, jewelry and other desirables, all marked down at least 75 percent off the original price. We've found Carrie Bradshaw-worthy heels for $19, three-figure handbags for $50 or less and frou-frou lingerie at Target prices. To sustain shoppers' energy, they sell freshly made cookies (though the size 0 Highland Park ladies ignore those as they paw through boxes of $15 boots). Go and make a day of it. Then go home and play dress-up with the bargains.
Here's the deal: At most mall retailers the salespeople treat the average shopper like an interruption and an annoyance. But at Nordstrom they not only try to find what you want and make sure that it fits (we dig their giant dressing rooms too), they'll go several extra miles to make you a loyal customer. We recently went on a shoe expedition. Dillard's and Foley's were hot as saunas. Neiman's never managed even a "May we help you?" so we trotted down to the competition. There, a sweet gal in the shoe department apologized for not carrying the brand and style we wanted, but she then made some calls and found us the store that did and made sure they had our size and would hold it for us. Whether you buy a lipstick or a chaise longue, you'll get a handwritten thank-you note from the Nordstrom employee who sold it to you. Amazing.

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