Best Of :: Shopping & Services
When Diana Thatcher's garden art and gift store across from the Dallas Arboretum simply wasn't turning a profit, she did what anyone else would have done: relocate to the Lakewood Shopping Center and focus her efforts on selling jewelry-making accessories and teaching classes. OK, so her plan was hardly conventional, but thinking outside the box turned Thatcher's hobby and passion into a strong business that's been able to hold its ground while battling tough economic times. How does she do it? By stocking the most sought-after items—including Swarovski crystals and freshwater pearls—and teaching classes on Fridays and Saturdays that are almost always filled up.
In addition to being affordable, the earrings, bracelets and necklaces here strike the perfect balance between boho and glam. There are always some pieces to go along with the store's incense, embroidered Mexican shirts and flowing skirts—think thick wooden bracelets and strands of chunky beads from Nepal, for example—but there's no shortage of glitzier options, either. You can count on a wide selection of chandelier earrings of varying designs and with different shades of glass, along with simple freshwater pearls and a broad assortment of turquoise, gold and silver. If you're after something shinier and blingier, you'll likely find it in the other case, which on a recent visit displayed a pair of enormous rhinestone earrings made of concentric circles. And the best thing about all this? Rarely does one of the store's adornments cost more than $25.
You can't get much more eat-local than growing your own food in your own backyard or in containers on your apartment balcony. But how? Northhaven Gardens, a long-tenured plant nursery next to the Jewish Community Center just off Central Expressway, has taken on a kind of second persona as a center for urban sustainable gardening. They sell everything from the right plants to the right mulch for the plants, but they also do much more. They hold weekend seminars on urban chicken-tending, for example. These events invariably blossom into high-spirited country fairs for city people.
Housed in a big old-school building with a broad, wide-open lobby, this branch actually has enough employees to make the lines few and short. Not only do you get to skip a long wait, which is a rare treat in and of itself, but once you arrive at a podium—or if your transaction is more involved, an office—you can count on being served by someone who knows how to do a great job. We can't, of course, vouch for the integrity of the broader mega-bank—which ones can you trust in this day and age?—but the folks at this location definitely know how to make your banking experience less troublesome.
There are plenty of joints in Dallas with a healthy beer selection, but soda drinkers are lucky to have more than five or six choices at any given establishment. Not so at Oak Cliff's Soda Gallery, where you'll find more than 150 different types of soda, from ginger ales to colas to root beers (which accounts for nearly 30 varieties all by itself), shipped in from locales as far-flung as Amsterdam and Japan and as close as Dublin, Texas. Make your own six-pack or purchase by the case if you so desire—just keep your hands off the Cheerwine, 'cause we need our fix of North Carolina cherry-cola goodness. Check the Web site for information on the occasional art exhibits and burlesque performances that share the space too. After all, the only thing better than drinking a cold cream soda is sharing one with someone in pasties.
We're starting to feel like a broken record when we say it (Get it? Get it?), but there's a reason Good Records winds up winning this honor every year. Sure, the selection of vintage tunes at Arlington's Forever Young Records is incredible, and anyone who's ever combed the rack at CD Source can tell you how endearingly weird their staff can be. But Good Records has so firmly entrenched itself in the local music community at this point that it's simply impossible for us to think of any other store as the best in town. This year's Record Store Day celebration was the stuff dreams are made of, a family-friendly affair with performances by a slew of local bands and lots and lots of beer on hand. Sure, the cops pulled the plug on Erykah Badu's set because of noise complaints, but that's how all the best parties end anyway. Here's an idea for next year, boring old Lower Greenville residents—plan a vacation for April 17 if you don't like live music, and let Good Records and the rest of us have one day to party. We know you have to contend with plenty of "scum bars" on a regular basis, but this is different, we promise. Deal?
A piece of art large and bold enough to set the desired tone in the living room can be pricey indeed. That's why in these spare times we recommend checking out Urban Outfitters when you find yourself in a decorating pinch. There are large-scale paintings—granted, they're not original oils, but come on, don't be difficult—for $60 to $100, and they're pretty cool. A recent visit turned up canvases showing a bright green tree with broad, gnarled branches, black and white renderings of urban bridges, and a helter-skelter pile of books from a wacked-out vantage point. If you want to set off the colors in whatever piece you choose without making another stop, pick up some Indian-embroidered throw pillows to complement the art.
Secret confession: We hardly ever buy new clothes. Why would we when there are so many like-new castoffs on the racks at Salvation Army? OK, yes, you will have to sift through many stained gimme T-shirts to get to the good stuff, but if you have the stamina, you will be rewarded with top-notch designer items from Carmen Marc Valvo, Betsey Johnson, Escada and Elie Tahari (no promises, but we've found all those labels) and scads of quality mall brands such as Anthropologie and Banana Republic. Here's another secret: Go on Wednesdays, when all clothes are half off the marked price. Do the circuit (there are seven Salvation Army thrift stores in Dallas County), but start with the huge store at Harry Hines and Inwood. You can thank us when you have a whole new wardrobe by this time next week.
Like designer shoes and handbags, the price of fashionable eyeglass frames is out of sight. Except at this tiny shop, where 3,500 sample frames crowd the walls and counters. Don't waste time browsing. The owner, Arman, knows his products and people so well, he can pick out the three best choices for any face shape (and budget). Prices range from the twofer special at around $50, to the top-of-the-line designer brands that he'll sell at a deep discount (for a promise of return business and maybe a minute or two of his video about the Baha'i faith). At the end of every sale, Arman says a loud "Hallelujah!" We'll second that.
Feeling a bit peckish, like John Cleese in the Monty Python cheese shop sketch? You won't go away hungry from Molto Formaggio, where the well-informed salesfolk are happy to provide nibbles of anything in the joint, even the expensive truffle-ribboned delicacies from France. With almost as many American artisanal cheeses as imports, the shop is tops, way beyond even the big-box store gourmet cases. They'll do wine and cheese pairings, party trays and gift baskets. Once a month they throw a tasting party. For $35 you nosh and slurp for a couple of hours, then go home with a bottle of featured wine and a pound of cheese. Pure heaven for the lactose tolerant.
King Sauna is a trip to another country—but you don't have to bring a passport or sit on an airplane for hours. At this Korean jjim-jil-bang sauna, rooms ranging from cold (the ice room) to extremely hot (the fire sudatorium) help you sweat and relax. Americans may not normally equate sweating with relaxation, but if you just surrender to it, the heat soothes aches and leaves you feeling peaceful. Hot tubs, including a tea-tinged one and a powerful jetted tub, relax you further, and a cold plunge pool (64 degrees when we were there), is a bracing refreshment. For extra stimulation (and for an extra fee), get a percussive massage or a vigorous body scrub. Don't be surprised to see other spa visitors sleeping in the movie theater (yes, there's a movie theater) or in the common areas; in Korea, these types of spas are used as a kind of hostel for traveling families. In fact, your $18 entry fee gets you in for 24 hours, so sleep there if you like—bet it's the cheapest day you've ever spent in another culture.
Jason Cohen, founder of Forbidden Books and Video and Forbidden Gallery, and his mother, longtime antiques dealer Terry Cohen, have conspired to create a store that somehow combines the best funkiness of South Congress Avenue in Austin, the punkness of Deep Ellum five years ago and the antiques treasure-hunting quality of Knox-Henderson 10 years ago. It's all there now plus the store's own ineffable quality of surprise and whimsy—cattle skulls, doll parts, vintage signs, graveyard ornaments, decorated gourds, tables, chairs, hair. You name it. Curiosities. Tons of 'em.