Central Market is a Texas conceit. It's huge and has a personality all its own. A regular grocery store is organized by aisles (dry pasta in aisle 10, anyone?) But here you have to wind around corners and mosey from the produce section to probably the best beer selection in Dallas. From the bulk sale of granola to coffee beans, this is a store that's all about you. You choose what you want. Central Market also dresses up the usually terrible experience of shopping by highlighting the week's "foodie finds," which are like staff picks at a local bookstore.

If there were a sliding scale for store clerk helpfulness, big-box stores would be at the bottom, of course. ("What? Me a sales person? Nah. I just wear this uniform because it's cool-looking.") And Lakewood Hardware would be at the top. The owner/proprietor, Khandoo Nagar, and his two top sales people, Scott and Kevin, have a century of hardware experience between them. But that's maybe the least of it. You walk in this place holding a whatchamacallit before you in one hand like a talisman. A salesperson drifts forward wordlessly, takes it from your fingers, studies it closely, then leads you to exactly the thing you need to fix your problem. It's a good place to visit even when you don't need anything, just to remind yourself how the basic retail customer service model was supposed to work.

The allure of the dollhouse is apparent: A place where the dollhouse owner can carefully control the environment and actions of each doll, building an entire fantasy world with no outside influences or real-life repercussions. Also, tiny stuff just looks cool. Whether you're staging a complicated sociological drama with your dolls or simply creating your dream house, a visit to Through the Keyhole is a necessity. The shop is crammed full of miniatures in every category: food, bedding, decor, furniture, textiles, lighting and more. If you're starting from scratch, Through the Keyhole can also outfit you with an empty dollhouse or a dollhouse kit. You may feel like a powerful giant as you hold a ceramic plate on your fingertip or squint at a small-scale newspaper, but just be a benevolent dictator to your dolls, OK?

When owner Fleetwood Hicks and operations director Harvey Herr opened Fleetwood's Kit Kat across the street from SMU in February, business was expectedly slow. But as spring came and word-of-mouth spread, the two knew the beginning of something special was afoot. Specializing only in cruiser bikes, which Herr calls "the ultimate urban bike," Fleetwood's made a breakthrough when they started mixing parts, allowing customers to fully customize their bikes. And for those looking to rent a bike for a day on the Katy Trail, they offer rentals at only $15 for the first hour and $5 for each additional hour. Hicks claims he's already one of the largest cruiser dealers in the Southwest, and with a new Web site on the way, he'll be selling bikes nationwide by the end of the year.

Don't take our word for it. Go to www.dannahscolors.com/Dannahscolors/Stewpot_Artists/Stewpot_Artists.html and take a look at some of the work being offered by artists in the Stewpot mission's Open Art Studio program for homeless artists. Some of the artists at the Stewpot, a feeding mission for the homeless downtown, produce very "outside" paintings and sculpture—primitive untrained work—but you will also find more sophisticated pieces, well worth the asking prices. The program is a form of art therapy for the three dozen or so street people who take part. Their work offers a powerful window on their world for the rest of us—sometimes beautiful, sometimes painful, always intriguing. To see it, call Cynthia Brannum at the number above or look for upcoming events in the Bishop Arts District or at the downtown Central Library.

If we die and go to heaven—hey, it could happen—we don't want a harp, wings or an angelic choir singing hallelujah. Nope, our idea of bliss is a never-ending summer's day and us, 40 pounds lighter in tailored clothes. We're forever zipping about on a scooter around a gushing fountain with a gorgeous, black-haired, olive-skinned girl riding sidesaddle behind, the wind whipping the hem of her designer dress. "Ciao," we'd say to all the picturesque children splashing in the fountain, giving them that cool Italian backhanded wave. We may never make it to heaven, but we can at least get one step closer with a stop at Vespa Dallas, purveyor of all things smart, stylish and scooter-ish. Their showroom floor, lined with a complete variety of imported Vespa, Piaggio, Genuine and Aprilia bikes is as colorful as a box of jellybeans and just as mouthwatering. (Plus, they finance.) There's a full line of accessories, from helmets and racks to leathers to custom Louis Vuitton seats, plus clothing and caps. Their repair shop around the corner on University Boulevard can add all the special touches you need to trick out your ride and begin living the la dolce vita—with the possible exception of Sophia Loren. Her, you'll have to find on your own.

This store is strictly for men, though we recommend it highly to any woman who has tired of her man's old, threadbare boxer briefs that, having been washed thousands of times, scream for a spicier set of replacements. There's everything from your basic navy and white briefs and boxers to Speedo-style designs covered in hotdogs, roosters or superheroes. You can also opt for a risqué lace-up swimsuit or briefs covered with the American flag. And of course, there's the underwear with the requisite flamethrower front and center. A friend, while showering praise on the shop, says he has only one complaint. "It's clearly the best place to buy underwear," he said. "Now, if I could just stop leaving them at people's houses."

Hundreds of rustic clay pots are stacked high into the sky at the Amigos Pottery outdoor lot near the farmers market. Owners Benito and Elsa Reyna have been selling pots, fountains, talavera (the colorful hand-painted ceramics), outdoor statues, mirrors and even margarita glasses for 12 years at that spot. They also have a location in Plano. Mostly they sell to designers, landscapers and apartment complexes, but individuals also brave the heat for the good deals. The Reynas own the factory that produces the rustic pottery in Tonala, Mexico, so the cost stays low. They sell everything from a five-tiered garden fountain for $1,000 to a small pot for a house plant for under $10.

Some of the simplest toys are the most enduring. From the "Automatic Binding Brick" developed in 1949 to the sophisticated Technic and Mindstorms products available now, Lego has unleashed the imaginations of several generations of kids and adults. Likewise, the new Lego store at NorthPark entrances li'l ones and big ones. Pose with the store display (recently, a life-sized Indiana Jones, complete with translucent-Lego "crystal skull") or marvel at the wall of pick-a-bricks, 60 bins holding Lego bricks and components in a wide array of colors and sizes. With prices ranging from impulse (a simple starter set for $15) to car payment (the Mindstorms NXT robotics set for $279), imaginative builders of all ages will find a way to blow a little cash.

What, do people not replace their laces any more? The lace breaks, so they throw the shoes away? Must be, because it's impossible to find a good selection of replacement laces. You wind up prowling the aisles of a Tom Thumb grocery store, where two out of three clerks don't even know what laces are. The answer to your shoe lace prayers, then, is Cobblestone—a full-service shoe repair store that even smells like shoe glue. Ahh, what a wonderful aroma, better than the pines of Canada. They have half a wall of laces—everything from dress laces in leather and cloth, casual laces and all kinds of boot and athletic laces. Where else could you get white leather laces? Plus, the guys behind the counter can tell you things like how to clean up a spot on a suede shoe.

Best Of Dallas®

Best Of