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Our critics—i.e. people who read us regularly—often talk as though the Observer staff was composed entirely of weed-smoking, band T-shirt wearing, consignment-store-shopping hippie hipsters. In reality, that description is only true for about 85 percent of our staff. The rest of us are Pottery Barn-catalog-reading, overpriced-shoe-wearing, shiny-bauble-loving consumerists just like most of Dallas. Frankly, we don't want to pay good money for that scuffed-up, rump-sprung couch that your Uncle Fred farted into for years, even if it does resemble something from the set of Mad Men. That's one reason we furniture shop at Z Gallerie (the other reason being that we're married to a grown-up). Sure, it's a chain, but it's a chain that offers modern designs in cool, calm, tasteful colors and materials. No cheesy plaids, no ridiculously overstuffed chairs with handles sticking out the sides. Just sleek, comfortable furniture and a wide variety of accessories to dress up your grown-up home at prices that won't make you pass out—much. The hipsters may snicker, but a least we're not stealing postal crates to build bookshelves anymore.
There's no helpless feeling quite like bubble-wrapping your $3,000 SLR camera, dropping it in a mailbox and hoping for the best. With any luck, the package won't be lost, soaked through in the rain or smashed to pieces when some pill-popping long-haul driver bites it careening downhill through the Rockies. Easier, then, to drive yourself to Garland, explain what's wrong and get your camera back in one piece the next day. You'll have to lean over the counter and crane your neck for a look at the mysterious repairman in the back—the man works with machines, not people—but the staff up front will be friendly enough, chatting about their latest photo exploits or one of the antique cameras in the glass case, so it'll hardly even hurt to hand over your camera.
For that funny super-sticky clear tape you need to fix a tear in a tent ("Tenacious tape"), for tubes of seam sealer or replacement buckles for your webbing, that spare hank of no-see-um netting—all those little niggling emergency camping items you really wish you had when you don't have them—REI has the best selection. Of course, you have to be careful you don't fall prey to REI disease and accidentally buy a tent or something when you go in there. The store is in a spot on LBJ that just seems harder to get to the more construction they do in the vicinity. Best plan is to get off LBJ at Dallas North Tollway and try to find your way westbound on the LBJ service drive. REI is between the Guitar Center and Haverty's. But stay off that cell phone or you'll wind up in Coppell, and somebody might sell you a whole house.
Your kid just turned 13 going on 16, and he or she walks 20 feet in front of you in the mall, if still willing to be with you at all. The Xbox will keep them down on the farm for a while, but once the hormones begin to rage—and they do younger than ever before—your Max or Grant or Peyton or Mia will want to go one place and only one place: the mall. It's a silly suburban rite of passage, allowing your kids to go to the mall by themselves, and nowhere do parents seem to trust that transition more than at NorthPark Center, the oldest and best-kempt mall in town. You kid yourself by thinking there is security in numbers; there are certainly plenty of Paul Blarts roaming the majestic corridors of this place. And the AMC movie theater can keep them occupied if the food court doesn't, or they may actually want to shop, but mostly they want to be away from you and with their friends. NorthPark may not welcome this kind of clientele, but it certainly makes itself accessible to them. And where would you rather have your teenager learn about the interplay of consumerism and sex–on the streets or in some fancy-schmancy mall, against the beckoning backdrop of Neiman Marcus, the Apple Store and Journey's?
Well into what might be fall in other parts of the country, Texas remains searing hot, making weekend day trips less than comfortable for those who take issue with sweating straight through their jeans. Strolling with an armful of shopping bags from one end of Deep Ellum to another is decidedly unpleasant when your sneakers are a pool of saltwater, which is why the Deep Ellum Outdoor Market, which brings together Deep Ellum's best shops under one outdoor awning for one Saturday a month, is such a welcome addition to the neighborhood. And hey, they even let folks in from out of the neighborhood to vend musical instruments, crafts and jewelry. How kind of 'em—but diversity's what's gonna keep Deep Ellum on the rise, anyway, and the Deep Ellum Urban Market is a fine example of what happens when people stop wondering when someone else will start up something good, and instead pursue a great idea on their own.
Fiber artist Katie Toohil exudes positive energy from head to toe. Fortunately for her customers, so do her crafts. For years, Toohil has been working with fibers of human, plant and animal varieties. In the more traditional vein, she hand-dyes fibers (from wool to vegan varieties), spins them into yarn and either sells the yarn or creates crocheted scarves, headbands and such. She also uses tie-dye and low-water emersion processes to dye handmade clothing items. (She buys articles now, but is working to sew her own.) But it's the human fiber area where Two Hills Designs finds its most dedicated customers. The nimble-fingered lady not only uses human hair to create custom dreadlock extensions but also offers dread extension dying, styling and installation services that make growing longer dreadlocks take all of several hours. But whatever you order from Toohil and Two Hills, it's sure to come from the fiber of her energetic being.
We consider ourselves pretty savvy, open-minded beer consumers, with tastes that run from tart, brisk witbiers to decadently rich imperial stouts to Belgian ales so complex that mentally processing all the flavors is almost a psychedelic experience. In short, we thought we had a pretty good handle on trying the best beers available in this less-than-beer-friendly state, where geographic distance from coastal breweries, senseless legislation against homegrown breweries and a distributor stranglehold on the industry limit the number of brews consumers can choose from. Then we visited the beer aisle at Whole Foods' Park Lane location. Surrounded on both sides by more than 600 varieties of beer, we felt like the chimps in 2001 when they see the monolith. Except there were two of them, turned on their sides, chilled and filled with beers whose names we'd only heard whispered amidst furtive glances, even beers whose names we'd never heard spoken aloud.
With its sign boasting "ATM Lotto Money Order Cigars" and rack of spank mags near the front door, it looks like just another crummy, run-down convenience store where you're more likely to find Steel Reserve malt liquor and thinly veiled drug paraphernalia than a decent beer. But check out the back cooler and you'll be surprised by the selection of microbrews and imports, including a few we've never seen elsewhere. Even better, the store keeps a list of customer stocking requests. In one memorable visit, we inked in an appeal for Ten FIDY, an expensive and difficult-to-find imperial stout, just below where a shaky hand had scrawled "Strawberry Banana MD 20/20." It was heartwarming to see that the place is willing to take care of you whether you want expensive craft beer or rotgut wine—or Steel Reserve, for that matter.