Viva Flagler!

It's downtown's swirling kaleidoscope of sights and sounds and smells. Where the Latin mercado meets the American enterprise. Where commerce thrives and clerks cut deals. So why would urban planners want to kill it?

"I think $45 is a better deal," says Mom. "Just think, every time I listen to it I'll remember the deal you gave me."

Briff closes his eyes, a smile creeping into the corners of his mouth. "She's tough," he growls. "Fifty dollars, and no less."

Mom goes the other way. "If you can go down to $50, you can sell it to me for $40."

"No way, no way." Briff begins to hop in place in his black Reeboks. He reaches out and grasps Mom's arm in supplication. "I have to get at least ten-percent profit. At least ten-percent profit or they'll fire me. I can't. They'll fire me. They'll fire me. I can't. You can't take my shirt."

Figuring she's pushed hard enough, Mom agrees to $50. (She does, however, attempt to wheedle a two-dollar discount when Briff can't squeeze the radio back into its box.) "She's hard. She's very hard, your mother," Briff remarks, before launching into an argument about whether Mom will pay cash or write a check.

When the steel security shutters roll back from Flagler's storefronts and Celia Cruz commences her daily din and the eggs and onions begin to sizzle on the grills in the Cuban cafeterias, Uncle Sal's Army/Navy Surplus store at 275 NE First Street opens for business. Darting from racks packed with T-shirts past stacks of cardboard boxes, 42-year-old Yoshua Sal Behar searches for air-gun pellets for three tourists from Surinam toting imitation leather luggage. Moments later the stocky Behar, his black-and-white-striped shirttail creeping out of his waistband, agrees to save a pair of size-twelve combat boots for a Haitian customer while carrying on a running conversation in Spanish with a young Venezuelan couple looking for a portable refrigerator and an underwater metal detector. In between he teases three Brazilian regulars, pilots for Varig who want to haggle over a leg holster for a Beretta handgun.

"You come here and get good service, fine goods, the door is open, and we kid around with you. That's a service worth paying for," Behar tells the pilots in Portuguese, Spanish occasionally seeping in. "Besides, if I didn't speak Portuguese, you wouldn't be able to ask for a discount." The three Brazilian men roar with laughter. Behar's eyes, points of light in his youngish face, flash as he leans over piles of folders, bills, and boxes and reaches into a counter packed with Buck knives. Sal is usually ready to cut a deal, but in this case $65 is what the black leather holster is marked, and $65 is what the pilots pay. "Here they can bargain all they want," says the native of Cuba, who took his first job on Flagler at Mary Jane Shoes, just after he graduated from Miami Beach High School in 1966. "I'll listen to anything. It doesn't mean I'll agree, but I'll listen."

Usually the customer walks away happy from Uncle Sal's. And sometimes the customer returns the favor. "About three months ago a Brazilian guy came in and asked me for a discount on something or other," says Behar, a knot of keys jangling at his hip as he dashes back to the Buck-knife counter. "So I tell him, `You ask me for a discount and you don't even bring me a gift.' He says, `The next time I'm in Miami I'll bring you something.' Well, a couple of days ago he stops in to give me two bottles of aguardiente. That's the way we are down here."

Only moments after purchasing the calculator and radio, Mom wanders into the Galeria Internacional, a quiet, aging arcade just west of Jimmy's Electronics. At the Cosmetic Center she finds a four-ounce bottle of her favorite perfume, Ysatis by Givenchy, for $39.99. "The cheapest I've found this anywhere else is $43," she says, but she wants to look around some more; maybe she'll find an even better deal. Next door is El Mundo de Maletas, the World of Luggage, where Mom inquires about athletic bags. Not until next week, says the salesman, but well worth the wait. They run about $14. "They're usually about $47 everywhere else," Mom says skeptically. "They probably aren't the same bags."

In the same arcade is Downtown Interprises Inc., a bonanza of $10 to $20 watches. Row after row of plastic watches in every conceivable color combination line the window shelves. Mom buys a dark brown, leather watch band for four dollars - three dollars for the band, one dollar for installation - but not before trying to get a dollar discount. Across the hall at Pars Oriental Rugs, she admires an intricate Tabriz Persian carpet of blue, gold, and brown, its silk weave shimmering even under the dim fluorescent lights. "It goes for $3700," the salesman ventures. A little out of bargaining range for now, Mom decides. She browses but doesn't buy upstairs, where M & Q Auto Parts is sandwiched between Commercial Audio and Video and Golf Flagler, with its Mizuno, Yamaha, Wilson, and Tommy Armour clubs. Then it's back down the stairs, past the Cuban lunch counter where teen-agers shopping with their parents munch on $1.99 ham-and-cheese, tuna, or chicken-salad sandwiches, to daylight and the hubbub of Flagler.

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