Best Of :: Shopping & Services
We love free. We scour dumpsters for free stuff. We take things that we'll never use because they're free. Free is rare and usually a little worn-out. Or it has so many strings attached that we end up hog-tied. But sometimes in our search for free, we get lucky and score big-time; we find the ElectroWave on Miami Beach, a 30-day trial membership at the gym, or the Southeast Florida Library Network (SEFLIN) Free-Net, which provides Internet access and e-mail accounts to South Florida residents, homeless people included, at no charge. SEFLIN also offers several free Internet training sessions each month. Registration forms and training schedules are available at most libraries, including the one on Florida International University's North Campus. Once registered you are eligible to enter the fast lane of free: the information superhighway. Of course donations are accepted.
You can find these so-called salons all over our, ahem, fair city. At least five have opened within the past three years, so business appears to be sizzling. Some reasons for taking sun in a box: It's quicker, less damaging, and good for some skin diseases. Still, what's the old saw about selling ice to Eskimos?
Copper sinks from France. German cast-iron bathtubs. Hand-painted bathroom tiles. Classic ceramic bidets and water closets. (The staff prefers this term to toilets.) All the plumbing fixtures in this store are designed in England or France with simplicity and elegance. No gold-leaf, dragon-head faucets. No toilet-seat replicas of a Medici throne. This is a place for people who don't need to show off and are willing to pay to prove it. That French copper sink? $5000. Those German tubs? $1500 to $2500. Wastewater was never treated so well.
For the better part of this decade, Steve Rhodes has scoured the countrysides of India and Indonesia for traditional and ceremonial furniture, instruments, and artwork. He's carted back teak jodang boxes that are used to carry offerings to Indonesian temples and village chiefs' ceremonial drums. He's bartered for Indian tables and cabinets made from the mahogany doors of abandoned mansions located on remote stretches of the opium road. And he's obtained intricately carved opium beds, where aristocrats of yore spent entire days on their backs smoking drugs. But you'll have to pay to indulge in such exotic fare. Prices range from about $500 for a jodang box to $5000 for an opium bed. Rhodes stumbled into his livelihood in 1988 as a way to make his travel bug pay. "It was a simple plan at first: Bring back some things from a trip and sell them," the 36-year-old entrepreneur says. But simplicity has eluded him. He now has two showrooms in Miami's Design District, a Lincoln Road restaurant, a Biscayne Boulevard club, and a warehouse stocked with artifacts. He makes two trips per year. "I love discovering the traditions of other cultures," he says. "I'm very interested in how other people around the world get through life."
In most parts of Mexico, a visit to the weekend market, commonly an open-air, sprawling affair, is nothing like a quick stop at the local Publix. It's a leisurely outing in which people buy, sell, socialize, eat, and drink. In South Florida Bargain Town comes closest to capturing that appealing ambiance. Like most well-established Mexican mercados, a wide variety of goods (from food to clothing to power tools) is available. But amid the utilitarian work boots and used prescription glasses and phone cards, you can find a framed hologram of a crucified Christ who winks as you walk by, a vast aviary with hundreds of birds for sale, a clock featuring Leonardo da Vinci's Last Supper illuminated by blinking lights, and just about everything Los Tigres del Norte ever recorded. Four trailers, surrounded by clusters of tables, do double duty as kitchens and cantinas, serving up steaming plates of fresh tacos and cold beer. Mariachis play nearby. In keeping with the norteño influence, the market offers an array of cowboy hats and ornately tooled leather belts. A roadside billboard alerts southbound drivers, though it gives no hint of Bargain Town's Mexican heritage.
The florist and pet shop parts of this store's title seem superfluous or maybe even disingenuous. The greenery consists of a few plants soaking up sun on the sidewalk. The pet shop, located in a small room near the entrance, consists mainly of live chickens and other birds that will likely be used as sacrifices in Santería rituals. The bulk of Riviera's merchandise is a wonderful and fantastical selection of botánica essentials: statues of Jesus and Mary, some as tall as four feet, are stashed around the store; candles of varying size and color promise love, health, and wealth; and for those who don't have time to stick around for a slow burn, good luck and other blessings can be purchased in spray cans. But the true magic in this store is in the collection of tinctures, herbs, and soaps behind the counter. Your selection can perform miracles. But only, warns the saleswoman, if you bring a key ingredient that's not for sale: faith.