Best Of :: Shopping & Services
Morry Marcus, one of the throng of volunteers who operate the Brandeis Book Store in the R.K. California Club Mall, estimates there are about 20,000 books in the shop, a nonprofit that benefits the Brandeis University National Women's Club (most proceeds go to the Brandeis library or Women's Club educational programs). The volunteers are generally Brandeis University alums, and eavesdropping on their constant kvetching is almost as entertaining as browsing the shelves. The best bargains are generally the 50-cent book boxes out front, but there are plenty of paperback and hardback titles -- starting around $1.50 -- worth the price tag inside. Books are helpfully arranged into more than the few generic sections (romance, fiction, nonfiction) found at many used bookstores. Depending on what sort of donations have been coming in, shoppers might find cinematic and scientific subcategories. Volunteers are also open to bargaining, although occasionally prone to the hard sell. "The people who volunteer here make the place," Marcus says. "They're a cut above." One note of caution: If you're planning a weekday visit, be forewarned that the store is open only from 10:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
Looking for smut in a clean, well-lit place? Miami Playground leads the pack of porn palaces for the second year running. This family-run, triple-X emporium near MIA rents and sells hundreds of DVDs and videotapes featuring all (legal) ages, proclivities, and sexual exploits. If you haven't seen that rare chicks-with-dicks or ultimate gang-bang video, this may be the place to find it. The playground recently expanded to include more video booths and an adjacent boutique that sells leather, lace, and latex kink wear, as well as a wide variety of sex toys.
In 1978 La Ideal was just another mom-and-pop operation on Flagler Street (305-548-3296) offering its wares to expectant immigrant parents living in East Little Havana. Today it is a veritable conglomerate, with three additional stores in Miami (305-716-1140), Hialeah (305-826-2021), and Broward County, all ready to deliver (so to speak) everything new mommies and daddies could want for that little bundle of joy. At the Hialeah location the aisles are stocked from floor to ceiling with affordable and designer bedding sets, blankets, car seats, bottles, and pacifiers. One full aisle is dedicated to nothing but food bibs. Row upon row of strollers, cribs, and baby furniture, including rockers that beckon pregnant women with visions of sweet lullabies.
The snowy-haired Dr. Smith, owner of the Trail Animal Clinic, has been tending to Miami's domestic pets since 1968. In that time he's developed a reputation for being some sort of kindly animal whisperer. Wounded or sick animals might be barking or squawking madly in the waiting room, but when Dr. Smith lays his hands on them, gently pressing their coats, probing for injuries or tense organs, furry and feathered friends mellow out. The veteran vet soothes not only his four-legged patients but also the humans who love them. Each pet and his or her master receive his full attention until everyone is agreed on the best course of action. It's that personal touch, a far different experience from the chain clinics, that makes all the difference.
If it weren't for places like Cycle World, we'd all be on those stupid-ass cruisers by now. Of course the cruisers are cool and easy to ride, and you can get them at this place too. But you don't go to Cycle World for the motorcycle handlebars and mod look of South Beach. Go because you like to take a serious ride on weekends -- or every day. For weekenders the shop can start you out with GT, Giant, or Trek road or mountain bikes at the best prices in town, which is why Cycle World won this award last year. Want to upgrade to a better bicycle? How much money can you spend? Just to make you feel better about spending that much, they'll throw in a 60-day warranty (not including flat tires).
Readers Choice: Mack Cycle and Fitness
The eternal winner, and deservedly so. Given that so much of the overall retail scene is dominated by chain stores, and that in books the competition is especially stiff, it's heartening that Books & Books has managed to survive, indeed thrive. The store deserves kudos for its informed staff, its hosting of a wide variety of book-discussion groups, its hefty schedule of author readings and other events (of which a fair number are in Spanish, including the just-launched readings for niños), and its gem of a main store, with its delightful courtyard. And unlike the cafés at a number of the national bookstore emporiums, which have about as much charm as a college student center, the café at Books & Books is a decidedly pleasant enhancement to literary pursuits.
Readers Choice: Books & Books