To many in the agricultural set, the essence of growing the best fruit, vegetables, and flowers is perfect soil that is rich in nutrients and well aerated. But a better way might be no soil at all. Hydroponics, feeding plants via a flow of water filled with nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium, and a number of trace minerals, is well established in Europe and Asia. The cultivation technique even works indoors with high-intensity lights that replicate the sun's rays. All of the lights, trays, fertilizers, supplements, testing equipment, growing mediums, irrigation systems, and information you need can be found at Gold Coast's two stores. The service is professional and subdued. The stores are clean and well organized. The only negative is that the prices are a bit, um, pricey. But note that commercially grown tomatoes go for about a dollar per pound. Hydroponically grown tomatoes (blemish-free and consistent in taste, texture, size, and shape) go for triple that. A sample system set up in the window of the Bird Road outlet boasts bushy growth, brightening the dreary stripmall where it is located. Indeed considering the proliferation of stripmalls, freeways, sidewalks, and basketball courts, soilless gardening may someday be the only method available.
Those in the know, such as professional landscapers, and those who know almost nothing, such as the new homeowner do-it-yourselfer, will both do well to visit Linda Hunter's five-acre spread down in the land of nurseries (mostly wholesalers), mango orchards, and the place with the big "mice, rats, and rabbits for sale" signs. After Hurricane Andrew destroyed her family's litchi tree grove, Hunter and her former partner (a Jordanian-trained agriculturist named Burhan Imran, who now runs his own tree farm) germinated the idea of a boutique nursery. A lifelong plant lover who spent fifteen years living in a Coconut Grove house whose yard she recalls as "a rain forest," Hunter has some 200 species of plants, many natives, some shelved within her five greenhouses and one shadehouse, others lined up on tarps in full sun. No pesticides, no fertilizers, no tools: just plants, all priced to move. The variety is spectacular, with tropicals and bromeliads adding to the typical ferns and palms and ground covers. She trades plants, and has breeders bring in collectibles and rarities. That means the options vary from visit to visit, and that also means Canterbury is a fun place just to browse. Hunter says her customers are about half professionals and half do-it-yourselfers. Her operation is 100 percent delightful.
Sunshine has been in business for some twenty years, selling the games that allow the mentally gifted and socially awkward to sit around a table, roll twenty-sided dice, and imagine they're elves, wizards, barbarians, vampires, Klingons, Wookies, or other fantastic characters. Like many in the role-playing game trade, Joel ("What's your last name?" asks New Times. "Why do you ask?" he shoots back.) once sold comic books. Unlike many others in the biz, he built up a big enough clientele for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons and other similar pastimes to weather the downturn in the comic biz. He now devotes his little storefront across from Tropical Park solely to gaming books, adventures, and other fantasy-related resources. His narrow, slightly dingy but well-ordered store offers titles from the familiar (AD&D) to the not-so-familiar (GURPS). If you want to sample a particular system, Joel will rent you a rulebook for about ten dollars per week. He's got two groups meeting in the store now (AD&D and Vampire: The Masquerade), but there's always room for another hardy band of adventurers at the folding table in the back -- provided an experienced gamemaster comes forward to referee. "Everybody wants to play, nobody wants to GM," he gripes. Ain't that the truth!

Both of these retailers are excellent at what they do; the bizarre thing is that they do it side by side. Richard Fishman, owner of the health food store, says: "The smell comes through the walls and our customers aren't smokers. But hey, that's part of life. We stopped worrying about it a long time ago." The even more easygoing Harold Klein, proprietor of the tobacco shop, adds: "We get along with them. They have a sign that says 'health' and I have one that says 'death.'" Excuse us while we enjoy our cigar.
No, it's not pest control Miami style or a new South Beach lounge. So what's with the name? It's an obscure D & D reference. When school lets out, this one-and-a-half-year-old gaming store next to the West Kendall Regional Library resembles the New York Stock Exchange -- for prepubescents. Its backpack-wielding Lilliputian traders, mostly boys, clamor around a godlike clerk in a cacophony of soprano voices. Care to go a few rounds with the Souldrinker? Think you can handle the Rats of Rath? Sure you can. But bring your imagination; there are no virtual-reality helmets here, no high-tech computer screens or Game Boys, just good old-fashioned mind games. The store carries a large selection of cards, figurines, and other accoutrements for fantasy games, as well as trading cards, comic books, and animated Japanese videos. Popular right now are two role-playing card games: Pokemon, which is from Japan, and Magic: The Gathering. Magic tournaments are held Sundays. Check for other scheduled tournaments, such as Warhammer Fantasy. Pickup games run seven days per week around worn green billiards-like tables. And if there's no one to run the game? "That's where we come in," says John, a cheerful employee. In the immortal words of Lyna, a Thalakos Seer from Magic: The Gathering: "You see our world when you shut your eyes so tightly that tiny shapes float before them." That's one approach. The store is open Monday and Tuesday, noon to 8:00 p.m.; Wednesday through Friday noon to 9:00 p.m.; Saturday 11:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.; and Sunday noon to 6:00 p.m.
Mike Gurowitz is a hockey pioneer. The Chicago native began playing hockey in South Florida way back in 1983, when he joined a North Miami street league. Since then an ice rink opened in North Miami, the Panthers nearly won a Stanley Cup, and a dozen roller-hockey rinks debuted across the county. Gurowitz launched Hockey World to serve the area's expanding roster of players. He knows the needs of ice- and roller-hockey competitors, and he assists both groups expertly. The depth of his passion is literally written on the walls of his small shop. Any space that is not covered with sticks, elbow pads, and gloves is papered with autographs of his beloved Chicago Blackhawks. Among the rink-related John Hancocks: Bobby Hull, Stan Mikita, and Chris Chelios (signed before the recent trade to the hated Red Wings). Inside a display case rests a rare trading card of Boston Bruin legend Bobby Orr ... in a Blackhawks sweater. Gurowitz's knowledge along with his reasonable prices have helped him outlast several competitors. Lately he's been filling orders from South America. Having conquered South Florida, he is entering the next frontier.
You're driving your kid across town to the big tournament when he suddenly realizes he's made a tragic mistake: He left his shin guards at home. Or you're on your way to a local pickup game and need a new ball; the last time you played was ten years ago and yours is dead as grandma's cat. Or you decide to invest in season tickets to Fusion games, but feel foolish because you don't have the necessary regalia. Or you just like to flip through the latest Umbros, inhale the hand-stitched Brine that cost more than your last dinner out, or try on the Diadoras that make you think you could show that ungrateful Carlos Valderrama a move or two. Whatever your reasons, practical or nostalgic, Soccer Locker won't fake you out. Just make sure to brush up on your lingo before you get there or the staff will shake-and-bake on your wallet.
Since 1959 Cowboy Center has catered to the needs of Miami-Dade's horsemen (and horsewomen, of course). But the pungent smell of leather is a tip-off that this store is geared toward equestrians rather than clotheshorses. If polo or rodeo is your game, this is the place. Leather is a specialty here. Saddles, embroidered belts, whips, riding crops, vests, and bolo tie are all hewn from the skin of the seemingly endangered bovine. But metal is also central to the cowboy's existence; a walk through the three-room store reveals spurs, anvils, and steel horse combs. If you'd rather sit on a couch and watch a Western than saddle up and gallop along the range, the center stocks cattle horns that you can mount above the television.

Despite what your bridge-jumping, shark-riding, train-hopping Uncle Beanie might tell you, scuba requires meticulous preparation and impeccable equipment. Professional divers will insist that purchasing diving gear is like securing life-support equipment for a trip to outer space. That's because we humans breathe air, not water. Thus the best and brightest scuba practitioners recommend high-quality equipment, from mask to fin. Tarpoon, established in 1942 by diver Mike Kevorkian, has the latest models in top brands like U.S. Divers, Scubapro, and Seaquest. It is also the oldest dive shop in Miami-Dade. Longevity is meaningful because ideally, you want to patronize a place that's going to be in business when your stuff needs service. Tarpoon's salespeople are also divers, so they can tell you why you need, say, a silicone mask. (Answer: Cheaper ones often dry up and crack.) Professional divers also recommend avoiding places that certify you in just a day or two. Tarpoon's beginner's course costs $225 and is conducted over two weeks in a heated pool at the Hialeah store. You need mask, snorkel, fins, and weight belt to enroll.
Miami's franchise of the Play It Again chain has had four years to turn into a sprawling, sterile, time-wasting white elephant (as chain stores are wont to do). It hasn't. The service is friendly and efficient without being cloying or annoying; this is especially important at a place that buys and sells new and used gear. Among its wares are all kinds of balls, weights, togs, racquets, clubs, and bats. You can scoop up used tennis balls for two bits apiece, find junior titanium drivers for about $20, and even try out an array of putters on the carpeted showroom floor, where an automatic ball return is set up. The congenial staff will restring your racquet, relace your glove, or regrip your clubs. With a more comprehensive inventory, tighter restrictions on trades and consignments, and a few thousand more square feet of space, Play It Again could easily become The Sports Authority. Here's betting (and hoping) that never happens.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®