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.
Designer Felice Pappas may have been forced to close her charming Española Way boutique recently (she lost her lease), but that hasn't hindered her whimsical sense of style. She's still making her loud, fun cotton prints, featuring menacing insects, ripe fruit, blooming flowers, fluffy clouds, and cheery postcards. And she continues to fashion sundresses, skirts, boxy men's shirts, flannel pajamas, capri pants, and kiddiewear from material that screams summer insouciance. Now that Love-Life Backyard is shuttered, expect another little slice of Pleasantville in the new store she hopes to open in October (location undetermined so far). Until then choose from a small selection of her designs at Pop Collectibles (1151 Washington Ave., Miami Beach, 305-604-9604) or give her a call and make an appointment to be custom-fitted. Cute and comfortable, her fanciful creations take you back to the innocent days when the world didn't extend much further than your own back yard.
Rhinestone earrings. Hula skirts. Plastic beaded curtains. Hundreds of ceramic cookie jars. A wall of platform shoes straight from The Mod Squad. A barrel of tube tops in assorted colors. A rack of Elizabethan gowns. Deco armoires. Hand-cut crystal chandeliers. A set of rainbow-color highball glasses. Lace gloves. Sparkle makeup. Disco balls. Pillbox hats. Hawaiian shirts. It can all be found at Miami Twice, truly a first-class vintage vendor. After a two-year hiatus (they took the title from 1994 through 1996), this department store of bygone eras is again the latest in old.
Unlike hoity-toity florists who emanate attitude, Malou and Melita Corrigan, the mother-daughter duo who opened this down-to-earth business a year and a half ago, want to bring flowers to the people and people to flowers. That's why their shop and nursery provide worldwide wire service and delivery throughout Miami-Dade. It's also why their friendly designers (six on staff) are thrilled to artfully arrange your buds in elegant English country, lush tropical, or minimalist nouveau styles. And it's why their room-size Frigidaire is always open to those who want to throw on a sweater and pick out a few stems. More than 50 types of blooms include everything from a 99-cent daisy to a variety of orchids. Their selection of containers ranges from glass vases to planters made from aluminum, stone, terra cotta, and hefty, painted plastic. What? You don't like live flowers? They also have dried ones and other landscape-worthy greenery. Pistils 'N Petals also offers the occasional flower-arranging class, art exhibition, and special event. Proprietors sometimes even rent out the place for parties; the airy space's rich, eggplant-colored walls and gurgling fountain provide a tranquil, conducive atmosphere. Granted, prices may be high (this is South Beach, after all), but every week P&P offers specials; Thursdays there are deals on lilies, Friday nights bring bargains on a dozen roses, and Saturdays deliver discounts on tropicals. Frequent flower buyers are rewarded with ... What else? More flowers. Those who make twelve purchases of fifteen dollars or more receive a free bouquet.
Looking for a date, mister? Well you're probably not going to find one here. What you will discover, aside from an astonishing assortment of Middle-Eastern foodstuffs and yummy prepared provisions, is a lovely selection of hookahs. Yes, hookahs, those lamp-like contraptions that people have used for smoking since the dawn of time. If you require a regular dose of Paul Bowles's novels and dream of a trip to Marrakesh, then try a visit to Daily Bread. It's the first step into transforming your casa into a casbah. The marketplace offers hookahs made of glass in myriad colors and tall brass models adorned with hanging crystals. They range in price from $65 to $185. Fill one with water and a bit of this or that, then light up. Positively smokin'.
Last year's winner in the Best Florist category indeed offers a good and reasonably priced selection of flowers. But it's those remarkable piles of chicken wire, papier-mâché, and tempera paint in front of Gerardo Rios's store that make the place truly miraculous. Wondering how to track the change of seasons in the subtropics? Just take a spin down Biscayne Boulevard and watch the curbside sculptures at Rios's florería transform from giant Valentine heart, to shamrock, to Easter bunny. But the year's highlight is, yes, a twenty-foot-tall (give or take a foot or two) turkey that's enough to make you forget that New York department-store parade with the big floating dummies.
This is the place to find beautiful velas dedicated to the Virgin of Charity, the Virgin of Guadalupe, and every saint, healer, and power in between. It's all the better if you happen to be partial to Mexican heroes; you'll find candles dedicated to Pancho Villa, Nino Fidencio Constantino (a healer just south of the Texas-Mexico border), and Don Pedrito Jaramillo (another healer north of the border). But if your soul leans toward Caribbean spirituality or classic Catholicism, take heart. La Virgencita floats serenely over the Bay of Nipe; the Virgins of Regla and Merced are here, too. So are Santa Barbara, San Lazaro, San Judas Tadeo, and San Miguel Archangel. Then there's the Sacred Heart of Jesus. And there are candles for Eleggua, Changó, and the Seven African Powers. You even can find cruder candles that promise general good fortune, luck in your court case, power over your enemy, control over your lover, and, of course, lots of money.