In a small warehouse Liliana Perez stores papier-mâché creations, some up to six feet tall and covered in crepe paper of every hue imaginable. Each week Perez says she moves about 200 piñatas, including bright-green dragons, coffee-color horses, jolly clowns, and even butterflies. Drum-shape piñatas are stacked to the ceiling; they go for wholesale prices to party-supply stores. "I can make a piñata for any occasion," Perez boasts. A few years ago Metrozoo asked Perez to make five life-size animals for display. During the Christmas season, she produces Santa Clauses. And some corporations have ordered their company logos in the form of piñatas. Perez even made a perfectly round sun with tentaclelike rays that brightened up a little boy's winter birthday party. When the children pulled on its orange, yellow, and red strings, a shower of sweets poured down on them. Prices for Perez's piñatas range from $12 to $250.
Years ago, when a New Times writer was in graduate school in North Carolina, she took an independent-study course on Latin-American women writers. And no place in the United States did a better job of delivering the works of the most exhilarating escritoras than Juan Manuel Salvat's Little Havana shop. When the New Times writer headed south to teach graduate school in Colombia, Salvat provided a semester's stock of Spanish translations of English works by U.S. Latino writers. In business more than 30 years, the Salvat family has developed a bibliographic expertise helpful to scholars and dilettantes alike. Although Universal specializes in Cuban books, the shelves also include a wide selection of everything else imaginable. Squeezed in alongside the complete works of Lydia Cabrera and José Martí are treasures ranging from Argentine classics to daring new works from Spain. Best of all Universal hosts monthly Saturday-afternoon visits from the writers published by Salvat's press, Ediciones Universal. The lively discussions provide living proof that Universal is a bookstore for people who not only love to read, but love to think.
For practitioners of Santería and vodou, mystery has always been the vessel of the sacred. Since the days of colonialism, when slaves kept African gods alive by cloaking them with the names of Catholic saints, keeping a secret has meant preserving one's culture. Although the world has changed, practitioners of syncretic religions today are as secretive as ever. Indeed reticence may be the very measure of quality. This year's choice shop for incense, spell-casting oils, and books of the trade is Vierge Miracle and Saint Philippe Botánica. For days the female attendant at this shop kept New Times at bay, refusing to answer even the most basic questions. The store's façade is playfully decorated in purple-painted faux bricks. Ezili Dantó, a mother-warrior spirit depicted as the Virgin Mother with child, is painted high above the entrance doors. Compas music from a nearby record store flows through the incense-scented air inside. Colorful, sequined libation bottles featuring deities' pictures fill the top rows of a glass-enclosed bookshelf. And in a nod to Afro-Cuban culture, you can find candles and perfume staples like Rompe Brujo (spell breaker), Intranquilo (restless), and Ven-a-mi (come to me). For serious ailments of the body and soul, a consultation with owner Elsie Joseph is recommended. If lack of faith puts a damper on your cure, the vibrant colors of Little Haiti street life at NE 59th Street and Second Avenue will chase away those doubt-creating spirits.
Granted CD Warehouse is a chain of stores. Yet unlike Home Depot or Bennigan's, the four used-CD peddlers in Miami-Dade County reflect their communities. This is true because their suppliers are their customers. Ergo the CD Warehouse in Miami Lakes has a high concentration of Latin music, which mirrors the salsa-loving population in the north end of the county. In Kendall kids trade CDs of Gothic and industrial music. The Coral Gables store, located near the University of Miami, carries numerous alternative and hip-hop discs. Our favorite is the Biscayne Boulevard location, which boasts a fine collection of Motown, reggae, blues, and plain old rock and roll. Here you can find everything from rarities to your favorite greatest-hits compilation. And there is enough turnover that a weekly visit is worthwhile. Check this out: When you buy ten discs, the eleventh is free.
"The orange suit will work," says Rochell "Raquel" Greene, assisting a customer in her small Washington Avenue boutique. "The one in your hand ... not for you! Don't even bother trying it on." For three years Greene has been selling Brazilian bikinis and high-end Italian lingerie to the fashionably svelte denizens of South Beach. An expert on fit, Greene appraises the figure of every woman who walks in and steers them toward ensembles that best suit their body type. If a bikini fails to flatter, she refuses to sell it. "If someone leaves my store with a suit they don't feel comfortable wearing, they'll never come back. It makes business sense to make my customers happy." Such exceptional service allows her small shop (the entire place is no larger than a walk-in closet) to survive Washington Avenue's boom-and-bust economy. She discounts her designer underwear, but style comes at a price; a frugal customer could save money at Victoria's Secret, though that's a purchase Greene would lobby against. "Their stuff is garbage," she says with a sniff. "Garbage!"
El Palacio de los Jugos
Photo by Zachary Fagenson
El Palacio doesn't look like a palace, but then your body doesn't really resemble a temple. At this rustic little produce market, you can juice up en estilo muy Miamiense. The menu includes squeezings from a spectrum of tropical fruits, including maracuya (passion fruit), tamarindo (tamarind), guanábana (soursop), papaya, mamey, and guayaba (guava). Also available: melón (cantaloupe), sandía (watermelon), coco (coconut), naranja (orange), and manzana (apple). The seriously healthy juice-hound can request zanahoria (carrot) and remolacha (beet). If you've been searching for the nectar of the gods, try a papaya colada, a blend of coconut and papaya juices (liquor not included). All juices cost $1.25 per glass, or $4 for a gallon jug (except mamey, which costs $5).
Stop picking random bottles of wine from those shelves at Publix. Just stop it. I mean, what are you doing, really? Trying to infer from the price tag and pretty pictures on the label how good the wine is? When the expertise of Chip Cassidy and his knowledgeable staff are at your disposal, why would you leave your wine selection to chance? And don't let those piles of frou-frou gourmet finger foods fool you; the people at Crown are just as happy to steer you to a $7 German Riesling (which might actually go better with your meal than the $13 one right next to it) as they are to a $319 bottle of chateau-whatever champagne. The winnah and still champeen.
If your relationship with your garden has been tepid lately, one glimpse inside Parker Sod's butterfly aviary (thus dubbed by its proprietors) will jump-start your enthusiasm. Attendants can advise you on how to attract any number of delicate and elusive creatures to your back-yard Eden or weathered front stoop. For example Zebra Longwings, Gulf Fritillaries, and Julias have a passion for the corky-stemmed passion vine. Teases like the Ruddy Daggerwing prefer fig trees. If you're fond of fronds, pick up a comely little silverlady fern for ten bucks. Or perhaps you're the fishtail-fern type. And Texas sage, fakahatchee grass, and spathiphyllum are all in an affordable price range. Take home a tall, handsome ficus for $73, or maybe you'd prefer one of many gorgeous Italian cypresses ($10 and up). Since 1970 this nursery has cultivated a reputation for good service, wide variety, and most important, "good looking material," as professional landscapers like to say. It also offers a lot of accessories and plenty of grass for your lawn, you old sod. Hours are 8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Sunday.
Old school is the way Sidney Kaufman describes his one-of-a-kind arts emporium. Indeed this spacious shop is frozen in time. At the 24-year-old Palette, you can find graphic-arts supplies that haven't been available in most stores since the dawn of the computer age. Transfer type, which was used to do layout before the advent of Quark, can be purchased here. But it won't be around for long. Manufacturers have stopped making it, complains Kaufman, who has been in the business 55 years. The Palette also offers stuff to get you started on blast-from-the-past art forms like screen printing, block printing, calligraphy, and bumper-sticker making. Of course there timeless oil paints are available in every hue imaginable. Watercolors and acrylics abound. And there are fiber-tip pens, charcoal, drafting gear, easels, china markers, artists' pencils, and recycled artist paper. Art students even get discounts at the Palette. "We try to look out for them," says Kaufman with a sympathetic smile.
Marriage stale? Bored with your boyfriend? Feeling more stagnant than sexy? Before hunting for a divorce lawyer or breaking the monotony with small animals, try Oxys. Almost every clothing fantasy is accommodated in this emporium, which offers wares that make Victoria's Secret's selection seem like Sunday-school attire. In the front room are fantasy outfits like jungle girl or French maid, as well as a wide range of thongs, teddies, nightgowns, crotchless panties, and bustiers. The message is clear: Less is definitely more. The most popular color seems to be fire-engine red. The back room holds novelty items -- whips, vibrators, lotions, and edible undies. "It lets you keep on being creative, baby," says store owner Barbara Houghton, who has catered to adventurous patrons for the past ten years. Oxys is open Tuesday through Saturday, 11:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®