Your best friend is getting married, and you want to do your part to make it a special and memorable occasion. How about paying for beautiful multicolor butterflies to be released at just the right moment? At Butterfly Mystique, located deep in the Redland, a dozen individually packaged butterflies that arrive by one-day FedEx can be as cheap as $75. But don't let the ease of express mail deter you from visiting the place itself. That way you won't miss the vivarium tour, where one can walk among hundreds of butterflies. The tour costs five dollars for adults and four dollars for children. To keep the critters flapping happily, a wide variety of butterfly-attracting plants are for sale as well. They also have an insect shop called the House of Bugs where scorpions, tarantulas, and ladybugs can be seen and purchased. A mobile insect exhibition even takes the creepy crawlies on the road for shows. And the back of Butterfly Mystique's yellow-and-white-striped trailer reads: "Bugs not drugs."
Next to a building painted in eye-battering yellow and green, Mr. Pocketbook's bright yellow sign lures you in: "Bags $2.99 & up." Inside, a sea of vinyl, leather, and fabric awaits -- everything from the stylish leather handbags that would set you back $60 in the mall, to more affordable knockoffs of high-end brand names like Fendi and Coach, to "el cheapo" cloth and plastic varieties that spill off tables at the flea market. The store also stocks luggage, as well as children's backpacks adorned with cartoon characters. Open Monday through Saturday from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., Mr. Pocketbook encourages bulk shopping, offering deep discounts (a third of retail prices) when you buy a dozen or more bags. And you can mix and match your quarry from any of the boxes and still pay wholesale for each. Those opting to buy fewer purses also can save a little, especially if they're lucky. One saleswoman notes Mr. Pocketbook's prices can fluctuate, depending on the day and "how my boss is feeling."

With more than 2000 products in stock, Chung Hing Oriental Mart boasts everything imaginable from the East. The store's owner, Chung Peng, a native of Hong Kong, even supplies local Thai, Chinese, and Japanese restaurants. The impressive inventory includes live tilapia and eels crammed together in a fish tank; hefty pork thighs hanging from steel hooks; and a range of herbal tonics such as Wuchaseng extract (dark ginseng in a honey base), Ancient Han Health-Keeping extract (the result of nearly ten years of research conducted by traditional Chinese herb experts who based their studies on ancient records from the Han Dynasty), and a bronchial comforter called Chi Ye Long. Aisles are full of products from every Eastern nation you can think of. Chung Hing offers the widest variety of Chinese noodles we've ever seen in one place. The flavoring essences from Thailand and a number of instant soups -- wakame, tofu misu, and osuimono -- are available for a quick fix. Five-pound bags of dried mushrooms are stacked against a wall near the live fish. Large glass jars of bamboo shoots; all kinds of oils for stir-fries; and green bean, sesame, and soybean powders also are for sale. Want to make sushi? At Chung Hing you can find everything you'll need.
"I swear sometimes I come here just for the scenery," says a man to his blissed-out friend as they exit the Brickell Village Publix. Anyone who's shopped at this particular grocery store on a weeknight knows what he's talking about: The aisles are clogged with more quaffed heads and tight outfits than an entire season of Sex and the City. It's not the South Beach modeling crowd dressed down in shabby chic but professional men and women bling-blinging in Hugo Boss sweaters and Louis Vuitton totes as they search for tuna and toiletries. The pressure to fit in with this upscale crowd can be intimidating. Our friend Cindy, who lives in the Roads, calls her neighborhood market the Gucci Publix. "I feel like I need to blow out my hair and put on Prada whenever I shop there," she sighs.
In his book La Ciudad Mercado, Mexican anthropologist Alejandro Morroquín proposes specific elements that define the authentic mercados of his native country. The author's Mexican markets of wooden stalls, Indian campesinos carrying heavy loads on their backs, merchants peddling medicines and magical charms, and prostitutes working the throngs of buyers is not exactly what you'll experience at Bargain Town. This flea market's Mexican roots, however, are distinct and recognizable. From live mariachi music to a wide variety of goods, you can stock up on all your household needs and personal wants in one place. Have a cold Corona and hot steaming tacos at the cantinas and even pick up a religious icon or two: We highly recommend a portrait of La Virgen de Guadalupe.
This is the Latin new-age headquarters of Miami. Librería Alpha is on this planet at this time not to offer the widest selection -- that would be the mission of frequent choices Librería Universal and La Moderna Poesia further down the street -- but to assist in the Spanish-speaking soul's evolvement. Just about every metaphysical and self-help book you have ever heard of is here: translations of Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus and Codependent No More, as well as the ever-popular A Course in Miracles. Many teachers and disciplines are well represented: Sai Baba and the Dalai Lama, feng shui and qi gong. There are plenty of works, too, by Latin-American writers and therapists most English-speaking new agers have never heard of, plus obscure mystical fiction and nonfiction by luminaries such as Papus, Noah ben Shea, Professor Donato. Finally no new-age nerve center would be complete without crystals and wind chimes, and Alpha's really are celestial.

These people will sharpen everything from chain saws to steak knives. And when they are done, owner Dennis Hollinger promises you will be able to shave a hair on either edge. At $1.50 per knife, this kind of kitchen convenience is a bargain. Open Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., the Tool Shed also features an excellent selection of knives for sale, both of the culinary and pocket variety.
One would hardly expect to find a little piece of Paris in a strip mall, even a relatively upscale one like the Biscayne Harbour Shops, but that's exactly the place to go when you're feeling trés français. Pierre Books contains everything the frenzied Francophile might crave: books in French, movies in French (for sale and rental), French tapes and CDs, as well as French magazines and greeting cards. An in-store café serves up coffee, brewed in a French press. The whole place is so utterly, gloriously French, it's a miracle the Germans haven't marched in.
"Friend or Home Depot spy?" joked the young man behind the counter when he thought we were being a little too inquisitive about Paradise Hardware's holdings. The hardware-store wars must be more intense than anyone has imagined. In any event this neighborhood do-it-yourself fix-it shop need not fear the corporate giant. There are bigger stores for hard-core building projects, but Paradise carries everything the average home-improvement job might require: nuts, bolts, screws, assorted tools, faucets, toilets, and paint. And the large staff of helpful employees, all of whom speak both English and Spanish, won't make you feel like an idiot for not knowing what you call that little doohickey that holds the whatchamacallit together.

Best Place To Buy Latin Music, Videos, Relics, Whathaveyou

Marakka 2000

Waldo Fernandez is a man of many missions. Nearly all of them have to do with rescuing Cuban music, television, and film from the ravages of censorship and decay. In his office he proudly displays an original still from the 1949 movie Sandra, The Woman of Fire, starring Rosa Carmen, but he needs more than a sheet of glass to save the film stock itself. Fernandez buys 16mm footage of the movies, musicians, and variety shows of his homeland wherever he can, transfers the material to video, repairs damaged images frame by frame, then lovingly edits together music videos and full-length documentaries (such as this year's History of the [Cuban Television Network] CMQ, complete with commercials from the Fifties). Beginning this spring, his work can be seen on the program Longing for My Cuba on WLRN, Sundays at 10:00 p.m. If you like what you see and hear there, stop by Marakka 2000 on the east side of the Palmetto and pick up a copy of the video or a related CD. Or request a rare title by your favorite obscure artist. Fernandez's motto: If it exists, I can find it.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®