Best Of :: Shopping & Services
If you've ever stepped on a Lego block in the middle of the night, you probably have little desire to see one of the knubby little bastards again -- unless, of course, you're buying them for someone else's kid. If that's the case, wouldn't you like to patronize an independent local shop rather than some huge chain with an overgrown giraffe for a mascot? Welcome to Toy Town, where the staff is friendly and helpful. And since the people who work there aren't preoccupied chasing kids armed with hockey sticks and Koosh balls down runway-size aisles, they can devote plenty of attention to helping you find the perfect gift for a little loved one -- whether it's educational toys, craft projects, an addition to her Hello Kitty arsenal, or the latest robotic Lego set. Toy Town has some big-store conveniences, too: a merchandise catalogue, online ordering, and customer-service perks the megastores can't muster, such as gift wrapping and free delivery for Key Biscayne residents (but don't push your luck by asking them to drop off a single Beanie Baby).
Folks in South Miami-Dade take their baseball seriously, and so does Hitter's House. The store features four batting cages where a practicing slugger can get twenty pitches for just $1.25. Special hourly team rates are another indication that Hitter's House understands that the nation's favorite pastime is not just another sport. Autographed photos and baseball cards are available for collectors. Hard-core playing enthusiasts can find just about every piece of baseball gear available, from mitts to mouthpieces.
This bike shop has been around since 1944; the oldest bike it carries -- a rare Packard found nowhere else in Florida, so they say -- dates to 1902. Yes, Broken Spoke specializes in antique bikes. For instance there's the toddler bike, circa 1920, that belonged to one of the Rickenbacker children. Chris Marshall, Broken Spoke's owner, says he purchased it from a former caretaker of the Rickenbacker home. Iggy Pop rented two Schwinn Sting Rays from Marshall for a music video. At the end of production, the aging punk rocker fell in love with the bikes, bought them, and had them transported to Europe. Marshall's bikes have even starred in Hollywood blockbusters such as There's Something About Mary. His peddled prizes have been featured in national magazines. Double Trouble, an ice-blue six-wheeler, wins the local low-rider shows every time, Marshall says. But Broken Spoke's most impressive bike hangs from the shop's ceiling. It's called Silver Bullet, and at first glance it almost looks like a Harley. How's that for a bike shop?
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.
Mitchell Kaplan has lotsa books. Books and books. He has books on photography, architecture, film, and music. Books of poetry and works of literature. Books by great authors. Books by obscure writers. Books on Cuba. Books on boxing. Books carried by no other bookstore in town. Kaplan has so many books, he moved to a new Coral Gables location this year, across the street from his old one. Much bigger. More room for his books. If you can't make it to Coral Gables, drop by the Lincoln Road store. It, too, is filled with books. Books and books and books.
Tucked in a tree-lined corner of Allapattah, this stucco garage painted with frescoes of San Lazaro and Santa Barbara is the real deal. Pigeons, doves, and roosters coo in cages in the back, ready to give it up for the orishas. Antlers hang overhead, and the shelves are stuffed with boxes of twigs, roots, and herbs. Everything you'd ever need to please your santo is here, as well as a plethora of potions, charms, and trinkets. If you don't know what you're doing, the friendly staff is happy to advise you. While you can find many an oddity, the hours are not one of them: Open 9:00 to 5:00 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
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."
The modifier "costume" implies that the jewelry either is gaudy or blatantly fake. And true enough, in many cases it is one or the other. But this high-end Lincoln Road boutique, which carries everything from children's toys to silver platters, features an extensive jewelry department where neither is true. In other words you can buy jewelry with real pearls but strung on wire, so the prices are in line. Other necklaces and bracelets may be real gold but set with sparkling crystals instead of expensive precious stones. Some earrings are vintage, gleaned from estate sales; some rings look as if they could be from garage sales; watches might look old but are completely new. Several things you can count on: fashion, fashion, and more fashion. Whether the trend is illusion necklaces or chains with pendants, 24 Collection will have them. We should all be costumed so well.
Franco Carretti did costume design for the Italian film director Sergio Leone and a raft of others, including John Huston, before moving to Miami in 1980. His collection of guises, vintage clothing, and meticulously rendered period pieces fills the upper stories of a four-story shop in the Design District. ABC caters to professionals. Designers from movies, television, and commercial shoots come here for Roaring Twenties gangster glam, Edwardian chic, Sixties hippie, and Seventies disco-mod. Seamstresses at ABC also sew original designs. A staff that builds those fantastic feathered headdresses and slinky showgirl outfits for the cruise-ship extravaganzas can handle most requests. No wonder amateurs like us line up around the block come Halloween to choose from the more than 20,000 outfits ABC has for rent. The selection runs the gamut of the alphabet -- from Adam and Eve and the Andrew Sisters to Zorro (called the Z-Bandit), albeit skipping a few letters here and there. In between A and Z there are Jane Fonda as Barbarella, the Beatles circa Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, and Jackie before she became O, as well as Batman, the Bride of Dracula, the Statue of Liberty, and an assortment of animals, including a frog, dog, chicken, cat, rabbit, parrot, pig, and rat. See ABC's Website for hours and a map.
"We design motorcycles that the client chooses from his dreams," Steven Baroukh says in a lilting French accent. Baroukh, along with his wife, Beatrice Ummels, and partner Yves Blanco, take standard-issue motorcycles and turn them into swooping constructs of steel and chrome. To review the designers' work is to transcend the conventional idea of what wheels, fenders, and engines do. They are themselves dreamers, romantics who sculpt everyday lead-sleds into organic, sensual shapes. A completely custom-built motorcycle can cost anywhere from $40,000 to $72,000. By then the design team's hands will have caressed every inch, internal and external, to lovingly bring it to shape. "Like a beautiful statue, we will bring smoothness to the form," Baroukh explains. "We create the parts, we weld them, we cut them." They've created outré concoctions such as a bike whose frame was encased in the shape of a woman on her back with her knees up, and a futuristic teardrop-shape white rocket. But as much as their focus is form, they are equally dedicated to function. Designs are thoroughly vetted to make sure custom parts won't interfere with the alignment, steering, and weight distribution of the bike. Joints are welded and tested. Bike owners don't need to completely reinvent their scooters. For between $3500 and $6500, the shop will customize a bike with paint, chrome, handlebars, fenders, and mirrors. They also do restoration work on vintage motorcycles. As Baroukh reminds, "Motorcycles are made to ride."
Volume means choice. Divers Direct Outlet has both. The 5000-square-foot Florida City showroom is thick with masks, fins, wetsuits, buoyancy compensators, tanks, regulators, spear guns, underwater cameras, and diving computers. This is important because one needs to compare and contrast. Finding the right piece of equipment is absolutely essential with dive gear. No one can afford a leaky mask or an ill-fitting fin 80 feet underwater. Major brands carried include Aqua Lung (formerly U.S. Divers), Mares, Dacor, and SeaQuest. Because Divers Direct Outlet (formerly Divers Outlet) is part of a chain founded in 1984 and based in Deerfield Beach, it can afford to keep its shelves stocked deep. All the workers are certified in the sport, with a scuba instructor and dive master also on staff. The store does teach and certify divers, but they don't try to diversify too much beyond that. Repairs are done offsite in Key Largo. There are no charter trips based out of the shop. "We pretty much stick to retail," manager Candy Tamborrino says, and they do it daily from 9:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.
There is a school of thought that it's cruel to keep a dog in the city where it will be locked up during the day in a small apartment or house. If Fido has too much energy and the twice-daily walk is not doing the job, finally there is an answer. You can send the little hound to day camp! Better yet, the camp counselors will pick the pooch up in the morning in a school bus and return in the afternoon a happy and exercised canine. Totally Dog is located in the Redland and can only be visited by appointment. It sits on more than two acres of land and features a four-foot-deep bone-shape pool, an obstacle course, beach sand, and doggy toys galore. Each day your animal will get chewy pig ear as a snack and even take a group nap to break up all that joyful running around. Campers usually number about 30 a day and must be neutered, housebroken, at least four months old, have all their shots, be flea-and-tick protected, and know how to play well with others. All the dogs are screened. Every dog goes through a $200 four-day training during which they learn the rules: how to get into the pool, voice response, and how to ride on the bus. Each day of camp after that costs $35. Call in advance because slots fill up quickly.