Best Of :: Shopping & Services
Back in 1981, when Owen Lee and his wife Joan took a gamble on a business opportunity by purchasing a bicycle shop, it seemed a relatively straightforward enterprise. Inventory decisions were simple -- a limited number of manufacturers produced a limited number of models. Mountain bikes were unknown outside an elite group of enthusiasts in northern California. Since then the cycling world has been revolutionized. The number of manufacturers has exploded, and they're now producing numerous models, each available in a variety of sizes and colors. Lightweight aluminum frames have largely replaced heavy steel. Other technological advances, from shock absorbers to sophisticated shifting mechanisms, have transformed old fat-tire cruisers into sleek machines. Through it all the Lees, originally from Jamaica, have adapted and thrived. They've settled on Trek, Giant, and GT as their main brands, and stock numerous models of each. Volume purchasing allows them to lock in discounted prices. Three full-time mechanics means they can provide service seven days a week. They don't employ high-pressure salespeople and they value their customers enough to offer a 60-day in-house warranty for any problem at no cost (flat tires excepted). The Lees, who sell an average of 100 bikes each month, keep their expansive shop open Monday through Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. and Sundays from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
This is junkyard heaven, the place where cool, funky things go to die or to be bought or rented as the case may be. Chandeliers and traffic lights hang from the ceiling while stained-glass windows, Coca-Cola vending machines, marble busts, golf clubs, and bookshelves line the walls. Looking for a life-size bronze boar sculpture with green patina? It's here. A vintage, Jetsons-style Philco Predicta television set from the Fifties? Yep, right over there. A giant Head and Shoulders shampoo display bottle? Check the back. Old gas station signs, telephones, typewriters? Got 'em. Don't know what you're looking for? Give yourself at least an hour to walk through this Smithsonian-scale emporium. If you feel yourself getting tired, plop yourself down in that row of movie-theater seats over by the door.
If Laurenzo's were nothing more than the area's best Italian market (and most people say it is), it would still be worth writing about. But the 50-year-old institution is so much more: a slice of Little Italy in Miami-Dade County, an oasis of Old World charm, a portal onto the past. Laurenzo's isn't just a store. It's a milieu. And it comes with its own soundtrack, piped in direct from the Fifties and featuring a couple of Italian crooners you may have heard before. Where else can you get "Volare" with your veal? "Memories Are Made of This" with your mozzarella? "Sway" with your spaghetti? Ah, Laurenzo's. "That's Amore!"
"From the womb to the tomb and all moments in between." Those are the appropriate times for flowers and plants, according to the ebullient Jenny Kallert, who has run her famous flower shop since 1973. With the fastidious zip of a German-accented bee in pollination mode, she works in her environs making "creations," not mere arrangements. To Jenny, who in 1959 escaped communist East Germany with her family (all of whom were also florists), flowers are not just luxuries to be appreciated on special occasions. They are necessities, as vital to life as air, food, and water. She keeps things intimate by customizing each piece and working only with independently owned greenhouses instead of large-scale flower growers; Jenny's stock includes a variety of tulips, azaleas, orchids, and roses not normally sold at your everyday FTD stand.
Broward has Bob's and we have Worldwide. That's the best way to explain this store's perennial lock on this category. If you're looking for an obscure magazine or an out-of-town newspaper, this is where you must come. And if Worldwide doesn't have it, you're out of luck, bub. Regardless of what you were searching for initially, it's hard to imagine leaving Worldwide empty-handed. Several well-organized aisles offer up everything from the Observer (both London's and New York City's) to more colorful publications such as Paranoia! and Bitch. Best of all is an owner who is not only familiar with virtually every title in his store but the precise day of the week they're set to arrive. Never again will you miss an issue of Asian Cult Cinema.
A cameo to nestle in your cleavage. Rhinestones to ring your fingers. Austrian crystals to drape around your neck. No matter what manner of costume jewelry you seek, you'll most likely find it at this vintage shop, where numerous cases house quality watches, fobs, brooches, chains, chokers, and the like. An added advantage: Since C. Madeleine's accepts items on consignment (by appointment only), you can trade in those pieces that no longer tickle your fancy for some trinkets that do. Chances are you'll discover that one item you've always wished your great-grandmother had the good taste to wear -- and the good sense to pass down to you.
When the vindaloo you've eaten in restaurants just won't do, it's time to try making it yourself. The perfect place to stock up on supplies is Bombay Super Bazaar. This small market boasts a bounty of ingredients destined for innumerable Indian dishes from every region. Packed in bags of various sizes: every spice known to man (including elusive cardamom pods), chickpeas, lentils, assorted legumes, and fragrant basmati rice. A freezer holds meats and filled breads. Bunches of aromatic fresh herbs are available too. And for those less inclined to create things from scratch, shelves display a slew of sauces, soups, pastes, and chutneys that can be mixed with all sorts of elements for a quick meal.
An unofficial survey indicates many Miamians (well, at least three or four) do not buy anything, except groceries, anywhere but this flea market. Why run around to different malls and spend more, they reason, when on any given Sunday afternoon they can take Mom and the kids out to the pulguero (that's what the thrifty souls in the survey call it -- Spanish, you know, the preferred language of the majority of the sellers and clientele), plop down 50 cents to get in, a few more dollars for sodas or sno-cones, pick up the underwear or socks or mattress or kitchen table they need, and make a nice outing of it. A little extra change and you've got a stuffed bear that dances to merengue and a stunning pair of green plastic five-inch platform sandals. For today's busy American, this is where you get more for your dollar and your time!
We trolled bowling-alley parking lots, video arcades, tattoo parlors, and public handicap ramps to survey skate rats about the best shop in town. Whether it was in Kendall, Westchester, or Aventura, the overwhelming favorite was Fritz's. This Lincoln Road storefront distinguishes itself by not only being the coolest place to assemble a new skateboard, but the friendly staff is knowledgeable enough to hook you up with the best trucks, king pins, and baddest-looking deck around. The fact that Fritz's has been on Lincoln Road for more than half a decade is testament enough to its popularity. Many of the independent boutiques that once dotted the mall folded as rents skyrocketed. So skate on over. It's still not a crime to Rollerblade on wannabe-tony Lincoln Road. But skateboarders beware: You're likely to be busted.
Zoom by too fast on Biscayne Boulevard and you might mistake Morningside Antiques for a small house. And it certainly was once upon a time. Now it's an intimate antique mall featuring a series of rooms that act as booths run by different dealers. Wander through leisurely and you're sure to come upon treasures: tasteful midcentury modern marvels that seem as if they were dropped here from outer space, prim and proper Victoriana, swanky Art Deco delights, rustic French provincial furniture and decorative arts, swinging Sixties and Seventies lamps and the like, tiny silver spoons, un-PC Black Americana, colorful printed linens, and sparkling trinkets galore. So what if the Baroque mahogany rocking chair you bought looks a little odd with the boomerang Formica coffee table in your living room? Tell the friends about to commit you that your style is eclectic -- not schizophrenic.
If you're looking for a stark example of the difference between a corporate giant and a locally owned emporium, just mosey through the carefully stocked aisles of New Concept Video, which serves up practically everything its surrounding community is after: imported fashion magazines, of-the-moment dance-music CDs, and of course an array of offbeat titles -- both new and old, foreign and homegrown. What really makes New Concept shine, however, isn't just the presence of recent highly touted indie flicks that never graced Miami's theaters (Lisa Picard is Famous, Wet Hot American Summer, George Washington, the list sadly goes on), but a redefinition of that very phrase "blockbuster." Don't have Showtime? Still curious about that cable channel's gay telenovela Queer As Folk and its resultant buzz? Forget about hitting your nearest Blockbuster. That chain's Miami outlets dithered for more than two months before finally overcoming prudish moral concerns and deciding to stock tapes of the series' episodes. As for other "controversial" films, such as Bad Lieutenant, Blockbuster demands its very own customized edit before it'll deign to carry the picture. Over at New Concept, however, from its first day of release there was an entire wall of Queer As Folk (on both VHS and DVD), ensuring the type of "always available" rental status that this store's rivals only extend to more hackneyed displays of male bonding such as Pearl Harbor. We'll stick with the shop that keeps its priorities, ahem, straight.
In the Bird-Ludlam Shopping Center there are three places to get your nails done, but only one salon will do if you want a seven-dollar manicure and more chisme (gossip) than you can possibly process. While your cuticles are being pushed back and the polish is being applied, you'll hear about what happened this week in the Mexican telenovelas, reviews of Enrique Iglesias's newest release, and why the latest fatal disease to strike Fidel Castro means that for el tirano the end is surely near. Knowledge of Spanish is a help, but the dish comes in English too.