The eternal winner, and deservedly so. Given that so much of the overall retail scene is dominated by chain stores, and that in books the competition is especially stiff, it's heartening that Books & Books has managed to survive, indeed thrive. The store deserves kudos for its informed staff, its hosting of a wide variety of book-discussion groups, its hefty schedule of author readings and other events (of which a fair number are in Spanish, including the just-launched readings for niños), and its gem of a main store, with its delightful courtyard. And unlike the cafés at a number of the national bookstore emporiums, which have about as much charm as a college student center, the café at Books & Books is a decidedly pleasant enhancement to literary pursuits.

Readers Choice: Books & Books

Brightly colored beaded flags depicting vodou gods, snakes, and apparitions decorate the walls of Papa Paul's emporium of the spirits in Little Haiti. The flags drape above vitrines full of powerful objects such as wood-carved saints, hand-stitched satin kerchiefs in myriad hues, and cloth dolls with no faces. Painted maracas, devotional beads, and various perfumes and tonics for luck, love, and batting down evil spirits all can be found here. Papa keeps things friendly and welcoming, especially to the uninitiated. He also has space available for private consultations. If you're lucky, you might receive a tour of the back room -- a spacious garage decorated with worship murals used as a temple. You'll be luckier still if you are able to witness one of Papa's intense and beautiful ceremonies performed there.

A misnomer if we've ever seen one. Dan had a lot of loyal customers, so when Manfred and Josephine Wenzel immigrated here from Germany and took over the business 26 years ago, "We didn't change anything," Mrs. Wenzel says today. Completely utilitarian shop space, with all the artisan tools Mr. Wenzel brought from the old country, where he studied camera repair for three and a half years in the great German tradition: "No computers! Za more sophisticated za camera, za more trouble! I'm an old man from za old school! [Film] transport and electronic shutter speed are complicated." It's why virtually all of Miami's professional photographers patronize Dan's. Wenzel, of course, will work on digitals, which he predicts will take over completely in ten years. He's sophisticated in not wanting to name a "best" camera, but his voice rises when you mention Rolleiflex and Voigtlander, two traditional German camera manufacturers who, like Leica, set the standard. "Right now we're in business. Later, when za digitals vin, I'll sit at home and vatch the pool through the back door. But not yet!"

Sick of driving in a dirty car? At the venerable Leo's you can get your vehicle sprayed, scrubbed, and dried by a team of specialists for as little as ten dollars. Throw down an extra five bucks and they'll vacuum the inside too. You can also spend quite a bit more for a detailing that will make your wheels look brand-new. Be sure to set aside a half-hour or so for a straight wash as the folks here like to take their time and do a thorough job, which they've been doing at this location for years. The resulting gleam that will flicker off your car, an amazing effect that was nearly impossible when it was covered in dirt and bird doo, will be well worth the wait. And the wait is made quite pleasant by the adjacent presence of Andiamo, winner of last year's Best Gourmet Pizza.

Readers Choice: Busy Bee

Located in a nondescript strip mall for the past seventeen years, this small shop is easily overlooked -- but shouldn't be. Its interior is packed floor to ceiling with all the superhero-related collectibles one expects from comics' "golden age," right up to the current "collectors' age" (because a mint-condition Superman Action Comics #1 from the days your granddad was a kid could put your child through college). Also you'll find trading cards of sports stars and cartoon characters, action figures, eye-popping Day-Glo superhero T-shirts, and a full assortment of contemporary comics. But like all the best superheroes, this store has a secret identity. Ask nicely, and mild-mannered proprietor Glenn Lightfoot will slip into the back room and emerge minutes later as Bargain Bin Boy, savior of comic-book lovers who actually want to read the things rather than collect them. Instead of today's average $2.25 to $3.00 funny book (not so funny for roughly a fifteen-minute read), Lightfoot's bargain books are just 50 cents each. And it's good stuff, too, in good condition: lots of Batman, Superman, Spidey, Spawn, all the X-folk titles, even some graphic novels originally priced at five to ten dollars a pop.

Austin's has been serving the dive community since 1968. In Miami, that's a very long time indeed. Here's why the customers keep coming back and why Austin's has won this award twice before: a huge inventory from more than 75 vendors, a highly professional sales staff, experienced resident diving experts, and first-rate technical support in service and repairs. Underwater-photography equipment is a specialty, with an unrivaled selection of cameras ranging from $15.50 disposables to $1000 movie cameras. For novices or accomplished technical divers, Austin's has what you need.

Readers Choice: Austins Diving Center

Following a 2002 incident when a Key Biscayne resident drove into a parking lot via the exit and punctured all four tires on those mean-looking spikes they have at rental car outfits too, this flea market's general manager, Scott Miller, put up "about 500 traffic signs" so navigating the streets and parking lot "is no longer an adventure," he promises. Once you get inside, however, that's a different story. Open seven days from 6:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., the market -- eighteen years and going strong -- is teeming with more than 1000 vendors, including 70 offering farm-fresh produce, plus thirteen eateries. Shoppers and sellers come from around the world, and these days record crowds are pouring in, mostly on weekends, with an average of 85,000 hunting the sprawling grounds over two days. You can find most anything at this flea, but Miller notes, "We do not do gold-filled teeth." That was at a flea market across the county line in Broward, and supposedly those parking-lot dentists were shut down.

No one along the Boulevard of Broken Dreams that is Biscayne has done more to beautify the strip than florist Geraldo Rios. While the police mount sweeps of hookers and tricks and pimps, and city bureaucrats issue code-violation fines, Rios has taken his own initiative to improve his block by decorating the two-story building that houses his shop with hundreds of stuffed bears and other fuzzy friends to celebrate Valentine's and Mother's Day. Rios's decorations are not just beautiful, they're a kind of public service for all of us who forget about our sweeties and, heaven help us, even our mothers on these special days. The sheer excess of Rios's decorations reminds us of the approaching holiday -- and his special 24-hour schedule allows any errant son, daughter, or lover to drop in and pick a bouquet on the fly.

Readers Choice: Trias Flowers, Antiques & Gifts

This place carries more than just guitars. You can find musical instruments of all types, plus electronic gear like synthesizers, samplers, mixing boards, and DJ equipment. The guitar selection is huge, acoustic and electric, featuring brand names like Gibson, Fender, Korg, and Roland. What makes Guitar Center unique, though, isn't so much what they sell but who's selling. The sales staff are all experts, mostly musicians themselves, so you won't enter looking for something that sounds like raaa and leave with a piece that goes clang. While some music stores are paranoid about their inventory, Guitar Center allows you to touch everything. In fact it commonly attracts lots of folks who just want to fiddle around. Many resemble Wayne's World types who, like Wayne and Garth, obsess over instruments they can't afford. But most customers here can take home their dream Stratocaster because GC guarantees the lowest prices in town. On the other hand, who puts a price on dreams?

Are you ready for the End Times? They're coming. People ascribe different causes to the approaching apocalypse, but everyone knows it's nearly upon us. Whether the bottom drops out of the economy, terrorists turn our streets into Beirut, or God checks out Married by America and decides it's high time for the final reckoning, the few poor souls left to roam our city's blasted-out streets will stay alive only by dint of their preparedness. Miami Police Supply has all the gear you'll need for urban warfare and survival: camouflage and SWAT uniforms, emergency lights and sirens, bulletproof vests ($359 for a Triflex Level IIA), and brand-new .40-caliber Sig Sauer handguns (around $700, chicken feed for a gun described by a Miami Police Supply salesman as "the Mercedes of handguns"). The eager and knowledgeable black-clad pistoleros who staff Miami Police Supply will also be happy to show you their supply of cheaper weaponry, like the infamous Intratec 9mm, known as the cheap gun of choice for crack warriors in the Nineties and one of the weapons used in the Columbine school massacre.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®