Best Of :: Shopping & Services
True story: Vacationing Miami Beach homeowner returns to find house ransacked. Not much missing except one thing -- valuable painting, lifted off the wall and hustled away. Chances of recovery approach zero. Weeks later, somewhere in California, man purchases laptop computer via eBay. Receives computer. Turns it on, discovers many files, some personal. Thinks: Uh-oh ... must be stolen. Snoops around hard drive, uncovers likely owner's name and phone number. Calls. Miami Beach resident answers, confirms it's his computer, stolen weeks earlier. Beach guy calls cops, who contact California buyer, who leads them to eBay, which provides identity of seller. Cops contact seller -- a Miami pawnshop. Pawn broker, following Florida law, has record of kid who pawned stolen computer. Cops nab kid. They have a nice little chat. Kid decides to cooperate. They go for a drive. Kid points out various places he's pawned stolen goods. Cops pay a visit to one of them, I-95 Pawn. Caged in by bulletproof glass and iron bars, pawn broker, a burly biker with Glock semiautomatic strapped to his bountiful waist, displays surprising proficiency on computer. Quickly pulls up items kid has pawned. Cops scan printout, match items to stolen-property list. Start making calls. Burglary detective and owner of ransacked Miami Beach home drop in on I-95 Pawn. Gun barely visible beneath prodigious belly, pawn broker fires up computer, strokes chin whiskers, disappears into office, returns with large framed object, asks: Is this it? Homeowner smiles. Detective smiles. Pawn broker smiles. Yes, that's it. One last thing. Homeowner by law must buy it back for same price pawn broker paid: $55. Homeowner does so happily. Value of (undamaged) painting: $5000.
Jeffrey and Christie Wolfe opened their boutique wine store in January 2001, bringing to the enterprise substantial experience. Christie had been marketing manager for Augustan Wine Imports while Jeffrey had worked as sommelier and general manager at Norman's restaurant. But experience alone does not guarantee survival for new business ventures. Furthermore, when you want to sell wine and nothing but wine, and you refuse to stock supermarket brands, relying instead on small, family-owned wineries, you need a lot more than experience -- you probably need to have your head examined. But the Wolfes have beaten the odds. Not only was their store anointed last year as America's Best New Wine Shop by Food & Wine magazine, the husband-and-wife team have managed to attract a loyal and growing clientele that includes everyone from novices to collectors. In their postindustrial-cool store you won't find Kendall-Jackson or Beringer or Yellow Tail. You will, however, find expert assistance guiding you to new discoveries in your price range. Bargain bottles from $10 to $20 crowd the floor while pricier labels are stacked floor-to-ceiling along one wall. With an active e-mail list and regular, affordable tastings that draw crowds, the Wolfes can raise a glass to that most elusive of business goals: success.
Though Play It Again Sports is a chain, the stores are also franchised, so this particular PIAS, owned and operated by Rich Tere, has the Miamian in mind. The store operates on the principle that after you take the first few checks to the upper lip on the rough grass in the field hockey tournament or sprain your wrist breaking a Rollerblading fall, you'll rethink those weekend passions for something along the lines of speed walking ... and you'll want to unload that gear. At Play It Again, you can buy, sell, or trade everything from boxing gloves to tennis rackets to golf clubs and even luge helmets. The prices are right, so by the time the summer heat drives you to reconsider the walking path, you can pick up a gently used bowling ball -- cheap.
Comic book shops used to have a certain smell to them. It was the oft stale but always pleasant odor of hundreds of thousands of newsprint blotter pages, colorfully inked and full of imagination. But that is seldom the case these days as comic shops have gone to the toys, lining their stores with more heroic and villainous action figures than the comics that inspired their creation in the first place. Except for one: A & M Comic Books in West Miami. It's a treasure chest of comics ranging from popular Golden Age Marvel and DC titles to current, avant-garde series from alternative publishers such as Dark Horse. And the guys who work there can always bring you up to speed on the state of the X-Men or the Green Lantern, in case you haven't picked up a copy since just after your discovery that girls don't dig superheroes as much as you do. But when delving into the rows and rows of back issues, take heed: The big guy with the goatee who's always behind the register will explain that "little fairies don't come in here at night and put everything back in order." Hey, we never said it was the most polite comic book shop.
During the Eighties, Miami was littered with record shops. There were no fewer than six independent and a couple of chain stores along North Miami Beach Boulevard alone. Maybe it was the changeover to the higher wholesale prices of CDs or the explosion of the Internet, but now there's just one real player in North Miami-Dade. Not that Blue Note is a bad record store. It's great by any standard, and what would've been at a half-dozen locations is now conveniently collected at two spots. (Though some audiophiles legitimately complain about the ghettoization of jazz -- which was Blue Note's raison d'être in the golden Eighties -- to a warehouse a mile away from the main store.)
A bizarre bazaar -- structurally Middle Eastern, culturally Latin American -- this supersize movable market in the greyhound track's parking lot smacks of Toffler: a futuristic mall that appears each Saturday and each Sunday, then vanishes. The dealers (Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans, Costa Ricans, Mexicans, Guatemalans, you name it) arrive at the break of day and, within an hour, erect pipe-rope-canvas kiosks stocked with clothes, sundries such as toothpaste and perfume, jewelry, party favors, shoes, hats, tools, pet supplies, xylography, statuary, paintings, seafood, produce, hubcaps, plants both potted and in hanging baskets, toilet seats, batteries, furniture, even electronics such as stereo and computer components. Buyers who need only, say, five T-shirts (cost: ten dollars, total) can still enjoy eight or nine hours of browsing by pondering unusual items or by overhearing a young couple -- studying gilt necklaces priced at five dollars -- ask, "Sir, is this real gold?" With food and drink, merchandise unbound, and bargains unbeatable, pop-up malls might be the way of retail for Generation Z, or whatever tomorrow's children become. Future schlock? Not if you have only five bucks and need a watch or a bottle of new cologne.
Even if it were just another bombed-out shell of a strip center at an indeterminate point of the overused, Hummer-thronged dead leaves highway memorialized by the Allman Brothers, the Dadeland Mall would still win the battle of the big boxes for the singular virtue of housing Italianate design store and Miami original Arango. Owner and Arango Design Foundation founder Judith Arango Henderson died in the summer of 2003, but the store, a south county fixture since the Sixties, continues. At Arango you can purchase a $4000 bed with a hydraulically hoisted mattress under which to store your valuables, or a $5 napkin ring to make place settings sparkle, both, along with everything in between, splashed with the unmistakable élan of the Capitoline Wolf. Dadeland has lots of other reasons to shout Ciao Bella! The mall is easily accessed by bus and Metrorail (it has its own stop) and offers plenty of free parking. All the comforting chains -- the Gap, Forever XXI, Foot Locker, and Victoria's Secret -- are present, along with the more esoteric L'Occitane and Sephora. There are even touches of architectural whimsy (Burdines-Macy's is unavoidably a central thoroughfare) and cleverness (an alcoved food court prevents eau de Chick-fil-A from permeating your purchases).