In your attempt to hightail it to the Aventura Mall to get your Gap on, you may have unknowingly driven right past a true fashion treasure along Biscayne Boulevard. You won't find capris in C. Madeleine's -- unless they're from the Fifties, and they most certainly won't be khaki. A veteran on the vintage scene, owner Madeleine Kirsh pays exquisite detail to the items that go into her 10,000-square-foot boutique, which she opened four years ago. Its inventory arranged by decade, Madeleine's offers everything from Civil War military jackets (you gotta ask, because this kind of stuff is holed up in a back-room vault) to gowns admired by celeb fans such as Naomi Campbell. Although you may run into a few bargains, be prepared to pay for history -- this is, after all, a vintage store (not thrift) -- and it wouldn't be unusual to stumble upon a $60,000 mink coat. But then again, do you really need another pair of Old Navy gaucho pants?
The bottom line is this: Believe none of what you hear and half of what you see. The duality is this: Customers might be desperate survivors willing to part with a treasured item for chump change, fully aware they'll never get it back. Or they might be regular folk who need a loan and are in a situation that requires them to pay usurious interest. The other duality is that pawnbrokers can be viewed as businesspeople who serve a need, or as slimejerks who exploit human weakness. Also, pawn-shoppers might find reasonable bargains or get hustled with substandard merchandise. But Quick Cash seems willing to help the desperate and serve the loanee. It displays a selection of apparent bargains and offers a clean and well-kept joint. There's all the standard gear: jewelry, guns, computers, guitars, DVDs, VHS tapes, videogames, TVs, stereo components, car stereos, mowers, power tools of all types. You can get a Tec-9 for $300 or a big ol' Glock .40 for $479; decent-looking (and fully tested) electronics generally go for well under $200. You'll also find a few oddities: a jai-alai cesta, a diving suit, a welder's tank. The clerks tend to be friendly, even jovial, which may salve the desperate and encourage buyers. They seem willing and eager to offer loans, conscientious about what they sell and for how much, and nice. Believe it or not.
Botanica La Caridad may seem an unlikely sanctuary. It's tucked inside a nondescript warehouse, surrounded by big-rig parking lots and underwear wholesalers. But it has become a favorite refuge for the downtrodden, the unlucky, and the demoralized. Ailing? Why not make an offering to La Caridad's life-size effigy of Babalu-Aye. A grizzled figure in a burlap cape, he heals the sick and guards the gate between life and death. Or perhaps you're haunted by pesky spirits. Try dousing yourself with one of the fragrant potions, like Agua Florida and Espanto Muerto, that line La Caridad's shelves. The shop also offers solutions to money troubles, legal woes, drug addiction, and family quarrels. "Basically whatever your problem, we can help," explains Jesœs Suarez, a spry 43-year-old Santer’a priest, whose family has owned La Caridad for more than two decades. Most days he performs rituals and doles out spiritual advice from the shop's modest back-room sanctuary. Meanwhile his parents, Enriqueta and Demonstenes, attend to customers on the sales floor, which is stocked with an unrivaled variety of Afro-Caribbean spiritual wares. Among them are fresh herbs, delicate ceramics, colorful candles, traditional clothing, fragrant oils, and elaborate garlands of multihue beads. La Caridad also carries some less-common (and more-intriguing) goods. Take for instance the plastic tubs filled with deer legs and horsetails. It's difficult to understand the import of such items without delving into the rich mythology of Santer’a -- and parsing the tastes and foibles of its deities. But the affable Suarez clan is eager to help even the most suave of tenderfoots learn about the oft-misunderstood faith. "This is a beautiful religion," says Jesœs. "We teach people to move beyond the hesitance and fear so they can experience its power."
USA Flea Market
On Saturday at 5:00 p.m. this indoor market becomes the epicenter of Liberty City, the area's downtown social and economic heart. It's where you can get your hair done, a tattoo, and an airbrushed T-shirt, and watch a bootleg DVD (no need to drop $10 to see 16 Blocks) -- all before you even think about shopping for threads -- which is an event all its own. But really, a trip to Flea Market USA is not only about what's on the to-buy list, but also about witnessing true community.
Those who live on South Beach know what a hassle it is not to have a Target, a Whole Foods Market, or a PetSmart nearby. If we're going to leave our big-box-lacking island oasis for the sprawling retail jungles of the mainland, it had better be worth the drive. With the right tunes blasting from our sunroofs, the trek to Aventura Commons is an enjoyable little road trip. We wish the Target was a super one, but we're happy to have a Target next to a Whole Foods next to a PetSmart. There's also a Best Buy, a great liquor store -- Cellar's Wine & Spirits -- and The Original Pancake House. Ample free parking is always a delight to Beach-dwellers, and the people of Aventura are so darn friendly you will really feel like you've gone out of town for the day.
Flower Megastore
Mostly they travel by plane from farms in Colombia. Those that aren't destroyed by U.S. Customs are trucked into refrigerated warehouses for distribution to retailers. They are then sold at floral shops and by petal peddlers at intersections or roadside kiosks. Each time they change hands, flowers lose a bit of freshness while increasing in price. This versatile showroom, office, and warehouse allows the public to cut out the middlemen and buy directly from a wholesaler. Open Monday to Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., this joint provides the highest-quality blooms: tulips from Holland or North Carolina (about $3 per stem), roses (a bundle of 25 for $10), carnations ($2 or so each), and tons of other colorful and sweetly aromatic blossoms priced to go. (Ask and they'll create a custom arrangement as well.) From large-scale florists to corner purveyors, this sweet-smelling depot serves everyone seeking the finest blooms.
Off the beaten path of Krome Avenue, New Source is almost exclusively wholesale, but the proprietors will make an exception if you pull up and start browsing. Not as orchid- or palm-centric as some of its competitors, New Source has acres of reasonably priced ferns, tropicals, and flowering plants. A lemon button fern, purple lantana shrub, or Mexican heather -- in a six-inch pot -- costs less than $3. There are plenty of palms -- from the Adonidia in a seventeen-inch pot for $120, to the Washigtonia in a ten-inch pot for $6.50. Red hibiscus in a ten-inch pot goes for $5.50, and bougainvillea on a trellis in a fourteen-incher is $30. Owner Raul Mendoza is friendly and knowledgeable. He'll help you find an exotic island plant or foliage ideal for your windowsill. There are also supplies such as ground cover, fertilizer, peat moss, and potting soil. New Source is open from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 8:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. Saturday.
Scrapbooks & Stuff
Since the invention of photography, pictures have been thrown into plain albums where they fade into dust. Or maybe they're just crammed into boxes and shoved in a closet somewhere, forgotten until some distant aunt comes to visit and begs to take a look. Yet a recent artistic movement is redefining the way photos are presented. It's called scrapbooking, and it has become so popular that even Target has a section dedicated to the craft. If you want to make a beautiful scrapbook, though, skip the superstore and head to Scrapbooks & Stuff. This shop stocks even the things you never knew you needed for a fantastic memory album. It has stickers, die-cuts, ribbons, beads, and even decorative staples. An entire wall is covered with just the books, and each set of shelves is dedicated to a specific scrapbook category. It even shows samples pages of various adhesives. You can buy scissors that cut in a curvy pattern and hole punchers that make any shape. Before you purchase the whole store, however, check out the crop room -- just bring your paper, and the friendly staff will provide all the tools you need to create your book. If you're not confident enough to venture into the scrapbooking world on your own, register for one of the shop's many classes. Instructors will teach you some great techniques and make you a scrapbooking addict before the first page of your album dries. Hours are Monday through Thursday 10:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m., Friday 10:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m., Saturday 10:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m., and Sunday noon to 5:00 p.m.
Ransom Everglades School
There are plenty of pricey private schools in Miami where kids can get prepped for Hah-vard or Yale. They all have awe-inspiring campuses with topnotch athletic facilities and stimulating arts programs. But in too many cases, the youngsters must drive, walk, or bike to class. We chose Ransom Everglades because we want our kids to kayak to school. Or, better yet, if the wind is right, we want them to sail on over and slip the family sloop into the Coconut Grove school's Biscayne Bay dock. Then they can walk through the thick, old-growth hammock to class. Of course we like Ransom because of its quality academics, its Zen-like campus setting, and it's track record of Ivy League admits. But we love Ransom because of its pioneering eco-oriented curriculum (for twenty years, ninth-graders have been going on Outward Bound canoe trips to the Everglades) and its unique seagoing curriculum (marine biology, kayaking, sailing, a wooden-boat-building workshop). We also dig the school's long tradition of theater. A stone's throw from the Coconut Grove Playhouse, Ransom has classes on playwriting, script analysis, and even musical theater -- last year the school put on a production of the racy The Laramie Project. Total tuition: $20,400 per year. But don't give up hope -- you can apply for financial aid.
A & M Comics
Dust-coated, cluttered, and filled with vintage goodies, A & M Comics looks more like your grandmother's attic than a retail store. Stepping into the dimly lit space, you have to be careful to bypass customers squatting over the extensive collection of comics piled in the narrow pathways. Very quickly you'll suffer sensory overload; the gems will be lost among the indistinguishable mass of stock. As your vision adjusts to the heaps of boxes and cellophane covers, it'll be easy to see why A & M has been around since 1974. Aside from the seemingly infinite amount of mainstream and independent comics, there is a well-rounded selection of collectibles -- an H.R. Pufnstuf figure, a $400 1940 Superman jigsaw puzzle, ancient porn magazines, and Mad magazine Issues 1 through 40. There's even an early edition of Charles Dickens's works. And the employees are pleasantly unpretentious. As the chatty fellow behind the counter will tell you: "We're messy and disorganized, but we have great customer service."

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®