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Best Of 2005


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Best Of :: Shopping & Services

Best Reason to Avoid Riverfront

Wait a second. This looks familiar. Yes, it's on the water, and yes, the boats are cool -- but something's amiss. Do you see the kiosks selling $12 sunglasses, little panda figurines, and beaded bracelets and displaying the "We can write a name on any buckle" sign? Do you hear the sounds of a cover/garage band playing "Brown Eyed Girl" for the umpty-jillionth time? Have you tried the $3.99, you-get-what-you-pay-for lunch special at Max's Grille? Are you seriously telling me that you're buying "home décor" from a store that also sells T-shirts remarking "mr. winkie wants to buy you a drinkie"? Do you hear the visitor from the Midwest comment about the whole setting, "It just seethes with tacky energy"? You say this is prime downtown commercial real estate and a centerpiece for the whole county -- but this is common, this is fungible, this is derivative, this is a Hooters above a Johnny Rockets. This looks a lot like -- a damned mall. People come from all over the world to visit Fort Lauderdale. And when they leave, this is what they tell their friends about. Or not.

Personal Best

As owner and landlord for the past 40 years of the Fort Lauderdale Swap Shop, the second-largest flea market in the country, Preston Henn knows a lot about sales pitches and asphalt-level marketing. Want to gather a crowd? Get the calliope rumbling and a barker pitching dreams and lurid promises. Henn long ago got the idea of drawing customers to his 80 acres of marketing chaos by givin' 'em a circus and amusement rides.

"We've got a free circus every day," says Henn, the old pitchman stepping up. "We've got a carnival with a Ferris wheel and bumpy rides. I liked the circus when I was a kid. I liked the rides, the scarier the better. What do I like about it now? It works." Best Liquor Store Liquor and Wine Merchant

In an item-by-item price comparison with six other liquor stores in the area on 1.75-liter bottles of Myers Rum, Jose Cuervo Tequila, and Absolut Vodka, Liquor and Wine Merchant tied for the second cheapest, with a combined total of $100.97 for the three. What makes the dollar stretch further in the fun-to-shop atmosphere is the advice proffered by the round-cheeked boys behind the counter, who really seem to know a bit about tippin' the ol' bottle. In keeping with their motto, "See the Round Boys for a Square Deal," the thick-shouldered young man behind the counter advised, "Try Svedka instead of Absolut. It's distilled five times instead of three." With a price tag of $19.99 instead of $30.99 for Absolut, that brings the total down to $89.97 for three hefty bottles of good party liquor. So when it's time to throw down with friends, the Round Boys are going to leave you enough dough for mixers.

Best Cheap Thrill in Broward

If someone's too ugly, obnoxious, or just plain weird to sit in the audience at a taping of the Jerry Springer Show, where do they go? Apparently, to watch NWA (National Wrestling Alliance) matches, which take place at various locales around the state, often at the Bergeron Rodeo Grounds in Davie. The freakishness, thank goodness, isn't limited to the spectators. Inside the ring, you'll see a parade of waxed chests, tree-trunk thighs, and teeny man-bikinis. Current NWA superstars include "Black Nature Boy" Scoot Andrews. In this warped entertainment vortex, the crowd goes ape-shit for characters like Double Deuce, a tag team of two guys whose weenies are feebly noticeable through their clownish purple spandex. Their masculinity, however, is not to be doubted when they bust out their signature finishing move -- called "Balls on Your Chin." Such antics, of course, make for great family entertainment. Almost better than the wrestling in the ring is the sideshow -- when a bunch of 9-year-olds run up and tell the losing wrestlers that they're pussies; then the bikini-clad 35-year-olds growl and chase the kids around the arena. Each show gets you about three hours of delicious weirdness, for about 12 cheap bucks.

Best Reggae Record Store

Wedged between a Vietnamese soup house and a tropical ice cream parlor, Rankin Records rounds out a truly multiculti strip mall (there's a store selling Middle Eastern goods around the corner) along busy Highway 441. Unlike usual reggae suspects you'll find at your suburban CD megastore, Rankin leaves the pricey Bob Marley box sets for Johnny-come-lately types and instead focuses its stock on the needs of discriminating West Indian expats. Put it this way -- you probably won't find the collected works of Ras Shiloh at your local Best Buy. Obscure offerings issued on tiny, mom-'n'-pop labels abound. Small and loud (like any good reggae shop should be), Rankin is the place to find local recording artists from Screwdriver to Tanto Irie on CD, cassette, and even 12-inch vinyl singles. A case full of DVD and videotapes is where you'll finally discover that live Yellowman show you've been looking for. As you'd expect, Rankin's interior is flush with new vinyl albums, including one whole wall devoted to soca compilations decorated with colorful and racy cover art (who knew they made bathing suits that small?) and a healthy selection of old-school soul and R&B discs for Gramps to pore over. Most impressive is the store's commitment to representing every segment of the West Indian musical universe, its bins packed with "calypsoca" collections galore. With seminal artists like Mighty Sparrow acknowledging the presence of the Trini Massive in South Florida, Rankin has the island vibe sewn up.

Best Music Store
Modern Music

You probably haven't noticed Modern Music tucked back from this busy boulevard, where you risk life and limb by gawking. But this shop has garnered the attention of the music-minded because of its friendly staff and range of instruments. This isn't one of those cavernous chain music stores; you're always within conversation range of the people who have the answers -- and they're always ready to dicker on the prices. Inventory includes instruments, electronic equipment, music books, and accessories. Four long rows of electric and acoustic guitars dangle from above, including an eye-catching, butterscotch-blond Fender bass for $899, which is appealing enough to serve as a wall hanging. A Jay Turser acoustic guitar features the Statue of Liberty carved into the wood below the strings, a patriotic flourish selling for just under $400. For a more exotic sound, pick up a darbuka drum for only $54. The store doesn't cater just to five-piece rock bands either. Its rent-to-own plan for orchestral instruments begins as low as $16 a month for the basics -- flutes, trumpets, violins, and the like -- to $113 a month for high-end pieces, such as the baritone sax.

320 E. Oakland Park Blvd., Oakland Park, 33334
Best Place (for Would-Be DJs) to Buy Vinyl

Along with a thorough selection, visual impact is crucial at a record store. You want people to walk in and immediately wonder, preferably out loud, "Holy crap, where'd they find all this freakin' vinyl?!" If sheer overload is the name of the game, newcomer Super Soul Records gets the gold. Do the math: 500 milk crates, each holding about 100 records. That's about, what? Fifty thousand freakin' records, that's what. Storeowner King George Johnson has been a vinyl archaeologist in New York City for more than 20 years, unearthing rare soul, disco, funk, Latin, R&B, acid jazz, and techno records since the early '80s. He and his son Jamal packed up a U-Haul and shipped a portion of his collection to Fort Lauderdale to open Super Soul. "King Herc used to come by the house all the time," Jamal, who's the store manager, says of his heady Harlem upbringing. The 20-year-old Jamal has been immersed in his dad's collection since he can remember, and he often hits local hip-hop events, like Rock Bottom Hip-Hop at the Fort Lauderdale Saloon and Catalyst in Pembroke Pines, with crates in hand and records for sale, like Tupac's "Still I Rise" for only $20. That kind of service is nice, but to really get Super sold, get lost in the endless stacks at the store.


Best Reason to Avoid Riverfront: Cheese


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