Just moved to Florida from Alaska and fallen in love with that cloud-like purple flowering tree you see everywhere? Got spots on the orchids? Worms in the tomatoes? Scared of repotting? Need some advice on salt-tolerant landscaping? Or on native plants? Volunteers at the state's county extension service to the rescue. Master Gardeners have completed an intensive course of study and are available five days a week from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. to answer your gardening and plant questions. It's a well-used service. The office in Palm Beach took more than 160,000 phone calls last year. But when you talk to one of the Master Gardeners, you never feel rushed. They treat you as though you are the only tragic plant killer in the world, and then they give you advice that just might be life-transforming.

OK, we're all just a little sick of Van Gogh, Klimt, that French poster with the black cat on it, and the black-and-white photograph of workers high above New York City while building Rockefeller Center. Don't get us wrong -- these are all wonderful little pieces of art and history, but they're spent like the latest radio track from Coldplay. We're looking for something unique and new (as possible in this corporate mass-produced world) to throw up on our walls, so we go to Art and Beyond in the Galleria Mall. The place has a huge selection of art and landscapes and photographs. There are all sorts of contemporary artists and great

vintage kitsch ads and movie posters. The last time we strolled into the store, we left with two prints that give you

an idea of the range of the place: an abstract painting of horseracing by Veloy Vigil and the Lolita poster from Stanley Kubrick's 1962 classic. But

I'm not going into any more detail

here. Half the fun is losing yourself a little while flipping the stacks to see what's next.

Bob's is crammed with books for which the public is not clamoring (witness the large section on survivalism and weaponry), laden with kinky sex material that some customers might find off-putting (see whips for sale on display above the cash register), and its shelves are fraught with arcane literary magazines and poetry quarterlies whose readership comprises a paper-thin segment of the reading public. Bob's (the store's namesake departed more than 30 years ago, leaving Sherry Steinberg and Seth and Bonnie Cohen to carry on) is the creation of bonafide bibliomaniacs, i.e., people who own their own shop and put in it what they want, best-seller lists and massive monthly returns be damned. In a place where the literary selection includes Girlyhead, Bitch, and Wonka Vision as well as Granta and Zoetrope, riffling yields gold. To find Atlantic Monthly, one pushes aside a copy of Bret Easton Ellis' American Psycho and sorts through overlapping copies of Zink, Razor, Vellum, and American Cowboy before finding it in the business section near the Harvard Business Review, Vending Times, and the tantalizing Minnesota Law & Politics. And, yeah, it's true, you can find some of this stuff at your local big-box bookstore. And there you can carry the magazine to the little café, buy a latte and an overpriced muffin, take a seat, and read to your heart's content. But doesn't it bother you just a little that some wonk sensed that the predilections of bookish intellectual introverts, such as yourself, could be marketed to the masses? And that they turned out to be right? Bob's doesn't sell lattes. It doesn't have a café. There's a park bench outside the front door. And somehow, in our overengineered retail landscape, that's comforting.
We're warning you now: Loehmann's is not a place to go if you've got 20 minutes to kill. Or if you plan on "just looking." But, girlfriend, if you've got a few hours (minimum) to spare and cash to burn, well, you're in for a shopping experience bordering on orgasmic. We're talking prices slashed up to 65 percent on Valentino, Donna Karan, Calvin Klein, Fendi, Betsey Johnson, and other designers. Need a sporty outfit for next week's brunch? You'll find it here. A slick suit for a job interview? Ditto. Jaw-dropping cocktail dress? Oh yeah. Our favorite part of the store is the Back Room, where the fanciest frocks are stored. By the way, you'll also find some men's clothes, as well as designer purses, jewelry, lingerie, perfumes, and shoes. By the way, according to the store's style aficionados, this season it's all about pink, be it a T-shirt or pair of earrings. Happy shopping.
Think every Publix is the same? Well, think again. All Publixes (or is it Publii?) may have the standard supermarket fare -- a produce section, dairy, butcher, breads -- basically a section for all of the food groups, with various household goods and junk food filling the gaps. A few stores have a good deli section. But how many boast a food court and full-time sushi chefs? Landlocked Tamarac may not have a lot going for it, but the residents of this suburb can at least point to their Publix with pride. As urban sprawl begins to crawl outward, those of us who remain in the city will have to put up with ever-more-shameful excuses for Publixes as the new stores being built out west make ours look like Third World marketplaces.

There's not really anything practical about an eight-inch platform heel. It's clunky, hard to walk in, even dangerous if you don't know what you're doing. But tack that baby onto a pair of lucite slides or some go-go boots and you've got the only uniform you need to work in any of South Florida's strip clubs. Daniel Rose realizes this. The shoe designer and salesman says he worked his way across the country, selling stripper shoes from California to New York, before realizing how much money he could make down here. Rose sells both custom-made and mass-marketed Lucite, metal, and wooden-heeled shoes out of his East Commercial Boulevard shop, but only to the customers he likes. Think of him as the shoe Nazi. If you've given Rose a hard time in the past by trying to bargain him down or wasted his time by browsing but not buying, he'll remember your face and won't even unlock the door to the store when you ask him to buzz you in. But if he really likes you, he'll even let you into the back room of the shop where he sells the costumes that go with the shoes. There's nothing practical about these either, but if you're buying neon-green translucent mules with eight- or nine-inch heels, you're probably not the practical type.
If one lives in Florida long enough, he eventually crosses a line in his insufferable Northeastern or Midwestern aesthetic elitism. One marker is when you start to appreciate the cheesy excesses of tourist chic, deeply appreciate it. Have touches of Florida begun creeping into your life? Do palm Christmas ornaments seem right somehow? Seashell figurines suddenly appear cute instead of horrifying? Don't be afraid. Cheese is its own reward, and Jezebel's has a coconut load of these sorts of doodads, albeit in upscale versions, to feed your new appetite. So if you now understand why dashboard hula girls... and boys... are appropriate Florida kitsch even though they are technically Hawaiian, welcome, you've finally arrived. One of South Florida's premier vintage-clothing stores, Jezebel's also has vintage bark-cloth curtains, orange-scented soaps and candles, map-of-Florida potholder mitts, and surfer-girl nightlights. 'Nuff said?
Yes, the folks behind the counter at CD Warehouse are well-aware that their shop smells like donuts (blame the thin wall separating them from next-door Dunkin). No, you can't use the bathroom, so please don't ask. However, feel free to hit these music fiends with any and all questions -- if they don't know the answer, they'll find someone who does. CD Warehouse does an admirable job of buying mostly obscure, hard-to-find collectibles, keeping a steady stream of used stuff mingling with the big sellers. It's almost impossible for small independent retailers such as this to keep pace with department stores and online shopping, but CD Warehouse survives by taking in secondhand artifacts (we found Legendary Pink Dots and Violet Indiana on one visit) and offering them to the next savvy shopper -- keeping the circle of cool alive.
Guy pulls into a garage with his flat left-rear tire in his trunk and his "donut" spare nearly flat barely keeping his car rolling. A shaven-headed, goateed mechanic beckons him to an open bay, then jumps out with the flat-repair kit and the pneumatic thingy that removes lugnuts. (Hey, if the guy in question knew what that thingy was really called, he wouldn't be taking his car to a freakin' garage, now would he? So shut up.) The mechanic removes the offending drywall screw from the tire, patches it, then removes the donut (using the thingy, which makes that high-pitch whining noise, evoking the pits at Talladega), inflates it, and sets it aside. He then replaces the patched tire (more thingy noises), inflates it, then even puts the donut back in the guy's trunk. Guy says, "How much?" "Five bucks," the mechanic says.

"I don't have any cash," the guy says, pulling out his credit card.

"Ah, forget it," says the mechanic, waving his hand dismissively. "Don't worry about it."

Dumbfounded, the guy stammers, "Thanks, man," and drives off.

And that, dear readers, is how a garage wins Best Of two years in a row.

While most antiques stores are satisfied to offer the customer all manner of metal lunch boxes, dated political buttons, incomplete sets of china, and old movie and music posters, Bobby V's means business. Sure, there's a few of those outdated doodads here and there, but most of the store is given over to antiquated furnishings. Here you'll find dressers, armoires, and headboards, without all the machine-made trim on the tables and chairs you'd find at Rooms to Go. One oaken armoire dates back to the turn of the century. A chest appears to be Edwardian, while another might be Victorian, and several other pieces look as if they could be named after English royalty as well. The faint of heart, or perhaps more accurately, the faint of wallet, may want to stay away, but if you yearn for the sort of quality craftsmanship that just can't be found in today's assembly-required world, Bobby has got the furnishings for you. Just keep your grubby mitts off that tan globe in the cherry-wood setting with the stylishly old-world map on it. We've got dibs on that, as soon as we save up a paycheck or three.

Best Of Broward-Palm Beach®

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