Best Used-Book Store 2003 | All Books and Records | Goods & Services | South Florida
Although its record section has been a bit stingy lately, what with all of the "no store credit for this CD" stickers on all the good stuff, the book section of this shop remains a bastion of hard-to-find literature. One recent foray revealed a 1950s edition of Machiavelli's The Prince, with a forward that compared Machiavellian politics to the spread of Communism. And if Red Scare literature isn't your thing, something else is bound to catch your eye. This used-book store has nearly as many topics as your local library -- gardening, cooking, travel, and many others. While some of the sections may be a bit thin (What's this? Only half of one shelf dedicated to astronomy? What would Carl Sagan say?), the more popular areas, such as sci-fi, sprawl from shelf to shelf, and rare is the book that costs more than a couple of bucks. Such a cheap way to wile away a few hours -- and haven't you already watched enough TV?
If you haven't met a bead fanatic yet, you likely soon will, because beading is a pastime/avocation/addiction that's sweeping America like t'ai chi did in the 1990s. These aficionados eschew the jewelry and handbags offered by chain outlets and now fashion their own originals. Many of the young women who've taken up beading -- and Best Beads offers an array of classes -- contend it's a type of craftwork they were never exposed to while growing up because their working mothers had neither the time for it nor interest in it. It's also a sign of the times, judging by the explosive growth of Bead Need, which claims to possess the largest inventory of bugle, stone, pony, seed, and crystal beads in South Florida. After the September 11 attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C., droves of newbies began showing up at the store to buy red, white, and blue beads to fashion American-flag brooches and pins. Many became devotees.

Here's a mystery for you: What is it about South Florida that seems to sprout mystery writers? Do they come here as poets and experimental novelists and turn to the mystery-and-murder genre after hearing of bodies wrenched from the muck of the Everglades or loads of cocaine or human cargo found in the belly of cargo ships? Or is it the heat of the climate that makes for murderous thoughts? It's interesting that one of the few independent bookstores to survive the Bordering and Barnes-and-Nobling of the book business is a niche store specializing in mysteries and suspense. Owner Joanne Sinchuck, who moved Murder on the Beach from South Beach to Delray Beach in December 2002, stocks a wealth of Florida mystery writers, including Edna Buchanan, John Lantigua, and Carolina Garcia-Aguilera. And the store hosts weekly discussions, author signings, and such.
Nestled in a most unlikely place a couple blocks north of downtown, Lauderdale Lumber is a time warp back to the days before cavernous megastores. The store is notable for what it doesn't have: dozens of aisles of patio furniture, lawn equipment, houseplants, commodes, appliances, and a glut of other items that have nothing to do with a modest building project. Instead, 20 paces into Lauderdale Lumber, you're looking at boards. Open boxes of screws and bolts are stacked according to size along a few rows. Forget prepackaged cartons that contain superfluous amounts; if you need only one 9-cent bolt, that's all you have to buy. Same with nails, which are sold in bulk out of old-fashioned sheet-metal bins. Even the building is anachronistic, a hoary brick affair with exposed wood rafters. Like that other bygone institution, the neighborhood hardware store, Lauderdale Lumber also offers a basic array of home improvement tools, door hardware, glues, and molding. Your pappy would be right at home.
All right, kids, get your minds out of the gutter! Crystal Visions creates handmade glasswares, not low-budget porn. Their 2,000-degree oven, known as the Glory Hole (hey, that's enough outta you!), heats and reheats all the prospective pieces. As one of South Florida's only glass-blowing studios, it caters to an array of customers. From stylish ashtrays and elegant dishes to stained-glass windows, this one-stop glass studio delivers speedy service at reasonable prices.

Need toys? Why visit a colossal chain store that practically requires a map to navigate (we're talking three aisles just for Barbie's shoes) when there's a cool little place like the Explorer Store? The shop, located in the Museum of Discovery & Science, sells all sorts of creative games, toys, and gadgets designed to provide challenging fun. The Build Your Own Volcano kit ($15) helps kids create actual eruptions using baking soda and vinegar. Another kit teaches children to build clocks out of vegetables. Then there's the always-popular Make Your Own Slime kit. "Kids really love that kind of thing because it's green, messy, and gross," says the store's Carol Villaverde. "And because they get to eat it." Speaking of which, the astronaut ice cream ($2.50) is rather tasty; it comes freeze-fried in a foil pouch, in napoleon and ice cream-sandwich flavors. You'll also find sea monkeys (actually brine shrimp), stuffed manatees and sea turtles, dinosaurs, books, puzzles, and the like. The shop, located across from the atrium at the museum's entrance, also sells toys that complement whatever IMAX film is showing at the time, as well as DVDs and videos of the film. The Explorer Store sees about 300 kids a day, all visiting on school field trips. But why should your child have to wait until then?
The name pretty much says it all. This store sells one thing and one thing only: bridal headpieces. Whether you favor a comb, tiara, or headband and want it beaded, jeweled or filigreed, you'll find it here. Think your mind is spinning with wedding details already? Just wait until the ridiculously patient salespeople painstakingly assess your head shape, hair style, face shape, and veil predilections to determine exactly whether you're the high ornate crown or simple barrette type. Just grin, bear it, and keep telling yourself you have to do this only once.

When Ray Oktavec was in the rag biz, he boasted $6 million sales. If Wal-Mart wanted embroidery on that sleeveless shirt, he'd get it done. But this v.p. changed shirts just after the economy tanked. Then on September 11, 2001, he was on his way to New York City to do business for Beverly Hills Polo Club clothing company. His plane was forced to turn around, and soon the company went under, taking his job with it. So now, in a building off South Andrews Avenue, gutted and remodeled into a warehouse-size space, he and his wife, Barby, deal in antiques and ornamental architectural salvage. Although the goods have changed, Oktavec still exercises a finely tuned eye in selecting merchandise and in reading the marketplace. Eastside stocks some stunning finds. From an estate in southern Dade County, he purchased an elaborately worked wrought-iron door that features an image of Cuba's patron saint Virgen de la Caridad (Our Lady of Charity). The Oktavecs gleaned a liberal range of stained glass from England, including stacks of small pub windows and a giant five-pane window decorated with delicate turquoise panes. Amid the antiques and high-end salvage are ideas a handyman could carry home for giving old objects new uses: benches fashioned from antique iron and wooden headboards, a wrought-iron horse feeder turned into a planter, and old doors given new life as murals.
Natural Selections sells strange plants. There are plants here with blossoms so luxurious they should come with parental advisories. The voodoo lily is pornography, though, plain and simple, with its thick fecund and penile-like stamen emerging from a delicately curled and vulvate flower. Other plants don't so much sex you as scare you. Natural Selections sells lurid monster versions of innocuous backyard plants so common as to have become vegetative wallpaper here in South Florida. Witness the sea grape. This protected plant with saucer-sized leaves and snarled trunk is everywhere -- growing into an impressive tree alongside A1A or taking on a tangled form close to the ground as it climbs over dunes or keeps a red mangrove company close to shore. At Natural Selections, they sell the Colossus of sea grapes, a variety whose leaves grow to about four feet in diameter. And that's not the nursery's behemoth. Nooooo. When the Borneo giant unfurls, its elephant ear plant-like leaf becomes a king-size bed of green, six feet wide and ten feet long. Natural Selections sold its wares for two years online until earlier this year. Now you can wander through the feverish greenery in a compound off South Andrews Avenue. Contemplate the 12-inch whiskers of a white bat plant. Admire the dramatic red spine of a red sealing wax palm. Languish with a vanilla orchid. Lose your dread of the corporal coil. Closed Mondays and Tuesdays.

How many places give you the chance to shop for bargains and help some kid get a college scholarship? While philanthropy probably isn't what drives the hundreds who flock to the Lake Worth High School Flea Market each weekend, it is the driving force behind the oddly placed open-air shopping court that offers everything from fresh tomatoes to foreign flags to deeply discounted name-brand clothes to irresistible garage-sale fare. One hundred percent of the money collected from vendors goes directly to the high school scholarship fund, organizer Betty Brown says proudly. Since it first opened under the towering Interstate 95 overpass at Lake Worth Road in the mid-1980s, the flea market has raised more than $1 million for scholarships, she says. But in truth, those who visit the market, open from 4 a.m. to 3 p.m. every Saturday and Sunday, could care less. Like flea market junkies everywhere, it's the chance to get a good deal on a pair of Ray-Bans, pick up some fresh produce, take home a $25 dresser, or just stroll around with a cup of coffee and chat that brings them back time and again. The rumble of 18-wheelers and the occasional squeal of brakes overhead gives the market a special appeal. The urban shade from that freeway structure makes a trip to the flea market cool, even when the weather, like the promise of bargains, is hot.

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