Best Pawn Shop 2004 | National Pawn and Jewelry | Goods & Services | South Florida
Welcome. Not what you were expecting, hmm? You didn't think you'd find wide, spacious aisles just waiting for you to dance up and down like an actor in a big-budget musical, did you? Well, that's because National Pawn and Jewelry is not your average pawn shop. In fact, it's not a flea-bitten "pawn shop" at all. It is a superduper megaplex pawn superstore, a veritable cavernous clearinghouse for secondhand merchandise. It's a clean, well-lighted place for dubiously acquired goods. Check out the glass counters filled to the brim with bling, as bespectacled jewelers appraise merchandise for clients wearing basketball jerseys. Paw through the CDs -- they start at $2! Amateur musician outfitting your home studio? Guitars, violins, horns, drum kits, old Roland keyboards and drum machines and cowbells and harmonicas and tambourines and... did we say cowbells? Almost anything you're looking for (tools, stereo components, DVDs) can be had on the cheap. Did we say cheap? We meant inexpensive!

Traffic school sounds like a farcical way of avoiding points on your license. You speed a little, you maybe crumple someone's fender, you cut across three lanes of Federal Highway and smack your moving truck into a garbage truck -- whatever you did, it doesn't matter, because for a mere four hours on a Saturday (and the cost of your ticket), the state absolves your stupid ass. Comedy Traffic School at least recognizes the farce at work, then proceeds to give you your money's worth. Among the nuggets dispensed by one instructor, a former cop and standup comic: Making eye contact with a road-raging driver is a good way to get shot; acceding to a vehicle search saves time, because a determined cop will search you regardless; and driving with Florida tags automatically makes you suspicious to cops in any non-Florida state. What does this have to do with your doing 80 in a 55? Bupkis, really. But a refresher in common sense, delivered with a couple of jokes tossed in, doesn't hurt, and if you already know everything about driving, Mr. Andretti, exactly how did you wind up in traffic school?

Well, no shit, right? Also Beanie Babies, jigsaw puzzles, Raggedy Ann dolls, Pokémon day planners, Mickey Mouse dolls in safari outfits, and stuffed plush purple hippos. A standard 18-inch Mylar balloon will run $3.50. Want to get some gigantic heart or teddy bear? You're looking at $25 and up.
Age: 54

Hometown: Gouverneur, New York

Claim to fame: Owner and founder of Jezebel, a popular Fort Lauderdale vintage clothing and rental store.

What she's done for us lately: Cheerleader jackets, '50s-look sunglasses, rhinestone shoes (like Joan Crawford used to wear), bakelite belt buckles, turquoise headbands, poodle skirts, dozens of items adorned with that shovel-mouthed monkey (the familiar Paul Frank trademark), which are presently jumping off the shelves. They're all in the store that Ptak opened 18 years ago (16 years in its current location on Sunrise Boulevard). Ptak has become one of South Florida's mavens of conceptual retailing. Sure, Jezebel is just stuff -- but stuff that's all somehow connected by Ptak's discerning vision.

What it takes: "Changing constantly. You can't stay satisfied. I'm easily bored. I get so bored, I have to change things."

It started out quirky and has gotten weirder since. Built in the '70s, the Corner Store was initially envisioned as a futuristic, octagonal-shaped market manned by robots. The original owner ringed the place with conveyor belts with the idea that customers could select items from computerized terminals that would then pass along the belts and into their cars. The Jetsons-like system bombed and was torn out 20 years ago. But since, that odd outlook on convenience has permeated this place. The Corner Store's current owner, Robert Lamelas, now sells a bizarre collection of goods, including ammunition, live bait, designer sunglasses, and imported beer. The ammo is stacked haphazardly on a shelf in the back, sold frequently to tournament shooters who pay a little extra to avoid Wal-Mart. Nearby sit tanks filled with live crabs and live shrimp. And in the coolers that line the back side of the small store are rows and rows of exotic beers, ranging from $2 Abita to the $10-a-bottle Dogfish Head stout. Weirdest of all, Corner Store employees are required to carry their own guns, Manager Mike Papadatos says. This gunslinger approach to shopkeeping has given the store a unique advantage, Papadatos says: "I think we're the only corner store that has never been robbed." We'll drink to that.

Like any other segment of the quasimedical world, chiropractic care has its share of detractors and swear-bys. If you believe the spinal-alignment and vertebral-subluxation pseudosciences are about as valid as the Raelians' views on cloning, read no further. But for those with back problems seeking a cure for pain, chiropractors can make the difference between living the good life and existing with a wicked-ass pain in the neck. Too many doctors of chiropractic will suck you into a system of unnecessary, triweekly visits -- or confuse you with sales pitches for micronutrients, diet aids, magic pillows, or special vitamin supplements. But Dr. Bruns (conveniently located just blocks from downtown Fort Lauderdale) won't waste your time or money. Instead, he'll give you what you need -- a spinal adjustment -- with a modicum of bullshit. After seeing stars for a second, you'll be on the road to recovery, with no pressure to schedule additional visits until that little lightning bolt between your shoulder blades tells you it's time. OK? Good. Now get crackin'.

Why should it be that frugality equals guilt when it comes to picking out caskets and urns for the earthly remains of family? After all, look at how we live our lives: A few of us drive Mercedeses, some Saabs, and most of us, Chevys. Same thing with clothes; most of us buy our duds at Target and the like, while the more ostentatious and well-heeled head to the boutiques. Thus, a strong case can be made for financial consistency for our loved ones even in death. A typical funeral runs about $10,000, but you could shell out half that much with a little careful planning through Alternative Funeral. Some of the firm's burial coffins sell for less than $1,000, while the low-end cremation caskets are $550. The absolutely no-frills "immediate burial," which means no viewing or ceremony, costs as little as $1,345. Your pennywise dearly departed would be proud of you.

In the three years since Yohanny Lopez crossed the Florida Straights on an inner tube, his life has made quite a turnaround. Using his training from the Romeo Y Juliet factory in Havana, Lopez and his uncle George Rodriguez opened Mya Handmade Cigars Factory in an industrial strip near downtown West Palm Beach. Lopez still rolls close to 100 cigars a day, like he did in Cuba, but now he's making money for himself. A steady clientele has discovered the benefits of freshly rolled cigars, and the pair has hired two employees to keep up with demand. Rodriguez lights the stogies for customers and brews potent Cuban coffee to sip in the lounge chairs. They're looking for a more visible location someday, maybe on Clematis Street or near CityPlace, where Lopez would surely be a tourist attraction. Lopez spends every day rolling cigars at a worn wood work station just off the lounge area of the small shop, visible through an open breezeway, so customers can watch. For each cigar, Lopez strips the stems out of the leaves, stuffing together Dominican, Peruvian, and Nicaraguan tobacco. The concoction is pressed in old-fashioned molds, many smuggled out of Cuba, and then rolled in Connecticut-grown wrappers. He doesn't hesitate to say they're better than the ones he rolled back home. "They're fresher," Lopez notes. "Cigars you buy, they're a year old or more. These are fresh, and fresh cigars, there is nothing better." Or cheaper. The stogies start at just $1 for what's the best, slow-burning, and richly flavorful smoke around -- at least without a trip across the Florida Straits.

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