Best Secondhand Store 2004 | Jane Loves Cheap Furniture | Shopping & Services | South Florida
Give it up already. Martha Stewart might be goin' to the pokey, but you're not the new her. Despite the big bucks you've spent at the craft store and the hours you've logged at the Home Depot, you're not gonna become a master of faux finishes, and you'll never get around to reupholstering the couch. Especially when it's so much easier to hit Jane Loves Cheap Furniture. The slogan -- "Because life's too short for boring stuff" -- is painted on the floor of this pleasantly cluttered shop. Surprises linger in every corner and cranny. Antique tables have been handpainted with pictures of palm trees. An old, wooden storm shutter has been whitewashed and fashioned into a room divider. Knickknacks like a $10 buddha statue and nautical notions lurk on shelves and mantles. Tell 'em we sent ya, and say hi to the goldfish in the coffee jar.

This joint ain't large. But it's cheap, convenient, and fun, and the twerps might actually learn something while they spend your hard-earned cash. Opened in 1992, the Explore Store sells rubber sea turtles ($2.50), snakes ($3.50), frogs (75 cents), and iguanas ($2.25, and they squeak). A real hand-painted iguana to scare your sister goes for $27. Plastic whales, octopuses, sharks, dolphins, and lobsters go for $1.25 each. Die-cast metal space shuttles on a stand with astronauts cost $22. Then there are wood kits to build everything from sea life to dinosaurs priced from $5 to $50. Or get a build-your-own-robot kit for $16.95. Hell, even if you don't buy anything, the store is next to the coolest gravity clock on planet Earth, the IMAX theater (DVDs of IMAX shows go for $30), and the Discovery Museum, where your kids can be distracted for hours while you sneak off to the Himmarshee pubs for a toot. Hours are 10:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 10:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Friday, and noon to 7 p.m. Sunday.
Lo, it may befall you, as it has many decent folk, that the morning after a champagne-fueled backyard midnight coed skinny-dipping session, you awake to find only one working eye in your head. Who to contact for a lens? If the morning in question happens to be New Year's Day and all acquaintance be sleeping off hangovers, you'll be resorting to an eyepatch, unless you drop by the Swap Shop's specs shack. Not only is it open but the good folks there have been known to donate an emergency contact for nothing more than a wink.

"We built this city! We built this city on rock 'n' roll!"

OK, not only does that song totally suck but it's dead wrong as well. Anyone in South Florida knows damn well how our cities are built: one collection of shops at a time. Look at any Broward/Palm Beach burg from Margate to Wellington back to Pembroke Pines: It's just one giant interconnected mall! To calculate such a place's cultural worth, subtract 20 points for every chain store. Add 20 points for every unique nook and cranny. That's why Riverland reigns supreme: The closest thing to a chain is the Supersaver Grocery, which could have been teleported straight from Calle Ocho. (The tiny branch of the Broward Public Library doesn't count.) For your shopping pleasure, explore Scot Drugs and Riverland Hardware, two fading showcases that Wal-Mart has all but eradicated. Sissi Fashions offers tight, flattering outfits for the hottie on your list, while clean, white T-shirts at the Community Thrift Store are under a dollar. Yarly's Bakery yummily supplies your bizcocho needs. The Rainbow Restaurant doesn't accept plastic but is one of the most authentic Greek diners in town -- truck drivers like to park their big rigs outside and grab a real meal. Tucked away in a blind alley, Sassano's Pizzeria makes a mean pie. Grab one, pick up some plastic cups at the 99 Cent Store, and some Argentinean merlot at Super Saver and you're good to go. C'mon, throw off those chains. Until Riverland's inevitable date with the wrecking ball, this self-contained universe is unsullied by the corporate-conquest machine. These locally owned businesses used to be the source of strength in every small community, keeping cash close to where it was generated. Riverland is firmly rooted in its community with small, long-term tenants who are anything but fair-weather friends. Unlike Blockbuster or Starbucks, these hardy holdouts are part of our town. Readers' Choice: The Galleria

Malls bring out the must-have-everything attitude latent in all Americans. Yet indoor shopping centers just don't have everything. If commercialism's claws are deep into your wallet, get thee to Mizner Park, which has all the standard fare and then some. There's stuff for your home (electronics from Bang & Olufsen, utensils from Mamma Ro), stuff for your body (clothes from Tommy Bahama, shoes from Mephisto), and stuff to stuff yourself (kosher food from Levy's in the Park, cocktails from Max's Grille). Sharing the grounds of this intensely pastel, immaculately clean shopping center are an eight-screen luxury movie theater, a 5,000-seat amphitheater, a state-of-the-art concert hall, and the Boca Raton Museum of Art. It's all so perfectly planned and so mind-numbingly pretty that even the world's most vehement anarchist could be lulled into becoming an American Express-wielding, polo shirt-wearing consumer. If you go, ready yourself for a long walk off the short plank of restraint. You'll fall directly into the wide-open jaws of the circling marketing geniuses who designed this shoppers' wet dream. Readers' Choice: Town Center Mall
Janet Jackson has nothing on this place. The airy shop -- located not in the bowels of some stuffy medical complex but in a sassy, celebratory location on Lake Worth's main shopping drag -- is a virtual wonderland of prosthetic breasts, special swimsuits, and wigs. It used to be that breast cancer survivors would have to look for prosthetics in shops that sell durable medical equipment. You know -- walk past the crutches, the handicapped toilets, the canes... until you hit the fake-boob aisle. How depressing. Cinderella changed all that. Founded by Norma Jean Johnson, who had trouble shopping for a mother with cancer, the store sells accessories that help mastectomy, chemotherapy, and radiation patients feel babealicious again. They have wigs made from both fake and human hair. In boobs, their best seller -- #F103 -- comes in sizes 0 through 10, and the upbeat, passionate staff helps with fittings. They also sell special bras and lingerie. Breast cancer definitely sucks, but there is a bright side: Nowadays, it's totally treatable, and you can get insurance to pay for your boob job!

Sample Tire is run by John Hansen, a paragon of auto care in Broward County for the past two decades. Hansen, a tall, graying fellow who loves to fish, doesn't advertise -- he doesn't have to. Word of mouth keeps his garage full of cars and customers. Why? The guy -- and his team of mechanics -- is honest and fair. I know it's hard to believe. An honest mechanic? In South Florida, no less? But it's true. Hansen is as straight as a razor when it comes to engines. If you break down, you expect to spend $300 bare minimum, right? Well, he or one of his crack employees is liable to charge you $87.15 or something. And you actually feel like you should pay the guy more. Plus, the place is convenient. You can drop off and pick up your car past normal business hours as long as you leave the keys at the nearby Chevron station. So get thee to Sample Tire. Even if you live in downtown Fort Lauderdale, it's worth the trip.

There are not many things that'll make you feel more like a 5-year-old again than hanging off the backside of an antique fire truck in full firefighting gear. Andrea and Shawn Beckowitz, the husband-and-wife team that, with Shawn's parents, owns Fire Trucks for Fun, rent out a 1978 Mack fire truck for parties, carnivals, and other events, giving kids the full firefighter's treatment, complete with a Dalmatian mascot and working firehose. The white- and red-trimmed tanker is a picturesque firefighting machine, with a box-like cockpit in front of a 1,000-gallon tank. Driver Shawn Beckowitz knows firefighting; he's a second-generation smoke-eater who works for the City of Delray Beach. The couple bought the surplus truck last summer from a fire station in Virginia, and they have spent just about every weekend since renting it out. They charge from $225 to $550 for the "four alarm" package, complete with junior firefighter gear, activity trailer, and a trip around the block with sirens blaring. But there's bad news for all those dads: Only the birthday child gets to ring the bell. Says Andrea Beckowitz: "We try to save a little something special for the one who's having the party."

You won't actually drive that tongue-red Ferrari, not in this lifetime, not so long as you're loving thy neighbor and helping the small people of the world, fighting the good fight, taking only what you need, healing wounds, righting wrongs, giving for the sake of giving. Nor will you ever glide down Las Olas in that silver Bentley, not so long as you're walking for the cure and saving the whales and turning off lights as you leave the room. Nor, you deluded sap, will you ever receive oral pleasure from a rum-addled, spring breaking coed as you mash the accelerator of that cosmos-black Lamborghini down around the double-yellow center lines of A1A, one hand on the gearshift and the other on a pigtail, pinballing through traffic, checking the rearview only for the lights of Fort Lauderdale's finest receding in the distance as your speedometer needle counts briskly by tens. No, not in this lifetime -- and yet, you're free to look.

For those days when downloading music off the Internet isn't an option, you'd rather slit your skinny wrists than darken the doorstep of a Barnes and Noble, and you don't want to wait for to deliver the latest disc from Kamikazee Wombat (or whatever it is you damn kids listen to these days) via your friendly mail carrier, Uncle Sam's is so totally ready to hook you up. In fact, this Lauderhill locus of hip artifacts (the similarly awesome Tate's Comics is in the same shopping center) specializes in indie/alternative/punk/industrial/goth platters, both new and used. Odds are, the tres cool new Stereolab album or Sigür Ros single will be on sale at a price competitive enough to make you swear off big-box discount stores for good. And the store's well-stocked selection of posters, T-shirts, body jewelry, baubles, trinkets, geegaws, doodads, knick-knacks, and gizmos goes well above and beyond the call of duty. As independent record/CD stores go the way of the woolly mammoth, Uncle Sam's wants you to continue to spend your money at shops that still give a damn about music, instead of soy lattes and frou-frou cookbooks. Readers' Choice: Best Buy

Best Of Broward-Palm Beach®

Best Of