Best Of :: Shopping & Services
The Gulf Stream rushes across South Florida like a river beneath the surface of the Atlantic Ocean. It acts as nature's very own pressure cleaner, pushing away the dirt and debris from the reefs and wildlife in the waters off Broward and Palm Beach counties. That makes South Florida, despite its overdevelopment, one of the world's most fabulous dive spots. Divers from all over travel here to see the life-cradling coral reefs that rest just below the water's surface. You can see it all for yourself with the help of the folks at Lauderdale Diver. This spacious dive shop, only minutes from Fort Lauderdale Beach, offers everything a beginning or experienced diver could need -- from bathing suits and Freestyle underwater watches to Aqua Lung regulators and Body Glove wet suits. What's more, Lauderdale Diver's PADI certification courses cater to the needs of busy Floridians. In addition to a traditional two-week diving certification class ($275), Lauderdale Diver offers a flexible nights-and-weekends class ($325) and a name-any-time-you-want private class ($395). Ask for Judith or Shelly, who can tell you about the magnificent underwater world you've been missing.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Though we can technically consider DJ World a "franchise," no other store in the Broward-Palm Beach area (Sam Ash included) can equal the stash or savvy of this one-stop DJ emporium. All the top turntable brands, from Stanton to Technics, are available, whether you're a bedroom novice searching for a $100 Gemini or a wannabe Oakenfold, for whom an $800 Numark Premium Direct Drive CD table might appease. But the decks are merely a fraction of DJ World's stock, which includes a host of related accessories like lighting rigs, monitors, headphones, mics, and even karaoke hardware. It's also a two-dimensional entity thanks to its online store, where you can of course order products as well as read product reviews, use search systems, and even order LPs through its web-exclusive Vinyl Nation shop. But the store's website really says it best: "The World's Largest DJ-Only Superstore." No argument here.
Unlike the mammoth commercial bookstores that have popped up all around South Florida, at Well Read New and Used Books in Fort Lauderdale, the smell of café latte doesn't overwhelm that distinct aroma of books. That's because this 3-year-old bookstore has stuck to the ages-old business plan: selling tomes. Tall shelves create a literature lover's labyrinth in this small slice of retail space near the popular causeway. Business is kept pleasant and uncomplicated -- no credit cards, please -- and trade-ins are welcome. The store prides itself on the large collection of Florida authors, and Sunshine State scribes regularly come to sign their latest offerings. What's more, in the age of skyrocketing rents that have put many used-book stores out of business, Well Read somehow finds a way to keep prices reasonable. Used paperbacks in mint condition average around $6. Hours are Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 7 p.m.
Crash! Pow! Zowee! It's a bird! It's a plane! No, it's Tate's, the go-to shop for lovers of everything from the silver age of Marvel superheroes to the new wave of graphic novels and Japanese manga. Established in 1993 by Tate Ottati, this 4,000-square-foot store has come to dominate the field through its sheer, bulging inventory. There are, of course, the new comic books, which run from $2.25 to $2.99. Then there's the vintage comics, which start at $2 and can run as high as hundreds, even thousands of dollars for the real collectible stuff. For example, the store recently sold a less-than-mint-condition Amazing Spiderman No. 1 for $1,200. But there are also the accouterments of the comic world: posters, T-shirts, anime DVDs, and plush toys. And the most hallowed of all accessories: pocky snacks in a wide range of flavors. For adults -- kids, cover your eyes -- there's a back room with hentai books, or naughty anime. Tucked back in a strip mall, the shop is open Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 6 p.m.
Places abound in Broward and Palm Beach counties to get a rubdown in a frou-frou joint with scented air filled with whale noises and the trickling sounds of water on rocks. But if you want a basic massage done cheap and with extra care, the place to go is the American Institute of Massage Therapy, a school for massage therapists. The massage clinic offers therapists-in-training an opportunity to gain experience on real-world people. Student massage therapists offer Swedish relaxing massages under the unobtrusive guidance of licensed professionals and teachers. The clinic's décor is basic, but the facility is clean, professional, and relaxing. Because it's students performing the massages, the American Institute of Massage Therapy offers some of the best deals around: $35 for 55 minutes, $55 for 80 minutes. Tipping is not accepted for students. Hours are Monday to Thursday 9 a.m. to 10 p.m., Friday 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., Saturday 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Sunday 10:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.
If the complaint against CityPlace is that it's too Disneyfied, there's one way that this shopping mecca differs from the land of the mouse: free stuff. On weekend nights and some Sunday afternoons, CityPlace hosts free concerts in the main square. There's everything from R&B to jazz to salsa. CityPlace also hosts performances by school kids who sing near the escalators across from the fountain. And speaking of the fountain, there's a fountain show every hour set to music. Yeah, OK, that all does sound a bit like Disney, but how about the free parking (for the first hour)? Then, of course, there's the best thing that's free at CityPlace: the people-watching. What has become the downtown in downtown West Palm Beach attracts everyone from Loxahatchee cowboys to goth kids from suburbia. Take a spot along the balcony across from the tony second-floor restaurants (which are not free) and watch as the snowbirds mingle with the disgruntled locals in a free show that never gets old.
Sometimes you're in a hurry at the supermarket and don't have time to wheel around a shopping cart. So you pile everything inside one of those little green baskets. But before you even make it to the third aisle, the basket's ready to spill and your arms feel like they're going to fall off. Now, imagine if the basket were a full-scale shopping, dining, and entertainment district crammed into a space barely big enough to hold the buildings, let alone all the people. Welcome to CityPlace. Looking for a convenient parking spot? You'd better settle for what you can get the first time around; it takes less time to walk an extra block than to keep driving through the horrendous traffic. Of course, once you exit your car, the pedestrian traffic is just as bad, what with all the shoppers, diners, moviegoers, and loitering teenagers milling around. And after 30 minutes, all you can think of is how nice and peaceful Clematis Street seems by comparison. Isn't that what the trolley is for?