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?
Toss back a couple of drinks at Ugly Tuna or Martini Bar, hook your arm around your date's waist, and saunter north. Past the scooped-out palm stump where sparrows sip and bathe, across the train tracks, and beside the Old Fort Lauderdale Museum of History. The only thoroughfare here, in the heart of a car-mad sprawl, is the New River, nuzzling against its concrete banks where the yachts nod and the algae faints, recovers, and faints again beneath the surface. The sabal palm and acacia absorb noise and light. From a few blocks away comes the rasp of tires raking over the steel drawbridge on SW Fourth Avenue. A little farther on, near the Fort Lauderdale Museum of Discovery and Science, find the curious educational displays on the mechanics of human sight and the use of the astrolabe. Underfoot are the personalized bricks dedicated to loved ones both living and lost, with little notes ("Dearest Samuel, You intoxicate my soul! Love, Angela") that describe lives lived not in stone but in temporary flesh. To that end, the walk includes memorials to fallen police officers and a local Audie Murphy type named Sandy Nininger, whose heroics in the Pacific Theater made him (posthumously) the first Congressional Medal of Honor winner in World War II. So what if the $7.7 million Riverwalk project is mired in construction delays, contract disputes, political finger-pointing, and general Fort Lauderdale civic botchitude? You get ornithology, marine biology, botany, anatomy, astronomy, history -- all while you're just trying to walk off a $20 buzz in relative peace.
Wait a second. This looks familiar. Yes, it's on the water, and yes, the boats are cool -- but something's amiss. Do you see the kiosks selling $12 sunglasses, little panda figurines, and beaded bracelets and displaying the "We can write a name on any buckle" sign? Do you hear the sounds of a cover/garage band playing "Brown Eyed Girl" for the umpty-jillionth time? Have you tried the $3.99, you-get-what-you-pay-for lunch special at Max's Grille? Are you seriously telling me that you're buying "home décor" from a store that also sells T-shirts remarking "mr. winkie wants to buy you a drinkie"? Do you hear the visitor from the Midwest comment about the whole setting, "It just seethes with tacky energy"? You say this is prime downtown commercial real estate and a centerpiece for the whole county -- but this is common, this is fungible, this is derivative, this is a Hooters above a Johnny Rockets. This looks a lot like -- a damned mall. People come from all over the world to visit Fort Lauderdale. And when they leave, this is what they tell their friends about. Or not.
If you can do without a room -- which would set you back $285 to $3,650 a night -- the Breakers is actually a cheap thrill. You need not be a guest of the hotel to take advantage of a lot of its amenities. Bellmen crowd the lobby doors like penguins, while locals and tourists swarm in and out to get treatments at the spa, shop in the boutiques, or dine in one of the hotel's eight restaurants. Munch on the free peanuts and spring for a drink (the $7.50 Pinot Grigio is a better deal than the $9 bottle of Evian) at the Seafood Bar, where the countertop is actually an aquarium full of live fish and the windows look out on the Atlantic Ocean. No one will stop you from playing a game on the six-foot-high vertical chessboard in the Tapestry Bar or from walking through the hedge maze or from killing time in the video arcade. You can even skip the valet by parking for free just past the guard gate.

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