There are only so many places a man can talk about a 5/8-inch male pipe going into a 1/2-inch female fitting with a straight face. "We just need to find an adapter for the female end," concluded the conversation recently at George's, a hardware store whose employees thrive on such dilemmas. Here, you won't find any employees wearing orange smocks or aisles taller than your house. In fact, the whole store, at 8,000 square feet, is probably smaller than the average Home Depot aisle. But George's has survived for 64 years by positioning a pool of long-time employees by the front door who will go get that hammer you need rather than sending you down some cavernous aisle on a two-day search.

True to its name, this furniture and accessories store is an assault on the senses. Walk into this massive space and you're bombarded with the sounds of fountains, the scents of potpourri, and all sorts of tactile temptations. And the sights? Well, let's just say the store, which spans 6,000 square feet, carries about an item per foot. This space, located in the Festival Flea Market, brims with character. It's sort of an interior designers' tropical theme park, with everything from towering silk trees and the largest selection of room dividers that we've seen to wooden bedroom sets with dressers that resemble stacked suitcases. There's also lots of fun stuff that no one needs but everyone wants, like a miniature London phone booth and a Blues Brothers statue. Or miniature flower carts, mosaic mirrors, little seedballs, bamboo trays, and animal carvings. The best part is the price: You'll find stuff here from 99 cents (a funky keychain) to $5,500 (a sleigh bed). Visit often -- new inventory arrives almost daily.

In a nondescript building on Broward Boulevard, Habitat for Humanity of Broward County opened a nifty thrift store of home repair, building supplies, and interior furnishings about two-and-a-half years ago. Boxes of bathroom tile, ceiling fans, interior and exterior doors, some as cheap as $10, are lined up along one wall; sinks, tubs, and patio furniture fill an outdoor area; and a changing mixture of lamps, coffee tables, headboards, and such are displayed in a cluttered showroom. Sometimes stuff is marked down to move, like the day a sign scrawled on a sheet of paper announced a sale on paint: two gallons for $5. A bargain, no matter how you paint it. Furniture stores and contractors drop off stuff regularly as donations, so it pays to check in periodically. For a long time, one aisle in the outdoor yard was a tangle of wrought-iron patio tables (minus the glass). Then they were all gone. On another occasion, a surfeit of pretty white linen lampshades spilled through the interior, stacked on television consoles and dining room tables and filling overstuffed chairs.

Every dog owner at some point has faced the following dilemma: Leave the party early or let Spike poop on the Pergo. Ergo, not only is pet-sitter extraordinaire Shirley Mitchell your pet's best friend -- she's yours too. Mitchell, who daily wakes at 5 a.m. and sometimes works until midnight, began creature-sitting in 1987, after throat cancer took her beloved cat, Sammy. Heartbroken, she vowed never again to love another animal. Then a friend, a vet technician, called Mitchell for help: The office had no room for boarding. Could she dog-sit? "She thought I'd find it therapeutic, and I did," says Mitchell, who per day charges anywhere from $25 to $40, depending upon services and location. "Soon, I was getting all sorts of referrals from people, and it took off from there." Flash-forward 16 years: Mitchell has walked, fed, and otherwise pampered not just dogs and cats but fish, turtles, birds, ferrets, and the occasional skunk. She takes pets to the vet and drops them at the groomer; plays with them and takes them for car rides; administers medicines and changes wee-wee pads. Then there are those crazy Malteses: She once had to rock one to sleep; she rescued another after it tangled its leash in a second-floor stair railing and nearly became a fur rug. The bottom line: The woman is trustworthy. Want proof? She's got more than 75 keys to clients' homes on her ring. And she's busy, busy. Which is why squeezing into her schedule is as likely as teaching a gerbil to moonwalk.
In times like these, we could all use a big honkin' hit of peace. In fact, one has to imagine that if a few of our fearless leaders were content to curl up on the couch in front of the tube (preferably a nice handmade double-blown color-changing glass tube!), there might be a lot less trouble in this world. So when we need help facilitating that peaceful, easy feeling, we turn to the small and friendly Peace Pipe, where you'll get a free lighter, screens, or pack of papers with your purchase. To its credit, the Pipe isn't clogged with non-necessities that have nothing whatsoever to do with dope-smoking: Colorized dancing bears, crystal unicorns, and their useless ilk are kept to a bare minimum. Instead, the store augments its killer pipe 'n' bong selection with more than 200 brands of rolling papers, so you can twist up a variety of doobies to take to your next PTA meeting, Lamaze class, or protest rally. Peace out, brothers and sisters.
Ironically (conveniently?) located alongside I-95 in a strip of stores that includes three bridal shops and Scarlett's strip club, from the outside, Spice of Life Novelties is a blink-and-you'll-miss-it kind of place. But inside, it's an emporium of sexual delights worthy of late-night Amsterdam. The front section of the store holds an array of Spencer Gifts-style trinkets -- dirty greeting cards, Hop-a-Long Peters, boob sippy cups, that sort of thing. But as you wander deeper into the store, the merchandise gets more risqué. In the costume section, it all seems kind of cute at first: French maid uniforms, modified military get-ups, and tiger-striped cat suits. But before you know it, your fingers are dancing across racks of strap-on-ready unitards and dominatrix uniforms complete with cat-o'-nine-tails and whips. It's a fetish paradise. Emboldened by all that you've seen, you mount (tee hee hee) the stairs, at the top of which you find thousands of vibrators, butt plugs, and anal probes. Synthetic vaginas vie for your attention. Penis pumps, make-your-own-dildo kits, double dongs, ben wah balls, and flavored body spreads sit in boxes bearing boastful statements like "With Real Hair" and "Feels Like Real Skin." It's enough to transform a plain, vanilla orgy into one with lots of batteries and a few guys in priest frocks. Or enough for wayward brides and strippers to, well, spice up their lives.

The Mall at Wellington Green
From the pull-up driveway area outside the Patio Verde food court, covered for rainy days, to the emergency call boxes throughout the sprawling parking lot and the children's play area, these are some of the conveniences that are hard to come by at local malls. The newest full-size mall in Palm Beach County greets you with its Mediterranean-style grand lobby dotted with leather sofas and roomy armchairs that rival those found in the lobby of a five-star hotel. Meander through the spacious, multicolored marble-tiled hallways and use one of the many crossover walkways to get to a store without having to circle an entire wing of the mall. Sniff out bargains beforehand with the mall's weekly e-mail bulletin on its website. The e-mail gives you a heads-up on sales and promos from the mall's stores of your choice. Bring out-of-towners who've trekked at least 50 miles and you both get a "Passport to Happiness" savings booklet.
Just moved to Florida from Alaska and fallen in love with that cloud-like purple flowering tree you see everywhere? Got spots on the orchids? Worms in the tomatoes? Scared of repotting? Need some advice on salt-tolerant landscaping? Or on native plants? Volunteers at the state's county extension service to the rescue. Master Gardeners have completed an intensive course of study and are available five days a week from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. to answer your gardening and plant questions. It's a well-used service. The office in Palm Beach took more than 160,000 phone calls last year. But when you talk to one of the Master Gardeners, you never feel rushed. They treat you as though you are the only tragic plant killer in the world, and then they give you advice that just might be life-transforming.

OK, we're all just a little sick of Van Gogh, Klimt, that French poster with the black cat on it, and the black-and-white photograph of workers high above New York City while building Rockefeller Center. Don't get us wrong -- these are all wonderful little pieces of art and history, but they're spent like the latest radio track from Coldplay. We're looking for something unique and new (as possible in this corporate mass-produced world) to throw up on our walls, so we go to Art and Beyond in the Galleria Mall. The place has a huge selection of art and landscapes and photographs. There are all sorts of contemporary artists and great

vintage kitsch ads and movie posters. The last time we strolled into the store, we left with two prints that give you

an idea of the range of the place: an abstract painting of horseracing by Veloy Vigil and the Lolita poster from Stanley Kubrick's 1962 classic. But

I'm not going into any more detail

here. Half the fun is losing yourself a little while flipping the stacks to see what's next.

Bob's is crammed with books for which the public is not clamoring (witness the large section on survivalism and weaponry), laden with kinky sex material that some customers might find off-putting (see whips for sale on display above the cash register), and its shelves are fraught with arcane literary magazines and poetry quarterlies whose readership comprises a paper-thin segment of the reading public. Bob's (the store's namesake departed more than 30 years ago, leaving Sherry Steinberg and Seth and Bonnie Cohen to carry on) is the creation of bonafide bibliomaniacs, i.e., people who own their own shop and put in it what they want, best-seller lists and massive monthly returns be damned. In a place where the literary selection includes Girlyhead, Bitch, and Wonka Vision as well as Granta and Zoetrope, riffling yields gold. To find Atlantic Monthly, one pushes aside a copy of Bret Easton Ellis' American Psycho and sorts through overlapping copies of Zink, Razor, Vellum, and American Cowboy before finding it in the business section near the Harvard Business Review, Vending Times, and the tantalizing Minnesota Law & Politics. And, yeah, it's true, you can find some of this stuff at your local big-box bookstore. And there you can carry the magazine to the little café, buy a latte and an overpriced muffin, take a seat, and read to your heart's content. But doesn't it bother you just a little that some wonk sensed that the predilections of bookish intellectual introverts, such as yourself, could be marketed to the masses? And that they turned out to be right? Bob's doesn't sell lattes. It doesn't have a café. There's a park bench outside the front door. And somehow, in our overengineered retail landscape, that's comforting.

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