If you drive a Volvo in South Florida, you can expect plenty of jeers and obscene hand gestures from fellow motorists who don't understand the allure of boxy Swedish engineering. You can also expect to be screwed by a nitwit mechanic who's never heard of Sweden, let alone that country's signature brand of hideously safe motor vehicles. Unless you know Leon, who still wears his name on his coveralls in his small Volvo repair shop in Pompano Beach. The tiny shop is a real mom-and-pop, run by Leon and his wife, and it specializes entirely in Volvo maintenance and repair, to the unadulterated joy of beleaguered Volvo owners across Broward County. Offering fair prices and a promise to do all repairs the same day (to prevent customers from being stranded without their ponderous steeds overnight), Leon also won't bullshit you: If your 1989 240DL is a hunk of junk, he'll tell you to scrap it, even though that's a couple of grand less work for him. Of course, he knows you'll be back -- when you buy your next Volvo.
It's a rare thing for a pawn shop to try to make its customers feel like anything other than the petty thieves, out-of-luck gamblers, and dumpster-diving opportunists that they are. But Davie Pawn and Jewelry has a different philosophy -- swaddle customers in an atmosphere of quality and familiar jocularity and you will be rewarded with their love. There's the long, blue awning that reaches clear out to the parking lot of the Country Road Shoppes strip mall, New York City-style, to funnel would-be hockers into the store's shady interior. There's also the immaculate glass cases of jewelry lining the store's interior. And there's an entire wall devoted to musical instruments -- gleaming electric guitars and patinaed trumpets galore. The place offers other services besides the typical hock -- the in-house jewelry repairman will replace your watch battery for $7, and while you wait, you can wire money to loved ones from the on-site Western Union. The only reminder that this place isn't some Las Olas boutique is the door buzzer -- even the best of pawn shops still have to screen their clients. Ah well.
LeatherWerks'
Just as the name suggests, this ain't no Western buckskin outlet. Managed by Bear Man, a founder of Fort Lauderdale's Leather University, this store offers the rougher side of leather, from pants and boots to full bondage wear. Particularly eye-catching is the faux-police uniform by Interstate Leather for $169. A two-piece made fully out of black leather, the ensemble is completed with an across-the-chest hide strap, belt, and shiny baton. The selection of chaps hangs as numerous as backyard palm fronds, all arranged by "upper thigh size." The store also stocks more than 1,000 square feet of leather in all types of colors and thicknesses for unique desires. Keep a sharp eye out when you're trying to find Leatherwerks, because the storefront is inconspicuous. Open Monday through Saturday from noon to 8 p.m. and Sunday from 1 to 6 p.m.
After Hurricane Wilma kicked our asses back to the 19th Century, there was a store in Fort Lauderdale that still had supplies. It had tapcon screws, generators, and everything needed to slap your abode back to somewhat presentable condition. Executive Hardware, one of the last family-owned mega-hardware stores in Florida, is still going strong despite storms both natural and man-made (Hurricane Wal-Mart). This actual mom-and-pop place stocks 70,000 items, and the friendly staff can't wait to pair you up with that double-flanged wing nut you need to finish off your post-storm fix-up.
This well-endowed former grocery store contains the largest arsenal of musical instruments in South Florida. Naturally, the place is stocked with six-strings. Keyboards and drums and basses too. But the next time you pass through the glass doors into the sound-proofed drum room, hang your first left. Because Guitar Center is big on miscellaneous minutiae, not just the commonplace, this is the place to find the most compressive assortment of percussion most mortals have laid eyes on. (Outside of a Tito Puente/Sheila E. double bill, of course.) We're talkin' timbales. Claves. Congas. Bongos. Maracas. Cuicas. Guiros. Palitos. Need more campaña (cow bell)? Of course you do. If Afro-Cuban is more your thing, this place has djembes up the yin-yang. Through those doors, first left, make some noise.
Consider this place Arcade Version 2.0. Instead of playing against a computer, you can play against people inside OffWorld Game Center as well as on another continent. With about two dozen computers hooked up to a high-speed Internet connection in a strip mall in Lauderhill, OffWorld specializes in multiplayer PC gaming -- from such strategy games as Ages of Empire III to first-person shooters such as Battlefield Vietnam and the U.S. government-created America's Army. This is a place every geek at heart will love. Bottles of high-caffeine BAWL Guarana are available in the refrigerator, and clever T-shirts and bumper stickers are sold at the front desk. Our favorite: "Every time someone downloads a song, God kills a kitten." Despite opening less than a year ago, OffWorld Game Center has become a serious destination for hardcore gamers. In addition to the two dozen computers, OffWorld offers console games in the front and a huge theater in the back available for console games or movies. Rates are $5 per hour or $4 per hour if you have a $40 annual membership. On Tuesdays, gaming hours are two-for-one, and on "Whoop-Ass Wednesdays," players game all night for $10.
Tate's Comics
Tate's Comics
We tried. We really tried. Surely, there had to be a challenger to knock Tate's Comics off its perpetual throne as best comic source in South Florida. But no. Not only has Tate's continued to be the gravitational center of the local graphic-novel universe but the mind-blowing manga seller has even upped its game. As in its "gaming satellite," to be precise. Formerly located in a crammed nook of a nearby storefront, the new gaming space has moved to a much larger unit a few doors north of the main store. That means more room for your buds, their ninja minis, and all those dice in a marathon role-playing session. And back at comic-book central, the main shop is still a trip for the casual shopper or hard-core fan. Even if you aren't the classic comic type, your imagination will be stoked by a walk through this maze of anime DVDs, movie props, comic artist supplies, and wild action figures.
Like many of the shops inside the Gateway Plaza, Archives Book Café has the sort of quaint affability that's increasingly rare in a world of Wal-Marts and Starbucks. Its organic, old-library feel is decades removed from the impersonality of the big book sellers. But enough of that... what's for sale? Well, aside from café items like lattes ($3), bagels ($2.50 with cream cheese), and cookies ($1), Archives' book collection runs the literary gamut, from presidential biographies to true crime (there is a difference), as well as all subgenres of fiction, history, politics, and religion. An impressive percentage of the store's inventory is like new, which means you're more likely to find psychiatric books about Prozac than, say, trepanation. And because of that newness, Archives is more sinus-friendly than a lot of the other dust dens that pass as used-book stores. Prices vary depending on the title, though the average fiction novel runs $5.95, pocket-sized paperbacks cost $1, and many of the normal-sized paperbacks end up in the $2.83 section. Archives may not be the biggest bookstore in town, but its cozy atmosphere goes a long way. And, for that matter, so will a dollar.
Gyms are being subjected to an unfortunate trend in South Florida: They're getting biggie-sized. National chains have moved in and begun the McDonaldization of workout facilities, bringing us legions of soccer moms pumping away on elliptical machines and stair climbers. While bigger may be better, that doesn't apply to your gut. Gus Hernandez of Sweat! in downtown Fort Lauderdale has come to save us from our super-sized habits with his intimate gym that offers one-on-one training and his 14 years of experience in personal training. The philosophy of Sweat! matches that of the old-school boxing gyms in Philly. Hernandez, not some corporate stooge, picked out every machine in the building and can craft a personal workout strategy for you -- just like Mickey did for Rocky.
While places like Whole Foods grow more like the supermarkets they once scorned, smaller, more traditional health-food outlets struggle. But it's not surprising that a small indie like Organically Fresh has a dedicated following of customers. Stuffed inside are a half-dozen tables covered in plastic where you can nosh on organic vegetarian or meat dishes like chicken and eggplant parm. Behind the miniature deli counter, workers prepare smoothies and juices chock-full of tasty wheat grass. On the far wall is a small selection of vitamins and dietary pills to cleanse your organs and boost your immune system. And there's just that extra boost to your chakras knowing that you're sticking it to corporate gigantism.

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