Alpha Kinetix
Musicians know that one of life's greatest pleasures is to plug in and turn on an amplifier: The hum as it warms up, a familiar sound promising future tones and harmonics served up loud. Knowing that she has a willing slave, the glowing red beacon of an LED bulb beckons the musician on. But she's a cruel mistress, that power-driven siren of rock — especially when nothing comes out of the speaker, the light goes off, smoke rises from the machine, and everyone in the venue is staring. A pain matched only by the frustration of knowing that the amp had already been "fixed" three times before, by some wanker who supposedly offered a good deal. Alpha Kinetix was created by Gary Philips in 1979 and has since grown out of its home in a cubbyhole at Ridenour to take over a bay on Dixie Highway (just north of Cypress Creek). Philips wields his massive knowledge of tube amplifiers, speaker cabinets, solid-state technology, advanced electronic circuitry, and history of power-driven music like a finely honed surgeon's scalpel. He fixes anything and everything that lets musicians make their music louder, and he does it expertly. More to the point, the stuff Philips fixes stays that way. He is at home with everything from superexpensive vintage Blackface Fenders to ultramodern boutique hybrids and doesn't turn his nose up at run-of-the-mill, workhorse solid-state circuitry. Don't expect the cheapest prices; do expect expert craftsmanship with incredible attention to detail and a severe lack of bullshit.
This Deerfield Beach discount store, between a Pier One outlet store and Costume World, is one of about a dozen in a locally owned chain. If the little girl in you can resist the pink plastic "Fancy & Cutie" comb-and-mirror set, perhaps the grown-up you could use the TGI Friday's hurricane glasses or a pack of three shower caps featuring colorful bowties. There are other gems mixed in with the usual dollar-store fare of cleaning supplies, toilet paper, and fruit baskets — like the decorative wall hanging that defines the word forever as "for all future time." Best deal in the house is the ceramic vase with Jesus smiling on the front — it's 99 cents for two of them. If you can't find something, the friendly staff will enthusiastically escort you through 12 giant aisles. Don't be surprised when a member of the crew of octogenarian regulars stops them to catch up on the neighborhood gossip. Debit and credit cards are accepted, and gift cards are available. So you can keep your cash tucked away. Try securing that cash with this impulse buy currently next to the register: a wallet chain.
House of Vintage
As Gen Xers age, they take their love of thrift-store scavenging with them. The only difference now is that nobody has the time to dig through rack after rack of hideous garments to find the real treasures: sexy '50s hot pants, girly '60s swing coats, or coy '20s sheers. Time is too precious a commodity to run all over town, so hip kitties hit the ultimate shop for modern multitaskers: House of Vintage. This fashion nook is inside a '50s-era cottage, and from the foyer to the kitchen, every room is themed and its walls painted with bright retro murals. The living room acts as one giant jewelry box: dangly, heart-shaped, Lucite earrings hang above deco metal-mesh necklaces and bakelite bracelets with unlucky insects trapped inside them. The boudoir holds closets and racks of adorable dresses, neatly stacked vintage sweaters, and '50s circle skirts. Need a snack pick-me-up? Head back to House of Sweets, the shop's original (now revamped with black-and-white tile) 1950s kitchen, where sweet-tooth shoppers refuel with glass-bottled Coca-Colas and homemade cupcakes, cookies, and candies. So pop in, find an outfit, accessorize it (or let owner/stylist Michele Parparian do it for you), grab something slinky in case your date goes really well, and then stay perky with a sugar rush — because, after all, at House of Vintage, they understand that you're a busy gal.
Covenant House Florida
Covenant House Florida has helped thousands of displaced kids each year since opening in 1985. The Fort Lauderdale Beach crisis shelter is famous throughout SoFla for its open-intake policy, which provides food and shelter to youth with no place else to go, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. These kids have recently been kicked out of their homes or else they've been living on the street for days or weeks; some are young teenagers whose families have recently found themselves homeless. Regardless of the circumstances surrounding their arrival at CHF, these kids don't have a lot of luggage — quite often, they arrive with nothing but the clothes they're wearing. This makes going to work, school, or GED classes difficult — not to mention embarrassing — and makes successful job-hunting almost impossible. For this reason, Covenant House Florida is continually on the lookout for threads appropriate to youth, 13 to 20 years of age. A full wish list can be found on the shelter's website, www.covenanthousefl.org
Click your heels together three times and say, "I want to go to the $9.99 Shoe Warehouse." Once you've made it to this bonanza of delight for the feet, you'll find ruby red slippers and more. Got a hard-to-match outfit of orange, lime green, purple, or electric blue? No worries — there's a strappy sandal, mule, or pump here for every color in the crayon box. And at this Oakland Park treasure-trove, if you can't find just the right shade of magenta, there are plenty of clear Lucite kicks that go with everything. There's a pair of three-inch-heeled slides, six-inch stilettos, four-inch wedges, and even a more modest two-inch pump. Most of the insoles are silver or gold. Not all are $9.99 as the bright red sign out front suggests. In smaller print is this notation: "And up." But the highest-priced sticker seen on a recent trip was $19.99. The shop's array of fuck-me shoes are for women and, apparently, men who want to be women — sizes run up to 12 or 13 in most cases.
Bear and Bird Boutique and Gallery
Inside the Lauderhill staple Tate's Comics, girls jog up a sturdy wooden stairway to a living-room-sized wooden loft where a metal sign on the wallpapered perimeter reads: "Bear and Bird." The space radiates vibes of being part boutique, part girly clubhouse. Toward the front, sterling-silver necklaces dangle in two vintage armoires. In another corner, plush jester-colored couches form a nook in which to relax and gossip. Bear and Bird's owner, Amanda Magnetta-Ottati, is sweeping the floor with a Scottie dog broom, and hundreds of its little bristle feet shimmy across the ground. Other brooms are stacked in the corner, each waiting for a new owner to take them to a good home, while metal toy robots (reissues resembling the rigid, original '50s tin windups) angrily stare down the silk-screened T-shirts on the opposing shelf. But this boutique serves as more than a home for personality-rich trinkets and accessories. It's also a gallery space. Amanda's ambitious goal is to bring new alternative eye candy to the B&B each month, and that's led to innovative shows like the popular "For Love of Munny." In it, local and national artists customized hundreds of Munny dolls into both the adorable and the gruesome. Other scheduled exhibits include May's "Sideshow Show," August's "Sex and Science," and September's "What a Fun Guy: The Mushroom Show." The combination of art and merchandise, seclusion and accessibility, and all-around good taste makes this little boutique a peaceful hideaway. So let the boys play with monster magazines downstairs; you've got some shopping to do.
Tate's Comics
Tate's Comics
When Tate Ottati opened his comic book store, he wanted it to be an alternative to the cutthroat, high-priced comic book retailers in town. The then-17-year-old high-schooler used money he'd invested in Marvel stock to buy the place. Now, almost 15 years later, Tate's has become the one-stop shop for a person's comic book needs, already winning the honor of best comic book store twice. But it doesn't sell just comic books — there are toys, videos, and all kinds of collectibles. This year, Tate's expanded its already mammoth shop by adding another 2,800 square feet of space devoted to an assortment of vinyl toys, Greek statues, giant metal skulls, novelty books, and graphic novels. Tate's new Bear and Bird gallery, which made headlines when it opened in February, showcases alt-art with themes like customizable Munny dolls and pop prints by artists like Skot Olsen and Terribly Odd. Rounding out the one-stop-shopping experience is Tate's Gaming Satellite store a couple of doors down, which offers all kinds of gaming equipment, tournaments, and snacks.
Who the hell would want to open a record store in the Age of the Digital Download? It's pure masochism. At least, that's what everyone told Backbone Music's Nunzio and Rafael Esposito before they opened the place in late 2005. But they didn't listen, and you can thank the vinyl gods for that. Backbone is one of the few joints around that still peddles that format. Yeah, thrift stores have plenty of them old things too, but at Backbone, you don't have to toil through rows of dollar-bin-worthy junk just to find one halfway decent record. You can buy a Pink Floyd master recording of Atom Heart Mother for $155 here or a Coco Rosie release of The Adventures of Ghost Horse for $18.99. While it may not have the biggest selection in town (the place stocks about 3,200 albums), it's quality that matters here. Backbone delivers the goods, whether you're looking for rock, punk, funk, hip-hop, trip-hop, metal, hardcore, post-hardcore, dance. Oh, and it's all top-of-the-line stuff, not dust-covered trade-ins from ten years ago. And yes, there are plenty of CDs, T-shirts, DVDs, and other music-related merch. Located just off Atlantic Avenue in downtown Delray Beach, Backbone Music gets its share of foot traffic. But when that's not enough, Esposito plays host to live all-ages concerts at least once a week. Let's see you try to pack all that in your iPod.
Hustler Hollywood
Before the advent of Larry Flynt's 17,000-square-foot porn emporium, local sex freaks had to slum it. Try as they might, local triple-X video joints never shake their sketchiness. They may claim to be couples-friendly, but there's always a supercreepy dude behind the counter or shady characters pawing through the bargain bin. Worse, those cheap vibrators they sell are notorious for conking out at the exact moment you and your lovely are most desirous of their dynamo hum. For starters, the Hustler store — which took over the old Peaches record store on Sunrise Boulevard in Victoria Park — is open, bright, and inviting. It looks a lot like a frickin' Barnes & Noble in there, but with butt plugs instead of lattes. And that makes customers comfortable, which takes the edge off purchasing something so... naughty. Inside, you're surrounded by baby T's, sexy pajamas, and rows and rows of hot little G-strings. Within the inner sanctum, you've got two walls stocked with every faux phallus the universe has ever known — and then a few more. Instead of some plastic piece of crap made in Taiwan, the Hustler store carries a wondrous array of super-high-end sex toys. Some of these jellied wonders are so colorful and eye-catching that they look like everlasting gobstoppers — several are as aerodynamic as a low-slung Lotus, and almost all are reassuringly expensive (up to $100). The room is like a Sharper Image devoted to penis envy. The sprightly employees are young and hot, and they'll happily unpackage your toy, pop some AA batteries in there, and give it a quick buzz-test to make sure the damned thing's revvin' properly. That way, when you get home with your brand-new Doc Johnson's Lucid Dreams #42 — or whatever candy-colored gizmo has caught your eye — rest assured that lotsa good moaning is in store.
Have you ever wanted a sandwich, a bottle of wine, a seven-inch dildo, and some beef jerky all at once? If so, then Rio Vista in southern Fort Lauderdale was designed exactly for you. This well-stocked porno/convenience store has all the goodies of a 7-Eleven but with a sex-toy department in the back. Butt plugs and gangbang videos are in abundance here, but so are potato chips and cold beer. Shopping for cheap thrills on a Friday night has never been easier. Hungry for chocolate ice cream and a bukkake video? Maybe some cold cuts and a life-size molding of John Holmes' schlong? And since it's a local stag shop, it's good to see Miami's Bang Bros. line carried here in full stock — as well as local gay models featured in some of the men's magazines. At least they're giving back to the South Florida porn community. They've also got an almost identical replica of Jenna Jameson's crotch and an extensive dildo section with everything from fleshy cocks to double dongs for girl-on-girl action. The shop is manned during the day by Frank, who looks like an enforcer but is nicer than most adult film store operators in the area. And there are customers who shop exclusively in the food aisles, so don't think that anal beads and nipple clamps are mandatory purchases. Then again, if you opt for those items, it's good to know that cotton swabs and peroxide are available here as well.

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