Best Of :: Shopping & Services
For service, inventory and professionalism, J. Stephens wins this one in a walk.
Small but well-stocked, Stephens carries the usual well-heeled brands. More important, however, it offers that fading American ideal: service.
We know of one fellow who went to buy a pair of new shoes and wound up with free replacements for the year-old but well-walked ones he was wearing. The cordial salesman spied the eroded inside heel of the right hoof, said, "That shouldn't have worn like that," and sent it back to the company. No fuss, all gratis and unrequested.
Al Bundy, eat your heart out.
Most garage waiting rooms have all the appeal of, well, a garage waiting room. Call the decor Grease Monkey Hell: a few plastic chairs, an out-of-order pop machine, a table covered with old cam-shaft catalogues and a TV permanently tuned to Jenny Jones.
At the Car Repair Company (catchy name, guys!), purists can still read dog-eared issues of People if they're so inclined. But you'll find most stranded motorists ogling the owner's collection of cool car kitsch. In addition to several old gas pumps (including a 1940s Sinclair model with the famous dinosaur logo), there's a display case filled with vintage car toys like Hot Wheels, a Hasbro Amaze-A-Matic ("The fantastic car with a brain!"), a miniature Hooter's van and something called Hairy Hurdles. Car culture accouterments are represented by a miniature Ramada Inn travel bag, a 1960s Kodak Instamatic and a variety of old pop bottles. A battered traffic cone from a race-car driving school, vintage car magazines and the tail end of a hot pink Cadillac Fleetwood bring up the rear.
The only thing possibly missing from this remarkable roadside attraction? A tape loop of a kid whining, "Are we there yet?"
With the hundreds of discount dens, bargain barns and 99-cent stores around the Valley, it takes a lot to get a seasoned bargain hunter to raise an eyebrow. But when you combine clean, intact men's, women's and children's clothing and footwear, plus housewares, with 50 to 75 percent off retail prices, the Dillard's Clearance Center can make even the cynical bargain shopper's eyes pop out of their sockets.
The Dillard's Clearance Center is the seasonal outlet for Dillard's department stores in the area. That means you're scoring the same merchandise for which you wouldn't allow yourself to pay full retail, the only drawback being you're buying corduroy pants and flannel shirts in April. But rest assured these garments aren't ripped or stained, like you might expect from other discount venues that sell returned goods.
This bargain bonanza does come at a cost. Unlike other Dillard's stores, this one doesn't feature elaborate visual displays. But at prices like these, you'd have to be a dummy to quibble over the lack of a few mannequins.
Looking for a lock-pick gun? Trying to peep at your boss's confidential mail but don't know where to pick up the CIA Flaps and Seals Manual? Got a hankering to brew up some marijuana beer but can't find the infamous how-to book (labels included)? Underground Mall is the spot for all that and a grip of other tools, toys, manuals and herbal pseudo-drugs that'll have you about one inch this side of a jail sentence.
On a recent spree, we scored issue #8 of Super Taboo (an animé-porn comic, $2.95), a pack of tobacco-free "Ecstasy" cigarettes (agonizingly awful-tasting, $5.95), and got the hard sell for (but didn't purchase) a rain-forest-derived hallucinatory herb called Salvia (sounds pretty cool, $32.95). And thanks to the sleaziest array of fetish videos imaginable (or, more accurately, unimaginable), kink fans will think they've died and gone to Al Goldstein's rec room.
For an even larger selection of subversive fun, check out Underground's catalogue, wherein you can find toys like the "Mind Molester," a 1" x 11/4" electronic chirping device you hide that chirps one second every five minutes 'til it's found ($29.99!); or try "Mega Sonic Nausea," which emits ultrahigh frequency sound waves that generate queasiness in all within earshot (a great way to clear a classroom, $99.99).
For the porn-inclined, foul-minded, criminal-hearted or just plain curious, the Underground Mall is a gold mine.
Did you long ago give up hope of ever finding a copy of preteen belter Lena Zavaroni's 1974 novelty disc "Ma! He's Making Eyes at Me"? Sorry, we got to Prickly Pair first and beat you to it.
Not only did we zone in on Zavaroni, we also carted off such hard-to-find goodies as a pre-Cher Sonny Bono 45, a Herman's Hermits EP, and a Beatles eight-track (still in the shrink!). Now closing in on its 20th anniversary, Prickly Pair isn't your average house of wax. Its huge inventory of singles (several hundred thousand vintage platters, plus heaps of newly minted jukebox 45s) is given special attention: The records are catalogued by artist and title on the store's computer system, and kept out of reach of customers, so they're always in order and accessible to fanatical collectors and casual listeners alike.
Clued-in counter helpers are glad to grab a stack of singles by any artist on your list, and will probably offer little-known details about the artist and tunes you're buying, besides. (Bet you didn't know that little Lena died of anorexia a couple of years back.)
Where is it written that a huge national bookstore chain is inherently inferior to a cramped, poorly stocked counterpart run by aging unicorn-huggers who can quote chapter and verse on J.R.R. Tolkien?
If it's in print, one of the army of friendly staffers at Borders will direct you to a section of the store devoted to that very same school of thought. And in the unlikely event Borders can't help you? Well, you can always schlep over to the aforementioned maverick bibliothèque and listen to a clerk bend your ear with an oral rendition of that "big business is bad" diatribe.
Us? We're bookin' to Borders.
Readers' Choice for Best Bookstore -- New Titles: Borders