Chances are pretty good that you wouldn't know where to go to purchase a set of comedy bosoms or a papier-mché turd. Take note: Since 1947, Bert Easley's has provided our great state with all variations of rubber vomits, fake cigarettes (great on airplanes!), and phony squished cats. October is the best time to visit, when Halloween masks, reasonably priced life-size skeletons, and wonderfully sick-making foam-rubber body parts and polyethylene organs fill the shelves. Easley's also rents and sells a vast array of costumes year-round, and stocks more than 5,000 rentable costumes on premises. The shop carries a full range of stage makeup, and the counter help will gladly explain how to apply clown white, a fake bolt-in-the-head, or that zany chest-hair wig. Speaking of wigs, this place offers every style imaginable, all of them affordable and displayed for easy viewing. Try doing all your holiday shopping here, just once!
This is absolutely the place to find that long-sought antique Tappan range the color of scrimshaw, or the O'Keefe and Merritt in its birthday suit of chrome and white enamel. The peeling paint and yellowed window of this gray storefront reveal the shop's devotion to vintage. Words like re-porcelain and re-chrome fall from the tongues of the knowledgeable workers like answers to your kitchen prayers. They'll recondition or fully restore the stove you have, or set you up with one to match the 19-something vintage of your house. You want to decontaminate a range, rejuvenate its "match-lite" ignition, or simply find or fix that lost or broken knob? They do it all. Doubters need only poke their heads in the back workroom, where the carcass of someone's old flame is almost always on the path to renewal.

Mountain and road bikers have long competed for attention, products and services at cycle shops. At Landis, salespeople won't choose sides; its philosophy is equality for all, whether you've got mud in your spokes or highway beer bottle shards in your tire.

This cover-both-sports philosophy won't confuse new bikers: Signs and a helpful staff make clear what each item is intended for. Salespeople can tell you exactly why one mountain bike breaks the bank at more than $2,000, while another sets you back only about $300. If you're female, they'll show you a line of bikes built for women. There are even baby-buggy bikes, so you can tote your tyke. Each of Landis' four stores offers bicycle repairs, and out-of-stock items are happily shipped from other locations. So get your bike, helmet, shoes, gloves or inner tube here, but take the feud outside -- on the pavement, or the dirt trail.

We've been in dressing rooms that have sent us screaming out of the store and straight to the nearest Yellow Pages in search of a plastic surgeon. It's curious that the millions of dollars spent by retailers on marketing research has not led them to this simple shopping truth: If you look ugly in the mirror, you won't buy the stuff you're trying on. (Here's our fancy marketing tip: Tone down the operating-room lighting and give people more than six inches between themselves and the mirror. That'll be a million dollars, please.) Neiman Marcus must have highly paid consultants, because its ladies' dressing rooms are like lovely studio apartments, with lighting suitable for a cocktail party. There's plenty of room to stand way, way back and squint your eyes at your reflection, if you're so inclined. If those mirrors don't make you look good, then you know you'll fare far worse under your office's fluorescent lighting. Buy accordingly.

Most dressing rooms leave us wondering why no one has bothered to mention our sagging chin and jaundiced complexion. Neiman Marcus, on the other hand, only sets the mood for some serious designer dud shopping. These dressing rooms are classically appointed and impeccably clean. An upholstered chair takes the place of the carpeted benches found in most other establishments. A mirrored wall allows you to view yourself head-to-toe without budging an inch, and a three-way mirror in the nearby and very private common area allows you to fully assess whatever assets you may have. What's more, Neiman's roomy compartments lock automatically, and an attentive but never bothersome clerk is always on hand to help you find the perfect fit.
How far do you run? How often do you run? What shoes are you using now? Are you flatfooted? Count on questions like these from the salespeople at Runner's Den. Selling you the right pair from the Den's vast selection is serious business to these clerks, most of whom are runners themselves. (One salesman has logged more than 100 marathons and teaches a community college class in marathon training.) These guys know the heartache (or leg-ache) that comes from shoe-related injuries, and don't want you to end up in, um, those shoes. They'll even make you do a test drive with an outdoor jog or a quick spin around the store. So runners, take your mark and lace your shoes.
Sure, we're slaves to fashion -- but not when it comes to our feet. Give us a pair of clogs or some close-toed Birkenstocks and we're delighted, style be damned!

Turns out, you can have both comfort and style. We were waltzing through life, happy in our brown clogs and our gray Birks, until we happened upon the selection at the Shoe Mill. The shop stocks a wide supply of the black, gray and brown basics, but we could take to the runways in leopard-spotted Danskos, flowered Dr. Martens boots, bright blue Simple sandals -- a rainbow of arch support.

The Shoe Mill has the best selection of comfortable shoes we've seen anywhere. The sandal-clad employees practice what they preach and offer knowledgeable assistance besides. We'd bet our bright red, closed-back Danskos on it!

A return policy at a thrift store? It's true. Savers has one and will issue store credit if you've made a fashion boo-boo. This comes in handy if you're costuming a kid's play, costuming a family, or costuming yourself and realized you should have gone to the dressing room after all, to make sure that spangly sweater set actually fit. Speaking of dressing rooms, here they're abundant and clean. Like the ads say, Savers really is "the thrift department store," and a lot of bargains can be had on its "Dollar Tuesdays" and ongoing half-off weekly color tag sales. This chain consistently shatters all "thrift shop" stereotypes: It doesn't reek; screaming kids are drowned out by piped-in "Everything Old Is New Again" Muzak; and -- because the friendly staff is forever restocking -- there's always something new (and old!) to find.
The clothes here aren't just old, they're insane. Wonderfully, utterly insane. Amiable proprietor Louis Merisola is quick to tell you why: His wife, Linda, is a show-biz wardrobe stylist who outfits actors for films and TV commercials. Which explains why you're likely to find more than one hot-pink marabou peignoir on display at this hip downtown boutique. In addition to new-issue, retro-look togs, Spine offers some incredible vintage items, like garish dinner jackets, shocking layered-chiffon capes, and the swankest period sleepwear and smoking jackets you'll find in town. Prices vary, but the time saved seeking a vulgar solid-gold-sequined trench coat or a Busby Berkeleyesque lamé-lapeled tuxedo is worth a couple of extra dimes.
For many crafty folks, bead parties have replaced paint-your-own-pottery as the creative outlet du jour. If you're looking for materials, head to Beads Galore International, Inc.

Tucked into a small industrial park, Beads Galore is easy to miss -- and easy to skip, you might think as you enter the cramped foyer and are asked to hand over your purse to a clerk as a security precaution. But step inside to a mesmerizing beader's paradise, with every color and touch from inexpensive glass to moderate crystal and ceramic to pricey semiprecious garnets, tourmaline and topaz. Beads Galore also has trappings such as trays and clamps to help you bead properly, and jewelers pliers, cutters, wire and clasps to turn your strands into bona fide jewelry. The friendly staff will assist befuddled beginners. Bead happy!

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