Before Metro decided to tear up Main and Fannin at the same time, we used to like to run down to the flower district north of the Medical Center to pick up a dozen roses if we were in love, in trouble, or both. But now that the area resembles Kosovo, we find it easier to swing by Jana's in the Heights, where the prices are much more reasonable than at many local florists. Just don't tell your sweetie.

For decades this Montrose mom-and-pop institution has been doing what everyone hates to do: your laundry. Get your clothes in by 7 a.m. and you can have them back by 5 p.m. Your shirts will be on hangers, and everything else will be neatly folded and packed in a plastic bag. Special orders -- like letting your blue jeans drip-dry on hangers, with no crease -- are also welcome. If any items need dry-cleaning or repairs, the folks here will send them out for you. Your mother never treated you this good.

The two most important words when it comes to thrift store shopping are quality and quantity. Value Village is both. Those of you who are pros at this kind of shopping will fall to your knees and thank the thrift gods above that this store exists. Rookies at fossicking have no fear: It's well organized (a special category exists for "Ladies Better Dresses"), and racks of ridiculously cheap clothing go on forever. But it's not only the abundance of old athletic T-shirts or the peculiar overflow of men's work coveralls that make this a mecca of thrifting. This store is stocked with trinkets and treasures that you probably could purchase with the change in your pockets. Perhaps it's an ashtray made of orange glass that reflects the light just so. Or maybe it's the airbrushed portrait of a magical unicorn affixed to a piece of fake oak. Sure, some might call it junk, but those are the same people who think it's perfectly normal to spend $100 for a pair of khaki pants at Banana Republic.
You can tell right away that Dynasty Supermarket is an authentic Asian market when you walk in, because of one telltale sign: It stinks like fish. There to the left are the fish swarming in overcrowded tanks, and in another tub crabs crawl over each other, spitlike bubbles forming as they breathe displaced from water. Soon they will become someone's dinner. Dynasty is a midsize store that houses just enough of everything: fresh veggies, bags of dried squid, canned baby corn or straw mushrooms, jugs of soy milk, fresh sticky rice wrapped in leaves, and snacks like shrimp chips and Pocky, a Japanese icing-dipped breadsticklike thing -- trust us, they're addictively yummy. And the bonus: The in-house barbecue shop serves up fragrant Chinese-style barbecue pork and daily lunch specials starting at just $2.50.

Sure, we're the types who would tend to go for the independent bookshop over the big chains, but there's good reason to praise this subsidiary of Barnes & Noble. Unlike, say, the shopping center housing the River Oaks Borders, which ended up plowing down the century-old Ale House to make room for a few dozen more parking spaces, the Bookstop used a local landmark to its advantage. The concession area of the converted movie theater now houses the checkout stands, and the impressive balcony doubles as an in-store coffee shop, making this spacious building the snazziest place in town to browse for your tomes. Their selection is huge, and they always keep a good stock of titles, both current and time-tested.

Whole Foods Market
The problem with soy is that it's kind of boring in its natural state. That's why you need to get to a place that will take this brilliant source of protein and transform it into countless mouthwatering, delicious edibles. Okay, so Whole Foods doesn't actually do the transforming. But it does sell the stuff in all of its glorious incarnations. Whether it's fake buffalo wings and "chicken" nuggets or those strange-sounding "tofu pups" (hot dogs made from soy), Whole Foods Market offers quite the variety of soy stuff. And we haven't even mentioned the many different options of soy milk (vanilla, chocolate or plain!). For the soy neophyte, Whole Foods is no doubt the most convenient, accessible way to learn about the wonders of the food that has been credited for lowering cholesterol, fighting kidney disease and even easing menopause's hot flashes. And with the selection at Whole Foods, it's not so(y) boring after all.

Her name tag reads "Dawn," and she's always there with a smile. This very small Fiesta is in a transitional neighborhood, so the customers cross a wide income range, with a variety of demands. On one busy weekend, Dawn was working all by herself. The line was long, and several people needed a number of things sliced or served into containers. Some in the line were noticeably irritated, and several took out their frustration on Dawn -- with heavy sighs and choice words. Somehow, though, Dawn just kept smiling, filling their orders as requested. So now, every time we see her, we try to return that smile along with our patience.
All freedom-loving people would be inspired to walk into the Menil Collection Bookstore and see, front and center on the largest display rack, an art-book cover photograph of a very lifelike sculpture of an erect penis -- and directly across from the children's section, too. Perhaps it's an up-yours salute to the outgoing senator and philistine from North Carolina. More likely, it simply struck manager and book buyer Patrick Phipps as an arresting image, of which this little gray building is chock-full. Phipps and his assistant, William Willis, are themselves artists. That's probably why the Menil bookstore cannot be compared to the self-absorbed, kitsch-filled truck stops that are most museum gift shops today. In addition, nobody's lips move when they're thumbing through the stock. Indeed, the hypnotic array of imagery -- books, postcards and posters -- is dedicated only partially to what's currently on display in the Menil Collection. Perhaps the most appealing part of the bookstore is hanging on the walls: paintings, collages and prints by Houston artists. Although they are for sale, they represent a kind of second, rotating collection of local talent to supplement the masterpieces across the street.

Black Heritage Gallery
Local artist Joan Bristow has works on display at Black Heritage Gallery, a venue she likes for its diversity. Bristow hails from Trinidad and paints images on silk. She is having some framed at the store, which is how we learned about the small space cozied up next to Green's Barbecue on Almeda. A friend of ours from Austin was having a work framed at Black Heritage Gallery and asked us to pick it up. We walked in and were mesmerized by the beautiful artwork for sale. Owner Robbie Lee says the store has been open for 24 years, 15 in its current location. Other noted local artists include Leshaun Beal, known for painting beautiful black women with flowers; Patricia Perry Sinex, whose paintings have a Grandma Moses feel to them except they feature African-Americans; Lionel Lofton's ink drawings; Gail Penrice's whimsical silhouettes of black women; and the bold and colorful watercolors of Andrew L. Thompson. The art is for sale, and the shop also carries reasonably priced masks, jewelry, ornaments, dolls, greeting cards and other knickknacks with African-American-inspired images.
So, your boyfriend went back to his wife? Your shrink's out of the country? Someone else won your Pulitzer Prize? For every reason you have to get a tattoo, there's a place in town that can do it. But if you wanna get inked right, we suggest you head straight for Miss Fortune. Don't let the punny name scare you -- they've been permanently decorating Houstonians for almost a decade now. And with thousands of designs to choose from, they're sure to have just the right embellishment for your epidermis. But remember: While most of life's misfortunes are temporary, a tattoo is forever.

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