Erotic Cabaret
Walk in nice, walk out naughty. This store has more selection than a buffet on Sunday brunch -- from complete drag-queen attire to standard dildos and edible underpants to sinfully seductive latex nurse outfits and she-devil getups. They also carry every prop you might possibly need to carry out any fantasy, from yummy body paint and furry handcuffs to whips and wigs, not to mention fangs and spiked dog collars. Also, on the opposite side of the store you will find hip, nicely priced pants, shirts, shoes, purses and jewelry. There's something for everyone here: a head shop, erotica, princess dresses perfect for the Renaissance Festival. It's definitely a great place to get a Halloween costume, no matter what kind of treat you're looking for.
A recent transplant from Southern California was shocked when we told her that people really do surf here in Texas. She would have died laughing if we had shown her our pick for Houston's best surf shop. It's true that the outside of the Surfhouse isn't what you might expect. Instead of seagulls, we have blackbirds. Instead of salt in the air, we have exhaust fumes. Pounding waves? Forget it. The nearest beach is an hour away. But on the inside, this north-of-the-Heights landmark is a shrine to Texas surf culture. The Surfhouse has been a fixture on the Houston scene since before most of its current customers were born. It opened in 1967, under the same owners it has today. "They're really into the history of it all," said one 28-year-old customer who has been shopping here since age 11. "It's cool to support a store where they really love the sport."
To think, a whole generation has grown up believing that bookstores are supposed to be run by boards of directors, serve 80 kinds of coffee and loom as large as airplane hangars. Yes, the megaplexes do have every book on every subject known to man, and yes, it's nice to be able to quaff a cup of chai while you're strolling the aisles, but something's missing, and that's a sense that anybody truly cares about the place or the books in it. Larry Turk definitely cares about Quarter Price Books and its inventory. Any one of his customers who betrays the slightest hint of being as much of a book fiend as he is will be treated to one of Turk's long discourses on the trade. He's been to Larry McMurtry's book town in Archer City, and he'll tell you all about it. He's also been to its forerunner, the English village of Hay-on-Wye. He'll even scout books for you while he's there. And if you find a book in his store that shows a little wear and tear, he won't let you take it away until he or one of his assistants gives it a little restoration. If you really want to score points with Turk, gesture toward his center table, a resting spot for numerous replicas of Rodin's The Thinker, and say "I get it! This is the headquarters for thinkers!" He just might give you a further discount.
Blue Willow Bookstore
Some parents regard their children as an extension of themselves, so show all your friends you're better than they are by improving your kids. How? Expand their minds. Take the time to read to them. And if you want to really blow the Joneses out of the water, find unique children's reading at Blue Willow Books. For six years they've been offering a variety of children's books organized according to age and special interests of the child. They can help you find a book about the ocean that's written exclusively for your three-year-old. So now she'll know more about the underwater world than SpongeBob SquarePants. Do the Jones kids know what a sea anemone is?
Ever toyed with the idea of seeking career counseling from a psychic or an astrologer but been put off by the garishly muu-muu'ed, incense-burning, turban-coiffed mystic promising to solve your love woes as you choke on perfumed smoke? Well, if you want career guidance from someone who not only talks the talk but also walks the walk as a professional herself, just call metaphysician Jennifer Bobbitt. She guides CEOs and mailroom clerks to their dream jobs and is more confidential than a headhunter, priest or therapist, while combining the motivational skills of all three. She also teaches astrology classes for beginners -- nights and weekends only, so she can give her all to her day job: accountant.
G & G Model Shop
Stepping into this little orange-and-brown shop in the Rice Village is like stepping back into 1954. Makes sense. That's when G&G moved into its current location. The cozy, jam-packed store has an endearing, musty quality to it. But the selection is second to none. Anything you ever wanted in model trains, boats or cars is here, displayed on shelves or housed behind glass (check out the Johnny Cash railroad car!). There's also a fine collection of magazines and journals for the model enthusiast, not to mention the huge supply of craft supplies: paint, glue, wood, etc. Not into trains or cars? Never fear. You can always purchase the Giant Volcano. The packaging promises you can "build and erupt your own volcano in 20 minutes." Now, who doesn't want to try that?

Fly High Little Bunny
Call up this jewelry store and ask, "Where are you located?" and don't be surprised if the person on the other end answers, "Houston, just between New Orleans and Austin." Fly High Little Bunny is a goofy place, and not just because of its good-natured staff. There's the bizarre but memorable name, the whimsical ads and the sadistic-looking bunny logo looming tall above Shepherd Drive (are those his teeth sticking out or what?). Weirdness is nice, but it's the terrific collection of mostly silver jewelry that makes this almost five-year-old Montrose store our pick. The wide selection of earrings, necklaces, rings and bracelets (many dotted with bits of amber, turquoise and other colorful stones) will please the tastes of Heights hippies and River Oaks matrons alike. Prices range from affordable under-$15 earrings to more jaw-dropping sales tags. But when a jewelry store is this laid-back and lovely, any amount seems worth paying.
Whole Foods Market
Sure, it's the largest retailer of crunchy stuff, but there's more to Whole Foods than bulk granola and Gardenburgers. For example, it's also the best place to snag a live lobster, a tuna steak or wild salmon. The tattooed guys behind the counter are friendly and knowledgeable. They know their orange roughy from their whitefish. Yes, some markets have a bigger selection, but the clincher here is the service. Whole Foods will always steam your lobster or shell and devein your shrimp, no matter how busy they are.
Canino's Produce
Don't let yourself be overly distracted by the incredibly good selection of produce, vinegars and bulk beans. The real bargains are way in the back, where the growers have the discount stuff fresh off the trucks. Get red peppers for a buck a pound, jalapeos for pennies, and some really tasty tomatoes without that nasty waxy stuff you get in the grocery store. Inside, among myriad other items, you'll find excellent eggs. Any chef will tell you that the henfruit at this market contains less water than what you find at the supermarket. You like eggs Benedict? An egg from the farmers market is a lot easier to poach than a store-bought one. Your scrambled eggs will be runny no more. Hooray! Stop on your way out for a pound of the cheapest and best cashews in the city. The tamales they sell at front stand are delicious, too.
Houston Camera Exchange
A visit to the Houston Camera Exchange is kind of like those commercials for Circuit City, where the technophile runs through the store in ecstasy. On a recent visit to the place, we intended to duck in quickly and check out the selection of books on black-and-white photography. But plans for a short trip were soon derailed, as we were twice engaged in conversation by elderly gentlemen who preached the joys of developing your own photos and proffered business cards advertising photography lessons. Even if you don't spend 30 minutes chatting with other customers, the store's great selection of new and used equipment will make it difficult to escape quickly.

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