Best Of :: Shopping & Services
It's a delicate business, salvaging footwear that costs as much as a used Honda, but Barry and Ellen Croft handle the art of shoe repair with an aw-shucks mirth that cuts through the pomp of Prada. Barry, who started Shoe Savers years ago, has become the official cobbler for Inner Loop socialites, city officials, lawyers and the occasional visiting celebrity. A typical day finds Ellen beaming at the line of customers -- which often winds out the door of their no-frills shop in the Rice Village -- while Barry polishes, stitches and refurbishes countless Manolo Blahniks and the occasional work boot. The Crofts are saviors of the chic, holding exclusive contracts with Saks Fifth Avenue and other swanky shoe mongers, yet the couple manages to keep the high-maintenance egos in check. "Snooty people don't bother me at all," Barry grins from his overloaded workstation. "I just don't deal with 'em."
For a comic-book novice -- and by that we mean someone who has a few books in their collection, as opposed to 20 to 30 boxes filled with intricately filed volumes -- it must be a burden going to a comic-book store these days. Clerks and employees who work at a handful of these spots (we won't say which) can be some snooty poops sometimes, condescending just because you don't know the difference between a Frank Miller Batman and an Alex Ross Batman. Plus, most of these stores have such a cluttered, dank, grungy vibe, you feel like you're walking into a smelly porno shop and should be ashamed of yourself. Fortunately, you don't get that feeling when you wander into Bedrock City. There's a wide selection of books, the staffers are accommodating, and the store doesn't skimp on its spacious, easygoing environment. (Sunlight actually finds its way into this place.) Comic book hunting should be a fun little pastime. The folks at Bedrock City make sure you don't feel like an ignorant perv while you're doing it.
Houstonian Chloé Dao spent eight years in New York City, including a stint at the Fashion Institute of Technology. Now she's brought her talents home. She and sister Kim opened Lot 8 in the Rice Village at 6127 Kirby Drive two years ago, specializing in off-the-rack trendy clothes and local designer one-of-a-kinds. Dao has lots of her own fashion fun on the racks and offers alterations and custom designs. Her specialty is dressing you up in wedding, prom and party frocks. While she's more downtown, compared to Vanessa Riley's uptown designs, expect Dao to create quite a name for herself among Houston's fashionistas.
With Ann's help, you can buy off the rack and look like you're wearing a designer original. You walk in, step behind the green velvet curtain, take off your clothes and try on the outfit you like. Then she measures and pins and makes it so that your horrible oversized outfit looks like it was made to order. One really cool thing about Ann is her one-hour service. If you have a hot date that night or forget to try on that bridesmaid dress until an hour before the wedding, she can help. You'll have to press for an estimate in order to get something other than "not much." You'll also want to check a day or two ahead of your pickup date if you've told her there's no hurry. Sometimes Ann interprets "no hurry" as "lowest priority." But remind her you want to wear that sassy little number tonight and she'll sew like the wind.
Dave Payne can do just about anything when it comes to the guitar. Besides his own beautiful playing and singing, which runs the gamut from classical to funk, he's got enough patience and good grace to teach anybody else how to follow his lead. Everybody from middle-aged engineers looking to perfect all those blues licks they've been working on for decades to adolescent punk rockers (that include groups such as the Collapsing Horse and Chowderheads) to teenage girls interested in pick-styled classical guitar has benefited from Payne's good-humored teaching style and gentle manner, which make the hard work of learning how to play a whole lot of fun.
Some people kill plants. Some overwater their petunias until they turn to mush. Some just don't want to dig in the dirt. So they hire other people to make their backyards pretty. It's too hard and too hot to plant plumerias and palm trees yourself. It's time to call Vicente Torrez. The bamboo trees he planted last summer have stretched up to the sky. The ginger and elephant ears are thriving. The plumeria may not have made it, but the confederate jasmine is growing up the fence. So if you are your garden's grim reaper and plants die the minute you walk out the back door, we suggest you call Vicente. His green thumb is big enough for the both of you.
Contrary to what The New York Times Magazine seems to think, Houston is green, not brown. But God didn't make it that way, the Teas family did. By 1951, according to the Teas Web site, the nursery and landscaping company had planted more than one million trees in Houston. They landscaped Rice University, the River Oaks subdivision and Bellaire Boulevard, where the nursery has been located since 1910. This ten-acre site is more like a park than a nursery, with soft gravel paths for strolling by nearly every imaginable plant that will grow in this part of the world -- and some that usually don't. But the best part about visiting Teas is the information desk. Ask them anything -- these garden geeks cannot be stumped.
Summer in a swampland means clawing at your skin, scratching hundreds of mosquito bites. It means every dinner you eat outdoors has to be lit with citronella candles. And it means the constant sound of blue bug lights zapping. Add to that reports of mosquitoes in the Houston area carrying the West Nile virus and you'll definitely want to wipe out those pesky bloodsuckers. You need the Buffy of the mosquito world: the mister system. It lines the fence and mists the air every few hours. The air ends up smelling like Off, which may interfere with the effects of your poolside aromatherapy lamp, but it's a fantastic trade-off.
Yes, Petco is a chain, but it doesn't feel like one. Walk in with your pet, whatever it may be. This store is friendly, convenient and fast. It carries the biggest selection of pet products from the finest brands, as well as lizards, birds, tropical fish, snakes, spiders and all the goodies you might need for your new friend. Whenever we visit Petco, we always spy at least one happy dog eyeing the buffet of gourmet biscuits. And we're grateful they offer low-cost vaccinations and vet services, plus they support the SPCA in finding loving companions for homeless pets. The employees are extremely helpful and are glad to be there. So dress up your dog and take him shopping; you'll love Petco as much as he does.
Little things mean a lot, especially when the family pet leaves big messes in your yard. With both parents working, it's hard to keep up with the cooking and cleaning and lawn care, let alone enjoy home life. But Scoop le Poop makes having a dog that much easier. For a reasonable fee, le Poop makes regular visits to discretely remove offending matter. No need to worry about these professional scoopers transmitting other dogs' diseases to your household. These waste wranglers are so tidy with their equipment, you'd think they trained with a biohazard unit. (Services start at $15, with discounts for senior citizens and service dogs.)
It's mostly the employees of Fluor Enterprises who know about the affordable, honest wizardry of nearby Auto Tech, but it's also open to the public at large. The original owner, Joe, and his knowledgeable staff could make even the most rickety engine purr like a kitten in no time. Before he sold the place (to live a peaceful retirement full of deep-sea fishing), Joe knew most of his clientele by name and remembered details about their cars most owners would forget. Whatever the problem, Joe could find the least expensive solution and was known to recommend wrecking yards where you could find parts to save a few more dollars. What's more, one of Joe's employees drove a Honda with well over 200,000 miles on it. That's a staff that knows how to keep a car going. Even with new owner Alberto Capitallo, the garage is still so reliable, so true to the original work ethic, that we don't mind the trip down to Sugar Land for service.
Many hardware stores are so enormous, they're more of a hindrance than a help. Who wants to hike two miles to find a one-and-a-half-inch beveled polywasher for the kitchen sink, then another mile searching for one-eighth-inch mirror brackets? Then there's the attitude. Unlike contractors, we usually don't know what we're doing in those long aisles, and most hardware store employees aren't interested in helping us figure it out. The guys over at River Oaks Hardware, on the other hand, will leave you alone but keep a watchful eye, intervening at just the right moment. This is clearly not your typical visit to a "big box" warehouse.