Southland Hardware
While The Home Depot and Lowe's continue to assert themselves as the Starbucks of hardware stores, putting the fear of God into more modest chains like Ace, this humble Montrose shop -- one of the oldest hardware stores in Houston -- is staying alive. Its smaller size makes it much more navigable than those monstrous hardware hangars, and the staffers are infinitely more knowledgeable. They'll help you find exactly what you need, and if it's not in stock, they'll order it or send you to a competitor. The proud employees exude confidence that customers will stay faithful, even if none of them ever wins an Olympic speed skating medal.

The cheesy Alamo facade is a dead giveaway: The Goode Co. Barbeque Hall of Flame is all about Texas. Here you'll find Texas food from the Goode Co. Barbeque smokehouse across the street, the Lone Star State's best and biggest grills, Texas cuisine cookbooks, Western wear, Texas-style jewelry, toys for Texas tots and shot glasses hand-painted with bluebonnets. Send Texans living out of state an edible gift set of hot sauces or seasonings. They'll love you for it.
Carter's Country doesn't sell hunting supplies. It sells huntin' supplies. That's how you know you're getting the real deal when it comes to buying gear you use to kill stuff. It stocks more than 800 makes and models of firearms, from purty li'l things for the ladyfolk to handheld cannons for the Dirty Harrys out there. Carter's, which has been around for more than 40 years, also offers concealed-weapons courses and a firing range. You can get lost in the endless rows of rifles and handguns, not to mention the dozens of stuffed animals that make you feel like you're in your own special hunting lodge. The place wins extra points for the irony of being located in the same complex as an emergency animal shelter.

Looking for a big-ass belt buckle with a buckin' bronco? Or perhaps a pair of tasteful boot-shaped earrings? Well, look no further. Ed Kane's has been selling this kind of stuff for more than 30 years. With more Stetsons than you can shake a latigo flogger at, a boatload of boots, jeans of every color imaginable, and stuff for your horse too, Ed Kane's is a one-stop shop for the true Texas family. It even sells Western-style suits -- perfect for that bar mitzvah on the dude ranch.
In this era of über-chic salons and bewilderingly varied hair products, a visit to a traditional barbershop is a rare treat. And the Avalon Barber Shop is a classic, complete with revolving red-and-white-striped barber pole. Ask for Paul, who'll sit you down in one of the vintage chairs and deftly snip away at your mop as you survey the walls, filled with pictures of faithful customers and a stuffed alligator head. Close your eyes and drift off as he wraps your face in warm, steaming towels. Your pores appropriately massaged, Paul will swab on hot lather and glide a straight razor along your skin with the skill of a surgeon. A fresh "sage rub" aftershave will put some color back in your cheeks. Suddenly, you're as sharp as the well-heeled regulars who've frequented the shop since the 1940s. This is the grooming of kings.
Soundwaves - Montrose
The biggest store in the Soundwaves chain knows how to soothe the savage beasts that are music consumers. Their wide collection of new and used CDs, not to mention hard-to-find import albums and indie releases, is enough to satisfy any music junkie. And the place has become a haven for local DJs, thanks to a vinyl collection that's heavily up to date with the latest dance, trance, jungle, acid jazz and all that other kooky-sounding club music. The store even has a built-in DJ booth for "Saturday Sessions," a two-hour spotlight where spinners can test out the latest techniques on their Technics. Soundwaves deserves some credit -- and not just for those late-night commercials where the big-breasted women bounce around saying their store is the shit.
Being stranded sucks almost as much as towing fees. No more. Nathaniel Mayes III is on the scene. Give him a call, explain the problem, and he'll be out there the same day. He'll check out your car, procure the necessary parts and fix the problem. If he can't fix it right there, he'll tow it himself back to Big J's Power Garage. He won't jack you around. And he's easygoing, so don't be afraid to negotiate. Eventually, Mayes wants his own fleet of mechanics for an expanded house-call business. But if this award affords him more business before that fleet is in place, please be patient. You may also have to sit tight if you call Mayes's cell phone and hear a woman giggling in the background. It'll be a while.
Allegiances run deep among Houston grocery shoppers. Die-hard Kroger devotees are just itchin' to pop a cap in some Randalls-card-carrier's ass. And don't even get us started on the Whole Foods posse. Us, we're members of the Fiesta crew. If you want good food (especially Mexican specialties) at good prices and can sacrifice some decor, this is the place to go. There's nothing fancy here -- including those annoying, privacy-invading discount cards. Wherever you live, chances are you won't have to drive far to find one. Plus, they pipe in oldies like the Temptations and the Beatles, making the shopping experience a whole lot more fun.
You won't find a B. Dalton, Gap or Olive Garden at this Chinatown landmark. You will find an exotic Asian market with fresh produce, meats and seafood; unusual sauces and condiments; inexpensive housewares and decorations; and an outstanding selection of drinks, snacks, candy and sweets. Elsewhere in the building are shops that sell herbal remedies and books on Asian (largely Vietnamese) culture. Hair salons and restaurants lease space, but the turnover rate seems high. Business looks good, though, for the Banh Mi Hoang Son sandwich counter. Asian-Americans, downtown dwellers, local artists and bike messengers drop in for cheap and delicious tofu sandwiches ($1.50) and inexpensive Vietnamese food.

If you let a six-year-old loose in here, the contact high would probably last a week. Sugar. The place smells like pure sugar. There are multicolored cookies; strawberry, pineapple and peach tiramisu; and fresh, original versions of those cinnamon and sugar sticks that Taco Bell and Domino's Pizza ripped off. You can also special-order cakes and cookies and breads. That's right, El Bolillo isn't just for the sweet tooth. There are also hard rolls perfect for smearing with butter or making tuna sandwiches. If you store the rolls in Tupperware, they'll last as long as that six-year-old's sugar high.

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