Forking over $15 or $20 for a new CD these days puts a dent in the wallet of many music connoisseurs. Thankfully, there's Half Price Books. Here, you can find used CDs of mainstream artists and popular indie acts priced anywhere from $5 to $8. Lesser-known artists show up on clearance racks, priced from $1 to $3 -- and music collectors should take note of this section. Between all the music that some might say isn't worth a dime, there are out-of-print gems that have gone undetected by the populace for months, many of which go for a lot more on eBay.
The Way We Wore
So, you want to dress as a naughty elf for that certain someone. Or you want to dodge the landlord (an inconspicuous glam metal wig and pair of Bono shades). We suggest you hit the full-to-bursting rooms at The Way We Wore, which offers an almost endless selection of everything from oversize mushroom hats to false teeth. Whether your kick is identity theft, fetishism or posing at Swing-a-Thons in crisp, new bowling shirts, stop in here for your first stab at glamour. A top hat and tails could help you talk your way into fancy parties, while the right collaboration of tie-dyed platform shoes and bawdy Victorian garb could actually get you committed -- you know, if that's your thing.
Readers' choice: Buffalo Exchange
Sound Exchange
"Back in the day -- 1977 -- Houston was a sleepy cow-town, known mostly for petroleum-related businesses, serial killers with "Wayne' in their name, and the Astrodome..." So begins the epic saga of Sound Exchange, as told on its extremely entertaining Web site. But here's a spoiler alert: The saga ends with a few dudes running a great new-and-used record store out of a cool two-story Montrose home. If you want the new Avril Lavigne-Clay Aiken duet CD of Celine Dion covers, it's probably not your place, but if you get goose bumps digging through hard-to-find new and classic vinyl, or want to check out a good selection of indie, punk, blues, jazz and rock on a newer technology known as the compact disc, then this little brick house is your home, too.
So, you have a subscription to Wine Enthusiast, own a wine encyclopedia and special corkscrews, and conduct blind tastings at home with vintages from your cellar. Still feel like that's not enough? If you really want to impress your friends and be the ultimate wine geek, fork out $1,500 and take the Wine Fundamentals course offered by the International Sommelier Guild at UH's Hilton School. You'll soon find out there's more to life than just sniffing and swigging. Once and for all, you'll be able to decipher wine labels and know the correct way to store and serve it. And all the tastings are sure to heighten your sense of aroma and flavor, helping make you an expert at food and wine pairings. Now, if you can just fake that French accent.
We counted 20 varieties of wine bags alone at this chic boutique located in the Upper Kirby District. To say the least, it's an oenophile's wet dream. Wait, make that a person-buying-an-oenophile-a-gift's wet dream. Wine charms, wine stoppers and books about wine abound. Need a bottle opener? But of course. They even sell cheese accessories and tasty varieties of wine vinaigrette. The best part, though, is the extras. There are weekly wine classes, and the bar (conveniently located next door) is available for private tastings.
Ever paid someone to wash your car by hand, only to spend another hour at home erasing pesky droplet spots? Sometimes a task isn't worth doing unless you do it yourself. We found a place that allows you, the driver, to dry and polish your car. It's the best of both worlds: a top-notch automated car wash that gives you the satisfaction of erasing every last speck of bird poop and grime yourself. Turn on the stereo, and you've just invented the latest workout craze. Just make sure to bring an extra towel for yourself. In the immortal words of Mr. Miyagi: Wax on.
Bedrock City Comic Company - Westheimer
Whether you're in the market for a collectible silver-age comic, an old Kurtzman Mad or the most recent "Vertigo noir" titles, Bedrock never disappoints. Not only is Bedrock City itself full to bursting with every imaginable example of the sequentialist's art, but its Web site has a searchable database and allows you to place special orders without leaving the comfort of your personal Batcave.
Readers' choice: Nan's Games & Comics Too
The back room of greeting cards in Events is like an art gallery. You won't find any run-of-the-mill images with sappy cliched limericks here. Most of the cards seem hand-made, using miniature cutouts and appliques. You might even pass them off as being homemade...we won't tell. There are also plenty of clever mass-produced cards, most with laugh-out-loud photographs and messages. You might pay a bit more for these little works of art, but we guarantee they won't be thrown away or tossed in a shoebox. At least not until next year.
We'll begin by defining the term "stemware" as wine-and-cheese-by-the-pool casual, not Thanksgiving-dinner-with-the-in-laws crystal goblets. This said, you just can't beat Pier 1 for whimsical design at an astoundingly affordable price. Obnoxious drunk guy drops his glass? No problem. The same design is probably now available for half-price, or even cheaper at the clearance store. And you can't go wrong there with gifting. Just make sure the recipient hasn't already stocked up on your selection. The best part? We've collected many eclectic lines over the years, and they all seem to go together.
The ecosystem as we know it is in crisis. Invasive species like popcorn trees are decimating our East Texas forests, and water hyacinths are clogging our streams. Bravely battling this trend one backyard at a time are the native-plant guardians at Buchanan's Native Plants, gardeners fighting to ensure Texas will always be Texas, no matter what Chinese or South American shipping companies release at the Port of Houston. To join the biotic resistance, head to Buchanan's Native Plants in the Heights, grab some "soil soup," some green cloud sage, some weeping yaupon holly and start planting. While you're there, you might as well pick up those stylish rubber garden shoes and some Kid's Herbal Armor. After all, it's a native jungle out there.
Readers' choice: Teas Nursey

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