Sound Exchange might not have the widest selection of local music the place is too small for that but it's still the best spot to buy the stuff. That's because the staff there knows local music like no other salespeople anywhere, and they pretty much stock anything from any band willing to walk in with a consignment. And Sound Ex is where most local rock musicians shop, too, so there's a decent chance you can get your CD autographed while you're there. And on occasion, the store hosts raucous, BYOB in-stores, most often starring local punk, indie rock and metal bands.
The demise of Cactus Music and Video this year left a huge void in Houston's music scene. Not because of the inventory, mind you, but because of the sense of community and the 100-percent-Houston-proud vibe Cactus had. Good thing Sig's Lagoon opened up shop. Though much smaller than Cactus, Sig's offers the same type of music and gifts and even the same in-stores by touring and local musicians. The store brims with music by local musicians past and present, and you can't get much more Houstonian than naming your record store after the late and legendary local columnist Sig Byrd. Sig's Lagoon is Cactus condensed.
Admit it back in the day, you were totally envious of that kid who sported an "I'm a Pepper" T-shirt. Now, thanks to folks who purge their clothes from yesteryear, you can finally get your hands on one at That 70s Shop if you stop in at the right time. Although the name evokes memories from the decade of platform shoes, gaudy fabric patterns, polyester pants and big collars, the shop is a vintage oasis filled with styles from the past 50 years some of which are making a comeback. And you can't help but love the reasonable prices and the friendly, knowledgeable staff. All things considered, That 70s Shop is one groovy trip into the past without any of the nasty side effects.
On any given Saturday afternoon, crafty soccer moms, fashionable drag queens and frantic brides-to-be can be seen pushing and pulling at thousands of bolts of fabric and at each other in search of a yard of perfect pastel polyester or a roll of fabulous faux fur. With one of the widest selections of fabrics, patterns and accessories to choose from in the Southwest, High Fashion Fabric Center is a magnet for do-it-yourselfers and professionals alike. Whether you're making a sari, a cheerleading outfit, a bathrobe or a prom dress, you'll want to make High Fashion your first stop. And though the prices might be a little higher than at the strip malls, the quality is ten times better.
It seems as though everyone's doing it: preserving family memories in a personalized scrapbook. But where do you go when you need supplies? You'll find everything and we do mean everything at Maridawn's Scrapbooking. Don't know how to make a scrapbook? No worries. The Maridawn staff can show you. They have beginner's classes as well as workshops on designing pages for all themes: birthdays, sports, Mother's Day, pets, baby, holiday and school. The store also hosts classes on making magnet boards, greeting cards, book covers and recipe boxes. You can even use the store's cropping tools and digital picture station while you're there. If you can't get to a class, there are a few sample pages online just to get you started. Be sure to get on the Maridawn mailing list for money-saving coupons and information about the latest events.
Unless your pet is the star of an animated children's movie or the product of a really bad acid trip, chances are it doesn't speak English. So when something goes wrong with said pooch, kitty or ferret, you need the help of someone as close as possible to an animal whisperer. Jim Vulgamott, head internist at Gulf Coast Veterinary Specialists, possesses an uncanny sixth sense in diagnosing pet health issues, which is why thousands of Houstonians flock annually to his offices. He's found cancer in dogs and cats just by feel, and will never recommend costly testing merely to pay for his Lexus. You'll need a referral from a regular vet to see him, and services at GCVS are anything but cheap. But when it's a matter of life or death, this is the man to whom to entrust a beloved furry friend. Perhaps Vulgamott's best trait: his terrific bedside manner, which makes even the worst news bearable, and the best news a reason to throw a party.
Foley's downtown emporium, which occupies an entire city block on Main Street, has long been the flagship location of the chain's 70 or so stores. In its heyday (the chain was founded in Houston more than a hundred years ago just a few blocks from the downtown location), it featured nine wonderful floors of shopping. That's down to five now, but, oh, what lovely floors they are! The company was recently bought out by Macy's, and execs are promising that it will mean little more than a name change. The store's reputation for moderately priced merchandise, lavish displays, an abundance of choices and commitment to service will supposedly stay the same. We're keeping our fingers crossed.
Jewel Dean is more than a boutique owner, she's a fashion expert. And she's generous with her expertise. Customers at her store will find wigs, makeup, dresses, body forms (translation: fake breasts) and shoes in special sizes (translation: giant), but they'll also find a warm, supportive atmosphere. Not to mention a lot of delicately worded truth ("You might want to stay away from plaid, dear"). Not sure how to cinch in that waist without cutting off your ability to breathe? Jewel can help you. Want to draw attention away from your broad shoulders? Jewel knows how. Want to high-five someone when you find that perfect pair of pumps? Jewel's your girl.
Gassing up your car has become a budget-breaking experience, but you can make the trip a little more pleasant by going to the Shell station off 290 and West 43rd. There are plenty of pumps, so there's no waiting. The shopette features fresh fruit and pastries, along with beer and wine, CDs and lotto tickets. There's a car wash, too, and (this is the good part) clean bathrooms. Have to stop for gas after 10 p.m.? This station is well lit and safe. Now, if they could only do something about those outrageous gas prices...
Whether your interest is in freshwater or saltwater fish, the best place to buy your finned pets is Aquarium World. Not only is the selection of animals and aquatic-type products one of the largest in the county, but the staff is extraordinarily helpful and knowledgeable about all things fishy. At Aquarium World, you'll find close to a hundred tanks filled with swimming creatures of all colors, shapes and sizes, from the exotic to the mundane. Thirsting for even more knowledge? Visit the store's Web site to learn about basic fish care or pick up helpful tips on how to start an aquarium.

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