Houston is not the only place you can find this sports authority, but it is the home of what was once known as Academy Super Surplus. It's for good reason that this local favorite has spread its huge selection of boats and bats, shorts and shotguns, tents and tennis balls to 80 stores in ten states. The management never forgets the holy trinity of retail: service, selection and savings. The warehouse-like stores are packed with everything you need for any sport or outdoor activity, from clothes and gear to fishing and hunting licenses. The feather in Academy's cap is its support of hometown teams. A special late-night opening for Astros fans after the conclusion of the National League Championship Series, plus the proliferation of free "Astros: We Believe!" signs at World Series time, equals customers who believe in Academy, too.
The type of cars you'd normally see being patted down with diapers by valets can now be spotted rolling into a $4 car wash. Why? As the name implies, there's a magnetic appeal to a place that offers a job well done. The best part is that you, the driver, are in control of how much or how little of the job you do yourself. Customers wishing to debug or de-bird-poop their Dodges can spend a little time removing those pesky specks with supplied buckets and brushes before a deluxe drive-thru wash sudses and shines the whole shebang. More options abound: Each wash comes with a dollar's worth of vacuum credit to be used or saved. Carisma is the choose-your-own-adventure of car washes.
If you're on the lookout for Elton John-esque specs, funky, cheap or just cooler-than-average eyewear, Smith's Opticians is the go-to place. Owner-optician Phillip Brown is an affable guy with a burning love for spectacles, an affection passed down to him from his dad, who was also an optician. Brown's vintage pieces are sought after by film companies in need of period eyewear, and prices are great on his contemporary stuff, much of which comes from glasses reps who unload merchandise deemed too funky for more conventional retailers. The shop is cluttered with myriad frames and boxes full of random eyeglass cases, but rooting through them is just part of the fun.

Best Place to Shop When You Don't Know What to Buy

Bering's Hardware

People who wander into Bering's Hardware expecting to find nuts and bolts and little else might find it confusing when they stumble onto the innovative cookware or the stationery section. They might be thrown by the unparalleled customer service and the divine smell of roasted coffee that lingers over the brass fixtures and ceramic drawer pulls. In fact, it seems like an old-fashioned general store. And like those multipurpose stores of old, this family-owned business has it all. Even when you don't know what to buy or what you're doing, you can spend an afternoon at Bering's mulling it over. Have a key made while you sit in one of the porch swings and ponder the wisdom of fountain pens. Pick out a tea kettle or a place setting. Buy a hammer or a hammock. Or buy nothing and browse at your leisure. The friendly staff knows you'll be back.
For Texans, "gun control" means using both hands, so it's no mean feat to be the greatest gun- and gun-related equipment retailer in Big H. Whether you've been buying and trading guns since you were knee-high to a bumblebee or you're a first-time shooter, Carter's Country has a full lineup. With an inventory ranging from brand-new cowboy-action guns to used hunting and assault rifles to reloading equipment for the true do-it-yourselfer, Carter's Country doesn't specialize in a type of gun as much as it specializes in guns. In addition to its tiered-price-level inventory, Carter's Country also offers gunsmithing service, gun storage, handgun classes and, at this location, an on-site shooting range with trap, skeet and clays. The knowledgeable staff can help any level of enthusiast, patiently explaining handling techniques, target types, bullet calibers, weights and powder grains. Well, shoot!
Fido still isn't listening when you calmly explain that jumping on the furniture is costing you a fortune in upholstery-cleaning fees? Trainer Loralei Zwitt can teach you how to get your message across effectively by utilizing her famous motto: Think like a dog. Houston's own dog whisperer has nearly 20 years of experience using posture, tone and rewards to help pets live up to their reputation as man's best friend. The best part is that Zwitt serves as a mentor while you learn to raise your status to exalted one, realizing your full potential as leader of the pack. Once Sparky sits, stays and politely shakes hands, reward him with one of the great treats from Zwitt's full-service joint. Give him a bubble bath at the grooming facility or bond over coffee (with two- and four-legged friends) at the cafe. The giant activity center gets two paws up for its group and individual playtimes, flyball, agility course and frequent special events. Woof!
Little Watch Shop
In a day and age when nearly every business seems hell-bent on offering services as varied as nose-wiping and landscaping, it's refreshing to find a place that's been doing one thing and doing it well for nearly 60 years. The Little Watch Shop is a small house/store in Montrose that's been keeping Houstonians on time since 1947. Whether you need a battery for your Timex, a band for your TAG Heuer or a face-lift for a family heirloom, the Little Watch Shop's brigade of meticulous clocksmiths are well qualified for the job. And how have the people at this nostalgic little store kept up with the times? They're just as mindful of your pocketbook as your pocket watch.
It's not hard to find a mani-pedi combo in this town for $25: Look for the nearest strip mall and take your pick. There's no need to wait that is, unless you're going to Instyle Nails, where you'll get a great deal and a great massage. Yes! A shoulder and neck massage! Hallelujah! The little bonus rejuvenation that comes with your great-looking hands and feet is worth a few minutes of wait time when you bounce out of the heated chair (complete with whirlpool foot bath) feeling fabulous from head to toe. Even pricey salon retreats can't compete since they, unlike Instyle, are closed on Sundays. So read a magazine and chat with the nail techs or just sit back quietly and relax. And do it often. At these prices, you can afford it.
Any chiropractor can crack your bones, but few are going to care about your total state of health as much as Jackie Doval does. At Alternative Health and Wellness, she uses traditional chiropractic manipulations (a.k.a. bone-popping), in conjunction with exercise, massage and nutrition, all in a supportive environment. A community advocate, Doval helped organize the Lesbian Health Fair and has dedicated hundreds of hours in free care to HIV/AIDS and low-income patients. And her business slogan, "Chiropractor for All Walks of Life," isn't just about her dedication to providing health care for people of all ages and backgrounds. She's a certified animal chiropractor (the first one in Texas) and can take care of your cat or horse, too.
Canino's Produce
Inner Loopers have been patting themselves heartily on the back lately for bringing back "roadside" produce stands at various farmers' markets. Although our hats are off to the boom in homegrown tomatoes, we'd like to give props to the giant farmers' market (inside the Loop) that's been offering a tremendous selection of fresh fruits, vegetables, beans, vinegars and even milk and eggs all along. There's no place else in the city where you can buy a farm-fresh pineapple (in bulk, if you wish) at 6 a.m. any day of the week, year-round. Don't want to drive to the country for those juicy Hempstead watermelons? Canino's has them, along with a way to spend all those pennies you've been hoarding (jalapeos anyone?). Go to the very back for the best deals and the freshest hard-to-find items. Whatever you do, don't miss the tamales. Like the rest of the goods, they're tremendously fresh, and you'll see them only rarely at the other markets.

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