Apple Store
One employee at the Apple Store in the Galleria is a shaggy-haired slacker who stumbles around the place singing to himself. "Hey, what's up?" he'll interrupt himself to ask a customer. "What's the deal-i-o?" The store, painted stark white with blond wood floors, is as sleek as the wafer-thin iPods on display. It has fast replaced the arcade and record shop as the spot in the mall where hipsters go to hang. And why not? The place hums with activity as teens download songs and videos, check their MySpace pages and surf the Net. The little ones have a station all their own, where they play Dora the Explorer and Nemo. An older crowd occasionally wanders in as well, gazing lustily at the powerful Mac G5 and the giant 30-inch monitor on display. And all day long, people of every age hunch over counters, legs crossed at the ankles, looking as laid-back as the employees.
Issues offers no coffee bar, no hearty muffins, no place to sit and page through periodicals. Heck, it hardly offers a place to park. But the store's lone location on Shepherd has that certain something the big-box book behemoths don't. Namely, it's not a big-box book behemoth. Devoted almost exclusively to glossies, Issues boasts more than 3,000 titles, ranging from the dutifully mainstream to the downright obscure. All the standard political, celebrity and music fare is represented, alongside a smattering of scholarly journals, poetry reviews and the occasional radical-culture mag such as Clamor and Lip. Fashionistas have their pick of hard-to-find international rags. In the Lifestyles section, the marijuana mag Skunk rubs spines with American Cowboy and Farm Ranch Living, which nestle against the feminist journal Bitch. If that doesn't grab your attention, check out the store's healthy array of gay and straight porn. Take that, Borders!
These days it's all the rage to slap ridiculously sized diamonds which cost as much as a two-bedroom pad in West U on plain platinum bands and call them engagement rings. But if you long for something classier than a gaudy, Paris Hilton-esque trinket, your answer is antique and estate jewelry. These pieces have a story. These pieces convey stately elegance. These pieces say, "My ring was crafted in 1899 by French artisans. How about yours?" For one-of-a-kind dazzlers, peruse the offerings at A.A. Benjamin. The cozy Galleria shop boasts art deco, Georgian and Victorian jewelry dating back to the 19th century. You can count on proprietor Amy Lawch for the goods; the gemologist and certified appraiser not only sells jewelry but evaluates it for clients. So even if you don't buy from her, she'll tell you if you've found the perfect rock. If you bought a dud, well, brace yourself for a brutal dissection. But hey, you can always make it up in your next marriage, right?
Maybe it wasn't the best idea to get the big spiderweb tattoo that curls around your neck. And though Blues Brothers is a classic, you might have gone a little far getting "J-A-K-E" inked across your knuckles. So now it's time for a little tattoo removal. The folks at Town & Country Plastic Surgery are more than happy to fire up their Palomar Q-YAG 5 System laser, a gadget that sounds so cool we wish we had ink that had to come off. Depending on the tat's size, they could have you ready for that job promotion in just a few sessions. Unfortunately, they don't promise it'll be pain-free. Dude, you should have listened to your mother.
Described by one disgruntled along-for-the-ride male acquaintance as a "cosmetics crackhouse," Sephora is an orgy of high-end lip gloss, eye shadow, blush and sundry other forms of pretty-up. For a truly overwhelming experience, venture to Sephora's Galleria location on a Friday or Saturday evening between six and eight and bear witness as scores of young women rotate like a greasepainted volleyball team from one makeup station to the next, applying globs of expensive samples to their facial tabula rasas. They eventually will emerge dateward, sporting garishly seductive mugs that they could never have afforded any other way. Inspiring!
Houston Camera Exchange
Any photog geek will tell you there's really only one camera store in the city worth knowing, and that's the Houston Camera Exchange. A perennial winner in this category, the warehouse-size location on Westheimer is a dream come true for any avid shutterbug. And budding amateurs needn't be shy: The knowledgeable staff will set you on the path to a lifetime of photographic wonderment. The walls are lined with cool vintage cameras and recorders; the display cases are stocked with new and used 35-millimeter automatics and a variety of digital point-and-shoots; the aisles overflow with tripods, camera bags, lights and umbrellas. And for those who are resisting the digital revolution, they even sell film.
Every month, a dozen people gather at the Sugar Land house of psychic Sean Harribance for a potluck lunch and a day of exploring the paranormal. Somehow, with no planning or coordination, it always seems like there's just the right amount and variety of food. Is it the triumph of psychic waves, or mere coincidence? Well, if you believe the former, you'll love Harribance. During a reading he might go into a trancelike state; sometimes he'll snap out of it and immediately start talking like your best friend. Harribance says he's spoken with every living president except the current Bush in the White House and look how things are going for him. Come on down to Sugar Land, Dubya, and get a dose of Harribance! Don't forget to bring a covered dish.
Despite what you might think, life isn't easy for the luscious live models at the Galleria's Abercrombie & Fitch store. Gaggles of preteens constantly swarm with cameras. Lonely types offer lame come-ons. And occasionally mall security is called to haul away a leering creep. Of course, it doesn't help that the store heavily markets images of teenagers in steamy, soft-core-porn scenarios. But give these college-age models credit for taking it all in stride. Two stand at the front of the store a tanned, svelte, leggy chick and a surfer dude with impossibly ripped pecs and abs wearing little more than a smile. They're eye candy. They know they're eye candy. And they're good sports about being eye candy. So don't hate them because they're beautiful.
Traders Village
A visit to Traders Village might tempt you to buy the RV of your dreams and move right in. The open-air flea market, located just outside the beltway in northwest Houston, has great carny food: turkey legs, sausage-on-a-stick and funnel cakes. The entertainment is old-timey: bluegrass bands, chili cookoffs, amusement park rides. And the self-described "largest market on the Texas Gulf Coast" is home to hundreds of dealers hawking everything from ball caps to belt buckles, puppies to pool cues, beer signs to barstools. For many, Traders Village is a fun way to while away an afternoon. We prefer to call it home sweet home.
The sign in front of Texas Junk Company has an offer you just can't refuse: Over 1,000 used cowboy boots under $30. Sure enough, once you step inside, the smell of well-worn leather will guide your nose to the shelves piled high with Tex Ritter's favorite footwear. Aside from the bargain-priced boots, the cavernous warehouse is littered with junk and antique relics from a time when life was simple: dust-covered books and magazines, discarded postcards and photos, metal signs, candy, furniture, light fixtures, trinkets, toys and oddly shaped pieces of die-cast metal used for God knows what. Forget the map Texas Junk Company is where treasure can be found.

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