The Briar Shoppe

The Briar Shoppe is a Houston institution. The place, originally opened by the current owner's mother, has been around for about 45 years. The store is an all-woman enterprise, but macho aficionados keep coming back. The walk-in humidor is great, with an easy-to-browse selection. All the favorites in the $5-to-$10 range — Cohiba, Macanudo, Romeo y Julieta — are there. For a couple bucks more, you can pick up something from the large selection of Padrón cigars. The really ambitious smoker looking to spend serious cash can check out the Stradivarius Robusto Major. The Briar Shoppe also sells plenty of designer cutters and lighters. Smoking is allowed inside, but there isn't a lot of room for lounging. Prices are a tad higher at The Briar Shoppe, but expect great customer service whether buying or browsing.

Cactus Music

When Cactus Music closed a few years ago, it was one of the saddest days Houston music has seen or ever will see. Cactus fostered quality local and international music across genres for generations, and carried albums by musicians available almost nowhere else. It was one of the last examples of a music store done right in this city. So it was a happy day last year when the longtime manager and a couple of partners reopened Cactus Music a few blocks away from the original location. It hasn't disappointed, with a huge selection and a giant room just for vinyl lovers. Tack on the knowledgeable staff and tons of great in-store performances and this place is as good as, if not better than, it ever was.

Erotic Cabaret

If you're like us, buying sexy lingerie isn't an everyday deal, which is why Erotic Cabaret is so appealing. The employees are well versed in the merchandise, but realize it's a taboo experience for some shoppers. Want to know where that thing goes and how, and why your partner will appreciate it? Just ask. But if you're there just to find a perfect pair of thigh-highs or a cute thong, or to browse the selection with no one but your lover in mind, they won't bother you. Thanks, Erotic Cabaret. You make ­shopping for our kinkiest fantasies easier than we are after a few glasses of cheap wine.

People have been raving about LEA Plumbing, so when a plumbing emergency hit one of our Best of Houston® correspondents, she called them right away and was crushed to learn LEA only serves Northeast Houston. But Sue Riddle, who handles the company's dispatch, helpfully offered a couple reasons for the correspondent's current water woes. And her husband, master plumber Billy Riddle, called back later that day to mentor the correspondent through cleaning out the showerhead herself. She was blown away as he patiently explained — for free! — why the situation developed, what tools to use and what she might find behind the shower wall.

David's Pools & Spas

You pay enough for a pool these days, you don't want to get ripped off on the upkeep of it. So you should turn to David's Pools & Spas, on the corner of Hillcroft and South Braeswood. These guys know their stuff and are eager to help you solve all those nasty little problems that keep cropping up over a Houston summer. It's a tight, clean, efficient business that keeps its customers happy and its prices low.

This full-service printing shop, housed in the first floor of the Millie Esperson Building, is a downtown business with a hometown attitude toward its clients. They treat every customer like a big ol' corporate client, keeping customers' proofs on file for future jobs. Service Inc. has also been known to stay open till the job gets done.

Clairvoyants come in all forms and fashions. You've got your palm-reading, spell-weaving mystical madams; your potion-brewing, crystal-gazing priestesses; and your all-out crazies. And that's just a slight sampling. Kim O'Neill doesn't fall into any of those categories, though. For one thing, she comes from a corporate background and says she didn't tap into her clairvoyant wavelength until later in life. It was during this particularly bleak time in her life, she says, that she met her guardian angel. And no, he didn't have majestic wings and some weird storybook name. He was a regular-looking dude named John Reid. And that helps illustrate where O'Neill is coming from: She encourages clients to come with a list of questions, so everyone can get right down to business. She's about pragmatic, positive results. And she says she'll show you how to talk to your guardian angel on your own — something she's touched on in one of her books. She lays it all out on her Web site, so you know up front whether this is someone you want to go on a journey with. We think you probably will.

Annette Baker, the house reflexologist at Metaphysical Matrix, wants to work on infants and babies, but neither is great at paying for services rendered, so she's stuck with the rest of us — whiny adults with grimy, gnarly feet. The Minnesota transplant is not daunted by the hellish Houston weather that forces most of us to wear sandals. "People are worried that they have dirty feet," she says reassuringly. "But that's not the point! It's just generally loving, having someone take care of you." We know the naughty bits of reflexology — for example, the muscle over the inner ankle corresponds to issues with reproductive organs — but Baker notes that most folks seem to have issues with tension in their neck and shoulders, which corresponds to the joint connecting the toes to the rest of the foot. One of Baker's mentors must have worked on her fourth and fifth tiniest toes, because those correspond to the ears — and she's a good and empathic listener.

The Guild Shop

While you're not too likely to find that vintage Van Halen T-shirt at The Guild Shop, it has plenty of other treasures within its walls. It's a great place to find higher-end clothing and retro goods that you typically won't find in the majority of thrift stores. The place is also Montrose's well-kept secret place to score nice furniture on the cheap. From modern-style couches to fancy dishware, you can find it in this place and for a good bargain. If not, wait a week or two and they'll lower the price.

Premium Goods

You ever see someone wearing the most ­incredible pair of sneakers you've ever seen and wonder where in the world they got them? The answer is, most likely, Premium Goods. The sleepy sneaker boutique in the heart of Rice Village specializes in incredible limited-edition and custom-made sneakers. You won't find a new pair of running shoes here — well, you will, but you won't likely go running in them. And if you do, you'll be the most fashionable person on the track.

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