We like to think of Megaplexx North as the "Walmart" of pornography. A destination for perverts and couples the city over, this particular location in the Megaplexx chain takes its name to heart. Toys and strange apparatuses ensconce one section of the store, with a menacing swing as the centerpiece. One feature we really dig is the vintage magazine collection. They really don't make women the way they used to, and the DVD section is the stuff of legend, with everything from classic Jenna Jameson masterpieces all the way to new stuff from...you know what? We don't wanna incriminate ourselves. Check it out for yourself. Tell them "Eduardo" from the Houston Press says "Hi!"

Westheimer Antique Flea Market

Located in the heart of Montrose, this place is a twisting, turning, never-ending trove of antiques and furniture to fit any budget. With the relaxing sounds of Jimmy Buffet and Bob Marley in the background, cruise the aisles past a vast array of sofa tables, mahogany vintage mirrors, English cocktail bars and Victorian music cabinets. They've got all the usual suspects. But if you're looking for something a bit different, there's always the oversize tin pink flamingos, Scottish whiskey jugs — perfect for whistling into — and mid-century General Electric TVs for sale. The staff is ready to help you sort through the hodgepodge, and will even offer the occasional 50 percent-off sale, perfect for barely-legal folks looking to deck the apartment out with a bit of old-timey style.

Jen Payne was with another realty company when we went to her (twice, two years in a row, on opposite sides of the city), but both times she managed to find apartments within our price range that met our expectations and suited our changing needs. We had virtually no problems at either place, and the problems that did pop up were handled efficiently and with consideration. It's a gift to know how to point people toward what they want and avoid the duds, and Payne has it.

 

If you're tantalized by astrology but just a wee bit embarrassed about it, it's time to take your curiosity out of the realm of gypsies and freaks and go all academic. Enroll in the Houston Institute of Astrology, which is taught by a real college instructor, Kim McSherry, and structured like "higher" learning coursework: Astrology 103, etc. McSherry teaches English at HCC, and we're thinking her students there are exposed to a higher plane of thinking, just as her astrology students at HIA get a heavy dose of Greek and Roman mythology. But hey, if you're into asteroids, that's extra credit.

K&H always goes the extra mile. (Pun? What pun?) No matter the issue, owner Markus Drunk makes sure all your needs are met — even if you mention you're looking for an aftermarket stereo or a late-model, gently used European car. He's also happy to refer you to equally conscientious — and honest — business owners. Best of all, customers need not pull in with a Jag to get lavished with special attention. If you work downtown, K&H will cheerfully shuttle you to your office. If not, the waiting room is the classiest in town. You can chill on the leather couch with a flavored coffee, watch TV, or go online on the PC for customers.

Flying Saucer Pie Company

Nestled between an air-conditioning repair business and an auto garage in an industrial part of north Houston, this pie bakery has been around for more than 40 years for a reason. The owners keep a no-frills shop, prices are low and they make mouthwatering, addictive pies that literally have customers lined up outside the door waiting for their very own slice. Try their famous strawberry cream pie and enjoy the fresh-baked taste of the crispy crust underneath the fluffy home-made cream, with fresh strawberries bringing the two together in a forkful of perfection.

As the only woman on a large staff in a popular shop in a Fiesta shopping center, where guys in wifebeaters congregate outside in the middle of the afternoon, Nish has to be good. Loyal patrons say her female touch creates a cut like no other. Laid-back and reserved, Nish listens carefully to her clients, then adds a woman's perspective on what looks good, as the result always does. "She knows how to keep you straight," one customer says. Nish can handle any kind of hair, and keep it healthy, along with your skin — she's even known to sway wary clients into getting a facial.

Any Occasion Party Rental

The Houston Press doesn't want anything fancy for its birthday party. Just a massive pit barbecue that we have to tow over with our pickup. Then we'll need some tables and chairs, plates and napkins, and a frozen margarita machine. A hot-dog roll-cart (with sneeze guard), maybe a nacho cheese warmer. Definitely karaoke. At Any Occasion Party Rental, it's strictly the serious stuff: getting people full, drunk and possibly singing, and making it convenient. The professional staff will walk you through it all as if you're planning a wedding (and you can do that here, too). Tell them what you want, and they'll tell you how to get it done — right down to finding the nearest Party City location to pick up all the amateur stuff.

Finding a friendly neighborhood bookstore is a welcome respite from the mega-stores and online warehouses that have become the norm. As it happens, "friendly" and "neighborhood" are two words that describe Blue Willow Bookstore perfectly. It's as much a gathering place as it is a retail shop. Sure, books get sold — they also get talked about (several book clubs meet here, including the Tough Broads Out at Night Book Club for women and Biblueophiles for teens). Books also get read aloud (author appearances are frequent, and Sue Monk Kidd and Ann Kidd Taylor, Sharon Creech and Joy Preble are all on the fall schedule). They even get sung about (the teen band Harry and the Potters have appeared in concert at the store).

Houston Camera Exchange

This store sells everything a photographer — either a novice or the ultimate pro — could ever need. It's got new cameras, old-fashioned cameras, tripods, lights and more. It even has its own photo lab for both digital and film processing. But what makes this place an "exchange" is the fact that if the owners can sell it, they'll buy it from you. There's a huge selection of used cameras and gear for great prices. And if you're the seller, the shop offers either store credit or a good old-fashioned check.

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