Get us into a bookstore — especially one as conveniently located as the new Books a Million in downtown's Houston Pavilions development — and there go at least a couple of hours down the drain. With an entire wall of publications ranging from The Nation and Mojo to Guns & Ammo and Vanity Fair, Books a Million is a magazine lover's paradise. Better yet, the staff won't mind if you sit a spell and browse the periodicals (as long as it's not one that comes in a sealed wrapper, but there are plenty of those too), or if you take a couple over to the in-store coffee shop and read as you sip.

Sig's Lagoon

Besides being one of Houston's finest record stores — and, with all due respect to Cactus Music, Sound Exchange, etc., the finest when it comes to hard-to-find and out-of-print Houston and Gulf Coast musical memorabilia — Sig's Lagoon is the place to go when you're looking for a genuine tiki mug, skull-and-crossbones bath mat or Darth Vader bobblehead doll, part of the store's 30-foot-high bobblehead display. There's also clothing, jewelry, books and DVDs (mostly music- or Houston-themed), posters — Sig's Uncle Charlie collection alone is worth a gander — and action figures of notable Men in Black from the last century (Johnny Cash) and the one before that (Edgar Allan Poe). Call it a novelty store if you must, but Sig's sells a whole lot of stuff — besides music, of course — we simply can't live without.

Getting an oil change usually means having to endure some mechanic trying to upsell you on parts or services you don't need. Not at Shepherd Tire & Auto. These guys do an extremely thorough oil change; they check all your fluids, but it's not with an eye to spin you. If there's a problem, they'll tell you; if there isn't, you're not going to be presented with a bogus encrusted air filter and told you need to get it replaced pronto. Prices vary according to your vehicle, but for about $30 you can come out of your oil change confident your car is fine...and your wallet is too.

Wolf's Department Store & Pawn

With an exterior that probably hasn't changed much since the place opened in 1955, and right across from regal St. John the Baptist Church, Wolf's (the apostrophe is a diamond) is an island of old-time Main Street in a sea of drab urban sprawl. Inside, the staff and patrons are neighborhood-friendly, and the atmosphere is dated to the type of department store that scarcely exists these days. Everything from cologne and nylon underwear to any kind of hat imaginable is on hand, along with standard pawn-shop fare such as jewelry, guns and even camcorders. The upstairs features an impressive wall of vintage electric guitars, along with a rack of buzz saws, a saddle and a collection of hand-carved African statues. Somehow, everything seems to fit together, even if the shop itself is delightfully out of place.

Natural Pawz

The melamine pet food scare has made many a dog owner a little paranoid. But you can go natural at Natural Pawz, which offers human-grade food produced in the U.S. or Canada (no, it's not Soylent Green; it's just good enough for humans). Our senior dog transitioned to an all-natural brand owners Nadine Joli-Coeur and Biff Picone recommended. Plus, the stores offer high-end collars, bedding, comfortable harnesses and other goodies. Take your four-legged friend with you — no one has an ugly baby at Natural Pawz.

It's worth the drive to Sugar Land to check out Cigar Cigar!, located in the city's Town Square. The place may seem a bit small, and the hand soaps and lotion for sale are an odd addition, but the roomy humidor is one of the best around. You'll find all the standards at standard prices, along with an array of interesting brands such as Vengeance, Acid and Delirium. We didn't try the $30 God of Fire, but it looked like a beast. The real gem of the store is the Diamond Lounge, a members-only back room that costs $59 or $99 a month, depending on the level of membership you want. Members get private lockers for stashing cigars or booze or whatever, and the place gets pretty lively on weekend nights, with poker games lasting well into the morning.

Premium Goods

You can buy art and tennis shoes at this year's winner for Best Place to Buy Good, Cheap Art. Premium Goods has built a reputation for regularly having exhibits of cutting-edge outsider and urban art. (A new show goes up every four months or so.) The artists here (Melinda Mosheim and Y.E. Torres among them) show work that has a decided pop, graphic vibe, popular among young — and often financially challenged — art lovers. Many produce graffiti-like paintings; others veer toward the torn collage aesthetic, and still others embrace wheat-paste posters. The one unifying aspect of their work? It's all modestly priced.

Cactus Music

What more can you ask from a record store than free beer and free concerts? Every weekend, Cactus Music offers up heaping cups of suds from Saint Arnold's and lively, intimate sets from some of the best touring acts in the land. Just this past May, Steve Earle pounded out an hour-long set of his own tunes and those of his mentor Townes Van Zandt. Cactus has returned stronger and better than ever after a two-year absence from the Houston scene, and owner Quinn Bishop has embraced the new vinyl music movement with ferocity. He's devoted a whole side of his space to new and old sides of indie and country and all things in between.

American Apparel

Admit it, one of the best things about American Apparel is the ads featuring scantily clad hipster chicks in big glasses sporting vacant glares. The Los Angeles-based clothing chain caters to the young and irrational, who are more than willing to pay close to $40 for a mere plain white T-shirt. We love going to AA to pick up socks and catch up on all the lower Westheimer gossip, live and in person. Sure, we could hit up Wal-Mart, but what's the fun in that when we could hear Animal Collective blaring over the cackles of Nylon magazine come to life?

Sweetwater Pool & Patio is aces at pool cleaning, repairs or remodeling. Need a pool refinished, but dread the ordeal of draining, refilling and all the horrendous chaos in between? Manager Cesar Tena and his crew sweep in and out, leaving nothing behind but a sparkly, concave pearl of a hole in the ground. Tena will patiently walk his clients through the how-tos of caring for a swimming pool, and his cleaning services are prompt and thorough. The storefront has the cleaning and upkeep materials you'd expect, but — no doubt owing to its Bellaire location — considerably more pool accessories. The "Patio" portion offers up some juicy barbecue accessories as well.

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