Candylicious

Even grown-ups turn into kids in this candy store. The original location (next door to The Chocolate Bar) is barely bigger than a shoebox, but the sheer amount of sweets inside is staggering — be prepared to be dazzled. Brightly colored candies from floor to ceiling assault the senses, causing sugary ADD. Look! Pez dispensers! Gummies in every shape and size! And bins of Jelly Bellies and M&Ms! This is the sweet spot for old-fashioned candies, European imports and crazy holiday novelties, like the plastic reindeer that poops candy from its butt. And the "cakes" and sculptures made of wrapped candies are delectable works of art.

Swiss Garage

We cried when Mike Grivon sold his gas station at the corner of Kirby and Westheimer to make way for West Ave, because it was the best local mechanic shop in town. But the sun shined again when he bought the Swiss Garage a few blocks away. The old gang's still here — Mike, Nick, Joe, et al. — and they are the friendliest, fastest auto docs around. They're ASE-certified master technicians who specialize in German cars, but the guys will work on any make and model. Best of all, they really are trustworthy. Gals (and guys) without a clue can feel safe dropping off a car that's "making an odd noise" here. They'll set ol' Bessie right and save you a bundle over the dealership.

Blue Line Bike Lab

For many years, the vast majority of Houston's bike shops were as sterile as a Greenway Plaza mid-rise. But as you can tell from the Día de Los Muertos mural spray-painted on the side of Blue Line, this is not one of those shops. Blue Line serves the odd ducks among bike riders. While most of the floor space is given over to road and cross-country mountain bikes, brothers David and Fred Zapalac also showcase plenty of trials bikes, fixies and single-speeds. It's that rare shop that caters first to the rarest subtype of Houston bicyclists: the true cycling commuter, and they unironically term such courageous lunatics as the artists and warriors they must be to arrive safely at work each day.

If it were okay to use profanity in mainstream advertising, then DSW would be perfectly justified in describing its inventory as a "shit-ton of kickers at kick-ass prices." Each location is a kingdom of footwear; a one-stop shopping experience for all your shoe needs, from sneakers to heels to wingtips to flip-flops to whatever battery-powered neon-lit contraptions the kids are wearing these days. You simply can't find a better selection anywhere else, and the service is top-notch. With multiple locations, chances are you won't have to drive far, or you can order online, where shipping is free. Plus, DSW offers a generous "rewards" program, which makes shopping there even more worthwhile. Trust us — check it out, and your feet will be smiling. Um, if feet could smile.

Domy Books

Every time we've been to Domy, we've been turned on to a book or author we'd probably never come across in one of the chain bookstores. Listen, Borders and the like obviously have their place, but sometimes you need something truly different, something that can only be had from indie publishers and off-the-beaten-path authors. And mixed in with the esoteric selection are inspired art exhibits and film series that make a visit to Domy a lot more memorable than yet another hike to the strip mall for one of those cookie-cutter box stores. Plus, you'd be supporting local artists while expanding your literary horizons. Not bad for a little bookstore.

Houston is practically the capital of soulless strip malls, and if you spend much of your life in the car, crawling along the freeway on your commute, it's easy to think that the commercial landscape is all one giant eyesore. The cure, then, is to get out of the car and see that there are still pretty, funky, quirky neighborhood business districts in the Bayou City. One of the best is 19th Street in the Heights, with vintage clothing shops, antique shops, cafes and other non-chain storefronts that offer a respite from the countless big-box stores that spread like kudzu throughout the city. You don't even have to buy anything; just enjoy a leisurely stroll up and down the sidewalk and take in the view. It's a view you won't get anywhere else, and that's precisely the point.

As a young woman, jewelry shop owner Robin Lindberg was dubbed the Queen of Heirs when she inherited a trove of estate jewelry from a wealthy aunt in New Orleans, the sort of woman who would assuage the travails of a bad day by spending $5K on a ring. Years of training and education later, Lindberg used that windfall as the cornerstone inventory of her now-thriving downtown Bellaire shop. (The little pink house on Locust is her second location.) Estate jewelry is Lindberg's passion, and it shows — and not just in the fairly priced wares in her meticulously curated display cases. Even on days she's suffering from a migraine, Lindberg's eyes light up when talking about, as she frankly terms it, "dead people's jewelry." And somehow, it seems more romantic to buy your loved one a ring from a marriage that lasted until death did its part rather than one that is new and untried. (Plus, in buying vintage or antique stones, you fair-trade types don't have to worry about that whole blood-diamond nightmare.) And as with Cadillac cars, heavyweight boxing champs and sweet soul music, engagement rings are one of those things they just don't make like they used to.

Bedrock City Comic Company - Westheimer

Bedrock City Comics boasts four Houston-area locations, covering every comic book devotee from Clear Lake to FM 1960 and all points in between with stacks and stacks of inked tales. There's also a selection of collectibles in each store that will make your inner child salivate with glee, and the online store is also addicting. Right now we have our eyes on a vintage Batman toy. We can skip rent if what we buy with the money is cool, right? Be sure to join the membership roster to get discounts and sneak peeks at new stuff. It's like being in the Justice League, only your superpowers are saving money.

Vinal Edge
Photo by Daniel Kramer

It may be a drive for the average Inner Looper, but to vinyl fetishists and people looking for undiscovered gems, North Houston's Vinal Edge is a worthy weekend road-trip destination. Just be sure to save some dough for gas money. Housed inside a nondescript shopping center on Veterans Memorial are thousands of LPs, discs, posters and other assorted musical nuggets ready for your plundering. Texas singer-songwriter Daniel Johnston is a devoted shopper here, sometimes trading a few of his new art pieces and drawings for a handful of records. If you can't make the drive, the entire inventory is also online.

Say you have a pet in crisis, or one with special needs — maybe an elderly rescue fraught with medical problems, some of which require surgery. Forget all the Aggie jokes you've ever heard or told and head straight to the Small Animal Clinic at Texas A&M, where on any given day, Houstonians can be found in the waiting room. It's a drive, but not much more so than across Houston during rush hour. It's also expensive, but this is the place that trains all the other vets, so why not go straight to the source? (You can pay it out, and they're not profit-crazy.) The neurological team is stellar — our precious bundle was walking the day after spinal cord surgery. Precious Bundle is still walking, by the way...and running, happily.

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