Just because K&H Autohaus has a waiting room as beautifully appointed as a Bugatti Veyron and as comfortable as a Mercedes S550 doesn't mean you can't afford to take your VW Beetle there. But unfortunately, there's little excuse to stay and enjoy yourself, because not only is the shop a block from the light rail, they'll often ferry you back to work. More important, your car gets pampered too, with the kid-glove treatment from service manager extraordinaire Markus Drunk. The crew, certified in both automotive (master status) and body work — including BMW, Audi, ICar and ASE Blue Seal certification in eight categories — can easily and swiftly grasp any automotive challenge. In the case of a collision, Drunk says, "We are focused on the individual customer, not the big insurance company." We learned the truth in this statement after a New Year's reveler slammed into our VW Passat. Thanks to K&H, the entire incident was pain-free.

The best-read member of the Houston Pavilions family, Books-a-Million is an ideal browsing stop before a meal at McCormick & Schmick's or Andalucia and/or some live music at Scott Gertner's or House of Blues. You can grab a quick cup of java at the in-store coffeehouse while you peruse something from its three walls of periodicals, or perhaps pick out one of the many gift items: Puzzles, games, stationery, globes, piggy banks, "As seen on TV" novelties, neck pillows, lap desks, RPGs and so forth. Amazingly, Books-a-Million also has actual books — best-sellers to brainier matters — thousands of them, often offered at 20 percent off or three for the price of two.

Soap Suds Coin Laundry

With a lot of Laundromats, we sometimes feel like our clothes come out even dirtier; it seems like the median age of washers and dryers in the city is a quarter-century, and owners never seem to want to splurge on amenities like air conditioning or asbestos abatement. In short, a typical trip to the Laundromat during a Houston summer can be like sitting around tapping your feet in the ninth circle of hell. And then there's Soap Suds Laundry, where the equipment appears to have been manufactured in our lifetime, the interior is spotless, the Wi-Fi is flowin' and the flat-screen TVs give you something to stare at other than your tumble-drying dirty drawers. Or if you don't feel like hanging around, take advantage of the convenient drop-off service.

Heights Vinyl

It's not a bad problem to have. In the past few years, Houston's record scene has exploded. One of the newest kids on the block, Heights Vinyl, has already made an impression with its in-store shows, collection of old, refurbished turntables and clever record-pricing system based on the characters from the movie Reservoir Dogs. The shop cleans and evaluates every record it intends to sell, sometimes replacing the inner and outer sleeves, so prices can be a bit higher due to the quality. It's also the place to pick up supplies for cleaning those records you found at the thrift store, or for making sure your dad's old turntable is in tip-top working order.

ISSUES Magazine Store

Leave it to a store devoted to magazines actually printed on paper to not have an online presence. That's because Issues doesn't screw around. They claim to have more than 3,000 titles, and we believe it: The no-frills space is jam-packed with every magazine you've ever heard of, and a ton more that you never knew existed. There's nothing else like it in Houston. Just stop in one day without a particular magazine in mind and browse around. We guarantee you'll fall in love with some mag that explores whatever weird, obscure hobby or music or plant life you're into, and you'll be hooked.

Shaw's R&R

The titular double-Rs are Rodney and Rhonda, part of this family-owned establishment that's been around since 1993. And Shaw's does it all: buying, trading and selling jewelry, electronics, firearms, musical instruments, sporting goods — you name it. They also offer check-cashing and payday advance services. Oh, did we forget to mention that they can repair your jewelry and watches, as well as custom-design your jewelry? (They have a G.I.A. graduate gemologist on-site.) Decent loan rates, friendly staff and a remarkable selection of items make this store a must-see for anyone looking for a great value.

Massage Envy

This low-cost but reputable massage chain allows its members to frequent any Massage Envy facility, no matter the franchise owner. So for $49 per month, you can get a one-hour massage all over the country. But why skip around when the best is in Houston's very own Meyerland? Barbara Peschon is trained in a number of types of massage — including craniosacral, sports and prenatal — and is certainly qualified to provide a relaxing session. Savvy clients, though, will sign up for her trigger-point work, which has been known to alleviate excruciating tennis elbow, fractured feet, chronic migraines and any number of ailments we stressed-out humans accumulate throughout life. Warning: That brand of work does not feel good — until you hop off the table, that is. Honorable mention at that location: Jesse Penilla.

Believe it or not, one of the best diving sites in the world is located just a few hundred miles south of the Texas/Louisiana border. The Flower Gardens, as they're known, are an oasis of coral only 60 feet below the surface of the water, surrounded by oil rigs and the much deeper waters of the Gulf. Plenty of dive shops in town can arrange trips out there, but Gigglin' Marlin is one of the few that will certify you, rent you gear and make sure you have the most out-of-this world experience in the process. The staff is extremely helpful and accommodating, whether you're trying to learn to dive, want to rent or buy dive gear, or need your tanks or regulator serviced. They've also got a full-blown travel service booking trips to the Flower Gardens, wreck dives, the Tortugas and more, and an indoor heated saltwater pool for dive instruction and beginners' swim lessons.

Magnolia Hotel

Located in a 1920s-era building that formerly housed the precursor to The Houston Post, the Magnolia symbolizes sleek, understated elegance. From its rooftop pool to its hardwood-floored lobby to its modern-yet-cozy rooms in between, everything about the Magnolia was designed with a sharp eye for detail and dignity. There is no gaudiness, no feeling that — unlike some other boutiques — it will look garish and dated in a handful of years. Besides the delicious, complimentary evening cookies, your stay includes downtown car transportation; for a little extra, treat yourself to special packages including a massage, a five-course meal at the popular Strip House steakhouse and the Deluxe Romance Package, as well as other perks.

Toys to Love

Think of Toys To Love as the Sharper Image of toy stores, catering to brainy tykes and parents. Meaning, a lot of the items at TTL have an emphasis on fun and learning, and aren't geared to a marketing campaign or an awful movie. This shop has been locally owned for nearly 20 years, probably providing products for some of you reading this. Their stock of board games will test the noggin of even the smartest egg in your house.

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