We call this one the little store with a big vision. Formerly named Wines of America, this Inner Loop mainstay now stocks some of Houston's most exclusive bars and clubs. From its origins in 1984 specializing in domestic wines, this oenophiles' paradise now offers up quality wines from around the world: France and Italy, natch, but also off-the-beaten-path regions like Uruguay, Switzerland and Slovenia. Houston Wine Merchant stocks a few spirits and accessories, so it also serves as a quick stop for a housewarming gift on your way to the big do, plus the store offers local delivery for special orders and gift baskets. Putting it at the top of our list are the Friday evening and Saturday afternoon tastings, which make being adventurous easy and fun, and oftentimes the winemaker or vineyard owner is present for added provenance.


Fannin Flowers has been providing customers with bouquets 24 hours a day for more than 30 years. The family-owned shop — conveniently located near the Texas Medical Center — has row after row of cut flowers that can be bought in bulk or in gorgeous arrangements, along with tropical and bedding plants. The open-air shop has so many different kinds of flowers and plants on display that visiting is like walking into a steamy jungle. You'll find curtains of roses, fragrant lemon trees, delicate dwarf azaleas and exotic orchids, all in the same place. If you're looking for something especially rare, these folks can order it. They get plants shipped from all over California and Latin America.

READERS' CHOICE: Darlene's Flower & Gift Shop

That sense of déjà vu you're experiencing is very real — last year's winner is again this year's champ. Sure, Apple stores tend to be prettier, sleeker affairs, which is great for strutting around with a sense of superiority. But if you really want to get down to business and take care of all your computer and accessory needs under one roof, at amazing prices, with sales staff who won't look down their noses at you, this is the place. Make sure you sign up for the email list to be notified right away of sales offered on top of Fry's already great deals.

There's no need to wait for Halloween to find a costume at this year-round institution. The store's massive 20,000-square-foot showroom east of downtown occupies an entire city block and has everything you could imagine and then some. With more than 60,000 rental costumes and an enormous supply of stage and special-effects makeup, it's the go-to stop for theater professionals. The staff know their stuff, from zombie makeup to period costumes, finding just the right accessories to seal the deal. The family-owned business got its start in 1950 as Morty's Magic Mart, and continues to serve local magicians and illusionists with specialty items for ventriloquism, fortune-telling, fire magic and mentalism.

READERS' CHOICE: Frankel's Costume

We adore Luke's Locker because it offers everything you could possibly need as a runner, plus a few items you probably never dreamed could actually exist, like the world's most perfect sports bra or running shorts with pockets perfectly sized to hold your keys and a snack. On top of that, the salespeople know what they're doing. After examining your feet and watching you trot up and down a pathway in the center of the store, they'll match you with the perfect set of running shoes for wherever the road takes you.

We expect the ideal dry cleaners to be like alchemists. We want them to be able to remove any stain, no matter its age or origin. We'd also like them to be reasonably priced and fast, and we'd prefer to get our clothes back without any iron marks. Most dry cleaners can do the majority of these things — natural selection tends to take care of the rest. But Eagle Express is one of the precious few places that can do all of these while at the same time extending downright wonderful customer service. That's not anything we expect. But it's something we love.

READERS' CHOICE: Heights Discount Cleaners

After celebrating its second anniversary, Liberty Armory has shown it can hold its own in a city that doesn't exactly have a shortage of firearm shops. These friendly folks know their stuff, making Liberty a great place to get your concealed handgun license and defensive training. Members can also take advantage of what's described as the only "publicly accessible" indoor shooting range inside the Loop. And the selection won't disappoint: Sig Sauer, Mossberg, Springfield, Nighthawk Custom and some of our favorite abbreviations: H&K and S&W. Liberty also provides armorer services, like diagnostics, cleanings, custom barrel fittings and the like. We look forward to many more anniversaries.

The Crosstimbers location for this national chain is always jam-packed on weekends, but the employees move dirty trucks, vans and sedans through at lightning speed while ensuring each vehicle is back to that new-car-smell level of cleanliness. While a fleet of attendants vacuums your car, you can wait inside, prowling through a phenomenal selection of greeting cards, costume jewelry, scented candles and knickknacks. Be sure to munch on free popcorn and shoot water at your vehicle as it rolls through the automated wash.

Photo courtesy of Camp Run-A-Mutt

Cage-free day care and boarding is all the rage in California, and we finally got our own Camp Run-A-Mutt right here in H-Town. Owners and dog lovers Jonathan Lim and Phu Nguyen know their stuff, assessing dogs with a temperament test before they can join the pack. But for those who make it in, it's doggie heaven. Pups are placed in groups by activity level instead of size, and they're sure to be dog-tired after a day of play. Overnight campers sleep in a giant room with a staffer, so your best friend will never feel lonely. If you want to make sure, just watch Fido on the proprietary Muttcams, viewable online during business hours.

Even before moving to a bigger location on West Road, 8th Dimension always felt like more than just a place to buy stuff. These folks are active when it comes to community-building, and their calendar stays full with various game nights and quarterly ladies night events. There's a dedicated game room for serious players, and vending machines and nearby delivery options will keep you fueled no matter how deep you get into a Dungeons & Dragons quest. 8th Dimension also doubles as a concert venue for geeky musicians on the road who might not otherwise have a place to play in Houston. Whether you're into role-playing games, card games, board games, comics or toys, you'll feel right at home here.

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