If you think leather is just for bulky bomber jackets and boring loafers, the North Beach girls will make you think again. Posing at the door of the Galleria store, these leathered-up ladies are more likely to be dressed in hot pink hot pants, turquoise halter tops, python-print miniskirts or hip-hugging, reality-straining, ohmigod, don't-look-now, fire-engine-red jeans. Theirs is the wardrobe of a high-priced Las Vegas call girl or Christina Aguilera, not a wife or a working woman out for a simple Saturday-afternoon shop, which makes us wonder how North Beach Leather is staying in business, but that's beside the point. It's the seedy, sexy rock-and-roll image that makes us stop to watch. By the way, if you're going to the Galleria just to see skin on skin, call first. The North Beach models are only an occasional spectacle.
Like a Glamour magazine list of fashion don'ts, Pick-n-Pull's proscriptions for maintaining junkyard etiquette, hanging directly in front of the place's South Shaver entrance, are equally as mind-numbing. Some deserve mentioning: 5. No open-toed shoes; 6. No alcohol; 7. No torches or power saws; and the doozy, 11. No cameras or weapons allowed. Makes the average upstanding citizen feel right at home, don't ya think? Yet risking life and limb and bourbon flask for a chance to cruise Pick-n-Pull's hewwwwge 11-acre lot is worth it. Jalopies of every domestic type lie in neat rows. Each heap is raised and appropriately categorized (vans on this side, Camaros on that), and none are stacked, which makes for easy pullin'. Area grease monkeys prefer this seven-year-old yard because it's never muddy and because bottles of Powerade and water are available for sale beneath the shelter, in addition to the obligatory sodas. Prices, like those ascribed to parts, are competitive. On a sunny Saturday, Pick-n-Pull is gearhead heaven. The musky aroma of a Coupe de Ville's leather interior, the soft crackle of footsteps on the gray stone lot, the majesty of a sailing dragonfly -- these lotus petals could lull even the oiliest shop rat into pastoral bliss. Nobody or nothing says you can't just hang out all day.
In Houston, real estate development is a business dominated by stereotypes: the good ol' boy, the profit-at-all-costs mentality, the belief that any structure more than 25 years old needs to be torn down and replaced with something shiny and new, not to mention exorbitantly expensive. Tamra Pierce and Mimi Scarpulla defy these testosterone-driven traditions at every step. The two women, who met a couple of years ago while working on a project in Midtown, define their company's values -- "creativity, good design, open communication, integrity, beauty and quality" -- in terms that suggest they have one boot planted firmly on the ground and the other propped up on a more ethereal level. They also have the distinction of being inner-city housing developers with no interest in throwing up a pod of town homes on every lot they own. Scarpulla is from Philadelphia, a city that protects its history by selling it intact, and where she helped save two dozen historic buildings now being used as apartments. Here, in Houston's First Ward, for example, Pierce Scarpulla is restoring a half-dozen 80- to 100-year-old bungalows, otherwise known in the business as tear-downs. The best part, though, is that at a time when the city's supply of affordable housing is rapidly disappearing, Pierce Scarpulla plans to rent the houses to low-income families.
Bill Jordan is too nice a guy to be in the pool business, a rare dolphin in a sea of sharks. Swimming pools, as their owners well know, are subject to a host of problems, and to deal with them requires an incongruent knowledge of chemistry, construction, engineering and mechanics. Without a complete grasp of the organism at hand, pool people can easily come up with a $500 solution to a $5 problem: Replace the whole thing. Jordan learned the business from the ground up, working for several pool companies before striking out on his own. He has been trained by equipment manufacturers to recognize the quirks of each company's pumps, robots, chlorinators or whatever's ailing. He'll also consult with prospective pool owners before they build, because a simple design adjustment up front often can save big bucks down the road. In a business with a low barrier to entry, Jordan has high standards; he's the kind of ethical operator as central to peace of mind as a good auto mechanic, or dentist, or plumber.
When asked how he could be leading bike rides well into his eighties, B.M. Shirar always replied, "I eat a banana every day." B.M. died nine years ago, but his bicycle shop -- the nation's oldest, according to B.M.'s grandson and the current proprietor, James Turner -- is still pedaling strong at 88. B.M. and his father opened Shirar's at Franklin and Main, in the Magnolia Brewery Building, with a horse-drawn wagonload of tools and spare parts brought over from Hempstead. Their first customers were a group of delivery boys. Today there's not much having to do with bikes that you can't get or find out about at Shirar's, which, come to think of it, is what you ought to be able to say about any bike shop worth its spokes. But there's something about a place that started selling bicycles before there were automobiles and whose founder was able to pass his love for bicycles down the line to a fourth generation. Maybe because it's always been family-owned, Shirar's understands and rewards loyalty: Shirar's gives first priority and $15 discounts on tune-up and overhaul services to bikes bought at the shop.
The Best Microbrewery prize easily goes to... the only microbrewery in Houston! That stated, Saint Arnold produces a revolving selection of beers and ales that really are, if you happen to be a serious devotee of the brewmaster's art, excellent. The brews are made according to German legal standards that U.S. breweries do not have to follow, but Saint Arnold does. The brewery is open to the quaffing public every Saturday at 1 p.m. for a two-hour tour of the squeaky-clean premises and a tasting of the brews being produced. Devotees of Wisconsinian culture can even finish off their tour and tasting by purchasing Saint Arnold's new line of beer-infused bratwurst (pronounced, in case you are not from Wisconsin, "BROT-wurst").
For a comic-book novice -- and by that we mean someone who has a few books in their collection, as opposed to 20 to 30 boxes filled with intricately filed volumes -- it must be a burden going to a comic-book store these days. Clerks and employees who work at a handful of these spots (we won't say which) can be some snooty poops sometimes, condescending just because you don't know the difference between a Frank Miller Batman and an Alex Ross Batman. Plus, most of these stores have such a cluttered, dank, grungy vibe, you feel like you're walking into a smelly porno shop and should be ashamed of yourself. Fortunately, you don't get that feeling when you wander into Bedrock City. There's a wide selection of books, the staffers are accommodating, and the store doesn't skimp on its spacious, easygoing environment. (Sunlight actually finds its way into this place.) Comic book hunting should be a fun little pastime. The folks at Bedrock City make sure you don't feel like an ignorant perv while you're doing it.
Houstonian Chloé Dao spent eight years in New York City, including a stint at the Fashion Institute of Technology. Now she's brought her talents home. She and sister Kim opened Lot 8 in the Rice Village at 6127 Kirby Drive two years ago, specializing in off-the-rack trendy clothes and local designer one-of-a-kinds. Dao has lots of her own fashion fun on the racks and offers alterations and custom designs. Her specialty is dressing you up in wedding, prom and party frocks. While she's more downtown, compared to Vanessa Riley's uptown designs, expect Dao to create quite a name for herself among Houston's fashionistas.
Has this ever happened to you? You're with your beloved for a night of freaky-sneaky, hanky-spanky action. Then you realize -- oh, damn -- you're all out of flavored condoms. You could do the whole thing manually with some regular rubbers and a bottle of flavored Motion Lotion, but that takes too long and it tends to get messy. You need flavored condoms in a hurry and don't have the $5 to shill out for them at your local sex shop. What will you do? The caring people at the AIDS Foundation Houston know what it feels like to be caught up in that dilemma. So in their complimentary condom bowl in the reception area, they have a well-stocked collection of tasty jimmy hats among the LifeStyles and Trojan Ribbed brands. What flavors do they have, you ask? Well, there's vanilla, banana, grape, other assorted berries -- and let's not forget everybody's favorite, chocolate. The party crew Evolve used to provide safe-sex packets including the flavored raincoats for their now-defunct "Delicious" night over at Spy. Since that shindig is over, you may wanna flock down to the foundation's headquarters over on Weslayan and snatch up a few. Get 'em while supplies last -- the chocolate ones are getting sampled like they're, well, chocolates.

With Ann's help, you can buy off the rack and look like you're wearing a designer original. You walk in, step behind the green velvet curtain, take off your clothes and try on the outfit you like. Then she measures and pins and makes it so that your horrible oversized outfit looks like it was made to order. One really cool thing about Ann is her one-hour service. If you have a hot date that night or forget to try on that bridesmaid dress until an hour before the wedding, she can help. You'll have to press for an estimate in order to get something other than "not much." You'll also want to check a day or two ahead of your pickup date if you've told her there's no hurry. Sometimes Ann interprets "no hurry" as "lowest priority." But remind her you want to wear that sassy little number tonight and she'll sew like the wind.

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