For decades this Montrose mom-and-pop institution has been doing what everyone hates to do: your laundry. Get your clothes in by 7 a.m. and you can have them back by 5 p.m. Your shirts will be on hangers, and everything else will be neatly folded and packed in a plastic bag. Special orders -- like letting your blue jeans drip-dry on hangers, with no crease -- are also welcome. If any items need dry-cleaning or repairs, the folks here will send them out for you. Your mother never treated you this good.

SuperStand lacks the hard-boiled grit of an old-time newsstand, but it does have thousands of magazines, cresting in glossy abundance like waves of a media-saturated sea. The inevitable mugs of Eastwood, Travolta and Buffy the Vampire Slayer stare from shelves, but you also will find more arcane fare. Aggressive outdoor types will relish mags like Turkey Hunting Strategy. The news and politics section goes beyond Time and Newsweek to offer a variety of political and foreign-affairs journals. SuperStand is a hobbyist's dream, with publications that will have you building a model of the USS Oregon or making a birdhouse for your backyard. Doll makers and coin collectors will find their interests catered to. The sparse "mature" section, featuring a handful of adult magazines wrapped like medical waste, is one of the few that does not celebrate excess. The puzzles shelf, on the other hand, is overflowing. And there are plenty of business, computer, sports, food and travel mags, as well as European tabloids and newspapers from around the world. Our pick of the day? Eminem and Friends, a fanzine with posters of the lovable white rapper.
The two most important words when it comes to thrift store shopping are quality and quantity. Value Village is both. Those of you who are pros at this kind of shopping will fall to your knees and thank the thrift gods above that this store exists. Rookies at fossicking have no fear: It's well organized (a special category exists for "Ladies Better Dresses"), and racks of ridiculously cheap clothing go on forever. But it's not only the abundance of old athletic T-shirts or the peculiar overflow of men's work coveralls that make this a mecca of thrifting. This store is stocked with trinkets and treasures that you probably could purchase with the change in your pockets. Perhaps it's an ashtray made of orange glass that reflects the light just so. Or maybe it's the airbrushed portrait of a magical unicorn affixed to a piece of fake oak. Sure, some might call it junk, but those are the same people who think it's perfectly normal to spend $100 for a pair of khaki pants at Banana Republic.
You can tell right away that Dynasty Supermarket is an authentic Asian market when you walk in, because of one telltale sign: It stinks like fish. There to the left are the fish swarming in overcrowded tanks, and in another tub crabs crawl over each other, spitlike bubbles forming as they breathe displaced from water. Soon they will become someone's dinner. Dynasty is a midsize store that houses just enough of everything: fresh veggies, bags of dried squid, canned baby corn or straw mushrooms, jugs of soy milk, fresh sticky rice wrapped in leaves, and snacks like shrimp chips and Pocky, a Japanese icing-dipped breadsticklike thing -- trust us, they're addictively yummy. And the bonus: The in-house barbecue shop serves up fragrant Chinese-style barbecue pork and daily lunch specials starting at just $2.50.

The Astros have tanked, and the pitchers can't get anybody out, but one guy at "Homeron" Field is still consistently throwing strikes: Arnie the Peanut Dude, who hurls his roasted wares across entire sections to waving fans and nails 'em in the mitts every time. Arnie doesn't just deliver peanuts and make change; he entertains the crowd in a blue-collar way that matches the baseball setting far more perfectly than the 'Stros' silly rabbit mascot. An old-school vendor, Arnie doesn't load himself down with five items to maximize his revenues. You want peanuts? Peanuts he's got, and he can dish out half a dozen bags and never lose track of who owes what. Combining keen peripheral vision with an impeccable sense of timing, Arnie senses his customers the way bats sense mice at midnight. He reaches nonchalantly into his pouch, pulls out a bag, grips it for accuracy.

The windup, the pitch: Steeeerike!

Sure, we're the types who would tend to go for the independent bookshop over the big chains, but there's good reason to praise this subsidiary of Barnes & Noble. Unlike, say, the shopping center housing the River Oaks Borders, which ended up plowing down the century-old Ale House to make room for a few dozen more parking spaces, the Bookstop used a local landmark to its advantage. The concession area of the converted movie theater now houses the checkout stands, and the impressive balcony doubles as an in-store coffee shop, making this spacious building the snazziest place in town to browse for your tomes. Their selection is huge, and they always keep a good stock of titles, both current and time-tested.

Make this one plural, as in Best Shops. The Houston Museum of Natural Science severs the traditional museum gift store into a parent-and-child participatory sport. Mom and Dad -- or just those without children -- get their consumer time in the fairly upscale Collector's Gift Shop. The quiet confines with classy thick wood accents offer up genuine collectibles and quality goods, ranging from luminous butterfly wings pressed into glass to C.L. Whiting's "leaf leather" purses and accessories. And the museum's special exhibitions, such as the "Kremlin Gold" display of jewels, have a gift shop all their own. Meanwhile, Junior gets his separate hunting ground in the kids' shop. Children can roam this area, grabbing at the vast arrays of rubber dinosaurs and other educational toys, both Stone Age and futuristic. Of course, kids of all ages snap up the "Space Mucus," a gooey, glow-in-the-dark steal at $2.75. At the unique shops of the Museum of Natural Science, to each his (or her) own. To own. That's the way it ought to be.
The problem with soy is that it's kind of boring in its natural state. That's why you need to get to a place that will take this brilliant source of protein and transform it into countless mouthwatering, delicious edibles. Okay, so Whole Foods doesn't actually do the transforming. But it does sell the stuff in all of its glorious incarnations. Whether it's fake buffalo wings and "chicken" nuggets or those strange-sounding "tofu pups" (hot dogs made from soy), Whole Foods Market offers quite the variety of soy stuff. And we haven't even mentioned the many different options of soy milk (vanilla, chocolate or plain!). For the soy neophyte, Whole Foods is no doubt the most convenient, accessible way to learn about the wonders of the food that has been credited for lowering cholesterol, fighting kidney disease and even easing menopause's hot flashes. And with the selection at Whole Foods, it's not so(y) boring after all.

Her name tag reads "Dawn," and she's always there with a smile. This very small Fiesta is in a transitional neighborhood, so the customers cross a wide income range, with a variety of demands. On one busy weekend, Dawn was working all by herself. The line was long, and several people needed a number of things sliced or served into containers. Some in the line were noticeably irritated, and several took out their frustration on Dawn -- with heavy sighs and choice words. Somehow, though, Dawn just kept smiling, filling their orders as requested. So now, every time we see her, we try to return that smile along with our patience.
All freedom-loving people would be inspired to walk into the Menil Collection Bookstore and see, front and center on the largest display rack, an art-book cover photograph of a very lifelike sculpture of an erect penis -- and directly across from the children's section, too. Perhaps it's an up-yours salute to the outgoing senator and philistine from North Carolina. More likely, it simply struck manager and book buyer Patrick Phipps as an arresting image, of which this little gray building is chock-full. Phipps and his assistant, William Willis, are themselves artists. That's probably why the Menil bookstore cannot be compared to the self-absorbed, kitsch-filled truck stops that are most museum gift shops today. In addition, nobody's lips move when they're thumbing through the stock. Indeed, the hypnotic array of imagery -- books, postcards and posters -- is dedicated only partially to what's currently on display in the Menil Collection. Perhaps the most appealing part of the bookstore is hanging on the walls: paintings, collages and prints by Houston artists. Although they are for sale, they represent a kind of second, rotating collection of local talent to supplement the masterpieces across the street.

Best Of Houston®