If your book-buying trips tend to be meandering, hedonistic affairs -- lounging around, drinking coffee, listening to bad folk music, picking up the latest Grisham -- Half Price Books may not be the place for you. Nor is it the place to find rare gems. Don't expect to stumble across a first-edition Ulysses here. This is a utilitarian enterprise, with row upon glorious row of used books, CDs, and computer games.
There are sporting goods stores built for the bleachers, and there are those built for the game. Cleveland Sport Goods caters to players, no matter what their game might be. It's the only place where you can walk in like a civilian and come out looking like an NHL goalie or an NFL linebacker. It's also one of the few remaining local, independent sporting goods stores. The 76-year-old company opened in the Cleveland Sports Arena before World War II and moved to Mayfield and Green roads in 1975. "We have experience and knowledge, and that gives us a lot of satisfied customers," says Rich Vojticek, the owner.
A wide selection of alternative comics and graphic novels distinguishes this store from the fray. On the shelves, you'll find not only the latest superhero rags and Powerpuff Girls paraphernalia, but selections by some of the best picture storytellers around: Chris Ware, the Hernandez Brothers, Julie Doucet, Daniel Clowes, and a whole lot more. As a special bonus, instead of creepy overweight ponytailed guys behind the counter -- a comic-book store staple -- you'll be cheerfully greeted by helpful, non-creepy overweight ponytailed guys.
We love independent record stores that still indulge peculiar tastes, in a music world increasingly bound by chains. Still, mega-stores are tempting places, because you know the odds are good they'll have what you're looking for. That's why we're so impressed by My Generation. The bins in this indie store's long aisles are crammed with the back catalogs of popular and obscure bands alike, including the occasional rare import. We never expected to find exhaustive collections of '80s post-punk and '70s Kraut rock in a strip mall in Westlake, but we did.
When aliens explore America, after we've rendered the planet uninhabitable, surely they will remark, "Damn, what's up with all these drugstores?" As the CVS-Rite Aid arms race drops a haze of fluorescent lighting on every other street corner, Discount Drug Mart should be celebrated for its unobtrusiveness alone. Most stores inhabit strip malls, not space-wasting, freestanding locations. Inside, the shelves are crammed with goodies -- beanbag ashtrays, winter mittens, dice -- at warehouse prices. Refill your Zoloft; pick up a caulk gun.
While other department stores are a virtual cacophony of screaming color and piped-in Muzak, Nordstrom is a quiet oasis of good taste. Its three floors croon, "Rest . . . relax . . . browse" while offering amenities like the Nordstrom Café (perfect for sipping lemonade and sampling a pear-and-gorgonzola salad), an espresso bar, and lounges with comfortable couches. There's even a pianist providing a live soundtrack for your shopping experience. Nordstrom doesn't have to shout to get you to spend. In its understated way, it compels you to buy more than you would anywhere else.
Believers in the supernatural power of fire, rejoice and light your matches. Mystic Imports is Cleveland's source for magic candles that will solve all your problems. Does your sweetie play around? You can buy a Bust Up Break Up candle to dispel the other woman or man. Low on cash? Try lighting a flame for Blessed Better Business. Got a date at the Justice Center? Burn a Court Case candle and recite the prayer on the glass: "Dear Lord, say unto the judge to stand beside me and make war against my enemies, who threaten to spill my life's blood." Top your candle with oils ("Black Cat," "Man Trap") for extra spiritual punch, or just buy a Hexagram of Solomon necklace so the spirits will bend to your will.
While it isn't the ritziest of malls, the Avenue at Tower City Center has energy and a good mix of stores and people. The shops range from funky newcomer Charlotte Russe to old favorites like Banana Republic and Brooks Brothers, and the eats are similarly eclectic. Where else can you go from an A&W root beer to a scotch at Century at the Ritz-Carlton . . . without even breaking a sweat?
Homeowners who want their front door to be as elegant as a piece of fine furniture need look no further than this showroom across from the Eton Collection on Chagrin Boulevard. Part of a chain that specializes in fancy doors, the Woodmere location also carries custom leaded glass, architectural details like carved mantels, and hand-forged wrought-iron fixtures. It's all quite beautiful, but practical, too -- at least, when you consider that those solid wood doors are sure to keep the Big Bad Wolf at bay.
"Are you on a mission?" proprietor Linda Bowman asks first-timers here. That's because a lot of her customers are. They might need a knockout 1960s tennis dress for a garden party or a little beaded number for New Year's Eve. They've come to the right place. Two of the three floors of Bowman's century home are filled with gently worn vintage clothes, with special emphasis on the 1940s through the '60s. On a recent trip, we found a fitted, hot-pink lace dress -- suitable for an evening wedding or cocktail party -- for $50. And for $40, a white cotton lawn shorts set with navy piping and matching skirt -- something Jay Gatsby's Daisy Buchanan might have worn when she wanted to feel especially babealicious. Our favorite, though (alas, it was out of our price range), was a hand-quilted patchwork robe in vivid oranges, reds, and blues for $175.
Flea markets are notorious for piles of tube socks selling for a quarter each or stacks of coffee-stained eight-tracks "priced to move." That's true of Jamie's Flea Market, only more so. With 200 vendors indoors and 400 outdoors, it's so big that it takes a full union shift just to see everything -- then you have to go back and scoop up the best deals. Fortunately, some of the vendors sell food, to sustain you through your search.