Best Of 2003

Betty's is the Super-K of thrift shops, a clotheshorse's paradise. Here, racks of laundered, lightly worn garments are lined up like an army of steel soldiers. One wall of the main showroom features shelves of knickknacks and collectibles; on the other side are bins of 45s and albums from the '50s and '60s. If you can't find it in your grandmother's attic, it's here.
Most liquor stores aren't about frills, just harsh fluorescent lights blazing down on row after row of tequila bottles. It's a rare shop that manages to exude ambiance, and that's what makes the Village Bootlegger so special. Tucked away from its strip-mall neighbors at the corner of state routes 82 and 21, the little shop is cozy and cute, from its name to its soft mood lighting. This is no warehouse to grab and go: It's a spot to linger, to consider the difference between double- and single-malt scotch, to spend a moment of quiet contemplation before you get blitzed.
It's easy to spend hours and hours in this little shop in Ohio City, sorting through baskets of beads or skeins of cloth, looking for Indian treasure. The whole store is fun -- but the little room tucked toward the back is truly extraordinary. It's nothing but lamps, each more exquisite than the next: globes covered in pink silk, geometric tubes in scarlet, softly patterned cubes. They look great in the store and even better in your bedroom. They're a flash of the Kama Sutra, affordable enough for the lowliest apartment.

Readers' Poll Winner for Best Gift Shop: The Secret Closet

Charles Chebl's cramped, cluttered storefront is a vinylphile's glorious scavenger hunt. In the center of the shop is a huge bin of recently released albums, priced between $5 (a Fireworks LP) and $18.25 (Embryo's live release). Along the back wall, a field day awaits those into rifling through shelves of albums and 45s from the '60s and '70s, which sell for as little as 25 cents. The store's most expensive items? A four-CD Hendrix boxed set and a lockbox of Grand Funk Railroad CDs that includes a guitar pick and 3-D glasses. They go for 57 bucks apiece.

From indie comic books to horror fanzines to literature for guys who like to date really fat women, Bank News stocks every magazine you could need -- and many, many more. And unlike those franchise places that boast thousands of different titles, Bank News doesn't come packed in a sterile environment. That's not a double latte you smell brewing; that's the aroma of newsprint and old magazines gathering dust in the corners.

Rockefeller Barber Shop does not answer to "salon." Its magazine rack keeps Playboy, Clubman products abound, and haircuts sell for $12.

But the two house barbers, Craig and Nick, do not have boobs, which men enjoy orbiting their heads while they're under the smock. (Guys may not acknowledge it, but they'll pay twice the money to have an attractive woman cut their hair.) Lacking competitive breasts, Craig and Nick complete the basic haircut with a refreshing flourish. When the scissors work is done, they massage the scalp with a splash of Osage Rub, a green liquid that the manufacturer advises users to "apply briskly for that all-over tingly feeling." Next, newly shorn heads are wrapped in towels kept warm in a cheap Crock-Pot. The effect is a quick, menthol-flavored, stress-pummeling steam (boobs not included).

New-age philosophy reached fever pitch in time for the millennium, which is also when crystal-hawking stores were conjured up in every suburb. But any witch worth her salt knows it's not about the pentagram pendants or the feather-topped quartz necklaces -- it's about the herbs. That's why they've been going to the Web of Life Natural Foods Market since way back in the last millennium. Need some goldenseed to fight a bacterial infection? Slippery elm bark for that cough? Feverfew to ease the migraine? There's no forest stocking it around here anymore; gotta go to the Web of Life, where 21st-century Macbeths are most likely to find the Weird Sisters.

Cleveland apparently isn't urban enough for Urban Outfitters. But with Racer around, who really cares? You can fill up on Diesel (jeans) at this slick little West Side shop, a veritable hipster heaven. Hard-to-find brands like Kenneth Cole, French Connection, and YMLA hang from the racks. And for those not up to investing $200 in a pair of pants, Racer offers a range of lesser-known brands that achieve the top-end look at a fraction of the price. There are other places to buy suits for the office and jerseys for the football game. Go to Racer before you go clubbing.

There's no retro-chic Danish furniture, no white-smocked aestheticians, no Perrier to jack up the overhead at mellow Forbici. For just $45, manicurist Clarissa spends more than an hour beautifying your hands and feet -- and she'll gladly listen to you gripe about your boss. After soaking in a tingling peppermint bath, your feet get the royal treatment: an exfoliating scrub, nail trim, and lotion-massage, topped off with your choice of nail polish. (Hands get the same pampering, minus the scrub.) What a way to indulge champagne tastes on a lager budget!

Many used-game stores sell CDs with so many scratches, you'd think they were used to make the X-ecutioners' last album. That's the main reason the Lakewood Exchange is better than all the rest. (Price is another: Top PlayStation 2 games go for as little as $10.) Maybe it's a better class of clientele or maybe just higher standards. Dunno, but games from the Exchange are more likely to have that shiny, fresh-out-of-the-box glint, assuring us they won't glitch on Level 9.

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