Northeast Ohio has a wealth of wonderful comic stores, but North Coast rises above the rest in this year's rankings for two reasons. The first is the ample selection of comics in the cheapo bins. Row upon row of three-for-a-dollar comics give you the thrill of the hunt, and there's plenty of buried treasure - old issues of X-Men, Spider-Man, and Batman that elsewhere go for three to five times what you'll pay. The second reason North Coast is such a joy is the Comic Book Guy who runs the cash register. His commentary will make you linger even after you're done shopping. "How come the Invisible Woman is visible," a little boy recently asked while staring at a Fantastic Four action figure. "If you couldn't see her, I couldn't sell her," replied Comic Book Guy. Stan Lee couldn't have scripted it better.
The Rossen family has been satisfying connoisseurs of fine wines since 1939. Today, three generations welcome customers into a warehouse-sized store with a calendar of events highlighted by Saturday-afternoon wine-tastings. Once a month, they'll fly in vintners from as far away as California or Italy for afternoon lectures. And the $20-a-head wine gala the Rossens host every October draws a standing-room-only crowd to mingle with as many as 40 winemakers. The Rossens carry top-of-the-line Merlots, Chardonnays, and Cabernets that they'll gladly wrap in their specialty gift boxes. In the $66 "Continental Crossing" package, they couple Robert Mondavi's Fume Blanc with Hess Select's Cabernet Sauvignon in a wooden carrier. For $100, the "Touch of Class" basket includes a bottle of Chteau Malmaison Bordeaux, a bottle stopper, and corkscrew. And the $139 "International Sommelier Collection" features six wines from around the world, such as the Leasingham Bin 61 Shiraz from Australia, the Escudo Rojo from Chile, and the Danzante Pinot Grigio from Italy. But they dare you to open up your checkbook for the lone bottle of Brooks Empress port. Vintage 1896, the rare bottle of vino is on sale for a staggering $8,000.
It's often said that the quality of a mall is determined by its department stores. Beachwood has three of the best: Dillard's, Nordstrom, and Saks Fifth Avenue. Along with mall staples like the Gap, J.Crew, the Limited, Banana Republic, Guess?, and Brooks Brothers, Beachwood Place also has specialty shops you'd normally have to travel to New York to find, including BCBG Max Azaria and Swarovski, as well as exclusive local product like Nabici Collection. Indeed, Beachwood is more of a social gathering spot for moneyed InStyle and GQ readers. When The New York Times ran an article in May about the shopping habits of consumers of luxury goods, they reported from Beachwood Place. Now that's class.
Running a good laundromat should be easy: Just install plenty of washers and dryers, and a functional change machine. Yet somehow, laundromats manage to screw this up. The Sno-Bright Laundromat is one of the few that gets it right. It has rows and rows of big, well-maintained washers and dryers. It also has three separate change machines. If somehow they all manage to be broken at the same time, there's an attendant on duty 24 hours a day to make change and give advice to the detergent-challenged. In a land of mediocrity, Sno-Brite stands out by sticking to the basics and doing it right.
Mushroomhead and Ringworm come here when they need gear. Peabody's, the nexus for rock in Cleveland, went here for its sound system. When ace guitarist Steve Vai and glam punks My Chemical Romance came through town, they stopped here to get strings. And it's where tomorrow's rockers go for their first guitars. Guitar Center Cleveland treats up-and-comers like they're already rock stars. The staff features knowledgeable pros like 13 Faces/Beyond Fear guitarist John Comprix, who can tell you not only what kind of gear Slipknot uses, but also how you can play it like they do. The size of a warehouse, Guitar Center has everything that a touring eight-man metal combo needs - but if you're a teenager who just wants to get started, $200 can get you out the door with a guitar, amp, strap, gig bag, cable, strings, tuner, and the phone number of a local pro for one-on-one lessons. It's everything you need, minus the groupies.
With no wings dedicated to music, lattes, or multimedia, Mac's is truly old-school, a welcome departure from the modern megabookstores. Mac's keeps its focus squarely where it belongs: on the books. With three floors loaded with new and used volumes, its interior resembles a relative's stuffy den. The eclectic selection ranges from classics to contemporary, including hard-to-find editions. The store also carries lit 'zines like Zoetrope and The <$f"Alternative-HTF2-Italic">Believer, and popular fare of the <$f"Alternative-HTF2-Italic">Harry Potter variety. Mac's also hosts frequent readings, book-signings, and workshops. If you want a cappuccino, go to Borders. If you want to read, come to Mac's.
We can see why Westlake's sleek, state-of-the-art library was voted the second best in the nation in Hennen's 2004 American Public Library Ratings. Numerous copies of best-sellers means you don't have to wait three months for the latest page-turner. Rows and rows of CD bins are stuffed with new and classic pop, hip-hop, and classical discs. The DVD shelves are lined with classics (Gimme Shelter), popular new releases (XXX: State of the Union), and hard-to-find foreign flicks. There's a café serving sandwiches and muffins, a reading garden, free WiFi access, and plenty of quiet nooks to peacefully kick back and read for hours. We'd shout for joy, but this is still a library, after all, so shhhh.
There's nothing worse than suffering car trouble at two in the morning. That's why Motorcars Honda and Motorcars Toyota on Mayfield Road are so valuable - they're the only service stations in Ohio that offer late-night maintenance until three a.m. every day. "We're on a first-name basis with highway patrolmen and state troopers. We've had cars towed here from 37 states," brags night service manager Mike Driscoll. Both locations offer waiting lounges stocked with more amenities than a suite at the Ritz-Carlton, including wide-screen television, free internet access, an extensive variety of magazines, and free coffee and cookies. Says Driscoll: "Sometimes, when we tell people their car is done, they almost seem disappointed."
In November, clotheshorses took notice when Indigo Nation became one of the first specialty stores to open in the new Crocker Park shopping complex. Managed by the affable Troy Cornish, the spacious boutique brings high fashion to the heartland. "It's East Coast and West Coast meets the Midwest," says Cornish. There's the LaCosta line of $72 V-neck sweaters and jeans from ultrachic labels like True Religion, Juicy Couture, and Seven for All Mankind that run from $80 to $245. A pair of hand-stretched denims with embroidered pockets from Joe's Jeans can set a shopper back $275. But there's hope for Crocker Park paupers: Tank tops in soft pastels from American Apparel run a mere $11.
Angela Huang, the owner of Winds of Change, considers her clothing/accessory boutique to be her personal dollhouse. Set in a renovated, century-old coach house in Chagrin Falls, every room is intricately decorated with a specific theme. In the upstairs "lingerie" room, you'll find lacy black corsets, slinky camisoles in pastel colors, and form-fitting bodices ($20-$300) hanging over the bedposts of a romantic, canopied bed. The downstairs "shoe" room is decorated with such Victorian-inspired accents as a high-backed cherrywood chair with claw-foot legs and a matching wooden sofa with handcrafted carvings. The actual footwear is just as aesthetically pleasing. Recently on display were pointy-toed beige stiletto heels with chrome tips from the Italian designer Luichiny ($49) and gorgeous black boots from Olivia Rose Tal with cheetah straps and 1-1/4-inch heels ($259). To find these unique pieces, Huang travels to fashion shows around the world. "I'm looking for artistic, different, beautiful, magical clothes," she says.
Paris Hilton may be able to spend $145 on a Diane von Furstenberg silk camisole without blinking her well-mascaraed eyes, but what about the rest of us? Luckily, cash-poor fashionistas need travel no further than the Saks Fifth Avenue Outlet. It carries all the same labels as the original department store - Theory, Versace, and Dolce & Gabbana, for instance - but at half to three-quarters of the normal price. If you're looking for something casual, try Frankie B. jeans ($60; standard retail price: $100), a stretchy white tank top from Juicy Couture ($30, compared to $45), and a form-fitting plaid blazer from Parallel ($179.99, normally $310). Saks also has a high-end men's selection - a double-breasted navy Versace suit, which normally retails for $1,695, can be found here for $800, and relaxed-fit Diesel Jeans, typically sold at Saks for $129, are only $69.99. All of which means you don't have to be spoiled rich to look like it.