Best Of 2006

To the naked eye, it appears to be some sort of surreal theme park. In the middle of a Westlake field sits a quaint fantasy town of shops, eateries, and apartments. While developers call it a "lifestyle center," to the teenage girl with a shopping jones and a pocketful of babysitting scratch, Crocker Park has a far simpler name: paradise. The place is loaded with all the shopping staples, including Urban Outfitters, H&M, and Banana Republic. For inexpensive dining, there's Aladdin's as well as Liquid Planet, home to that staple of adolescent subsistence, the cheap salad. As a bonus, there's a Regal Cinema with 16 theaters, stadium seating, and an impressive candy selection. And the best thing about this fake town is that it doesn't come with real crime. Parents can drop off Little Susie for an afternoon of shopping without worrying about her safety.
The royal treatment begins the moment you walk into this stylish salon. A hot receptionist pours you a beer. Now you can head for the dartboard. Then comes the haircut. In a private stall, with ESPN at convenient eye level, your hot stylist (yes, she's hot too -- they all are) cuts and styles, while kindly reminding you how cute, funny, and all-around awesome you really are. If you want, she'll throw in a hot-stone massage or a mini-facial, for a small fee. You'l leave looking and feeling brand-new.
When you're groggy, hung over, and having a bad hair day, nothing beats a cup of coffee. On that score, this Aveda salon in Lyndhurst goes way beyond the call of duty. In addition to coffee and tea in the waiting area, there are granola bars, Oreos, and apples. The women who wash your hair give you a scalp massage as well. And the best part is the price: Women's haircuts start at $35, a manicure is $17, a pedicure $20, and an eyebrow wax $12.
La Barberia offers top-quality service without the snobbish attitude. Unlike nail salons in shopping malls, La Barberia offers privacy and comfort -- customers are seated on plush chairs in a small separate room. And unlike posh spas in the suburbs, this one is low on employees with diva attitude. It's also affordable, with prices ranging from $12 for a basic buff-and-polish to $60 for a full pedicure that includes a half-hour foot-and-leg massage.
Tucked away amid incense holders and mosaic plates, a trove of jewelry awaits visitors to this Ohio City landmark. The bling includes everything from 50-cent flower rings to a glam necklace layered with turquoise beads. With the wide assortment of colors and unbeatable prices (the most expensive necklace we could find was $20), you're sure to discover something you must have. And City Buddha just opened a new store on Coventry.
The unofficial mascot of this Tremont shop is an enthusiastic toy poodle, who greets you at the door before returning to his tiny couch to snooze while you browse. The store offers a wide variety of gift options -- from silver and glass jewelry to hip belts, wallets, Oriental satin purses, and scented candles. On the home decor side, there are sculpted plates, wooden salad bowls, and handcrafted cutting boards. There's even a generous selection of baby booties, hats, and blankets. No matter what you pick, it's sure to appeal to her inner Gilmore Girl.
With hundreds of unique, hand-made gifts from around the world, this is the perfect place to shop for The Person Who Has Everything. Indigenous art from Kenya? Check. Ceramic bowls from Mexico? Check. Carved storage boxes from Vietnam? Check. No matter what you buy, you can guarantee that your friend doesn't already have it. Unless your friend happens to shop at Ten Thousand Villages that same week.
If there was a knock on the original Big Fun, it was that it was a bit too cramped. Often, you'd have to get uncomfortably close to strangers just to get to the Star Wars figures. So owner Steve Presser made a smart business decision when he moved across the street to a location twice the size of the old one. Since then, Big Fun has refashioned itself into a Gen-X toy palace. There's display case after display case loaded with GI Joes and Kiss dolls, as well as an entire counter crammed with factory-sealed trading cards (Garbage Pail Kids, anyone?). Now, if only Mom had a more spacious attic . . .
Self-styled "aging hippies" Jody Byrne and Michael Slyker operate a Streetsboro farm teeming with fields of lavender that, until recently, was harvested as an ingredient in Byrne's handcrafted soaps and oils. Lately, though, Byrne has been experimenting with various infusions, blends, and mixes. Her preoccupation has resulted in a whopper of a gift basket that she calls "the Taste of Lavender." There's lavender-infused honey, lavender-scented sugar, and organic lavender tea, as well as jasmine pearl tea and a packet of handpicked cooking lavender. The basket's most mouthwatering assets, however, are the lavender-infused baking mixes: one for shortbread-style tea cookies, the other for a dark-chocolate torte boasting eight full ounces of Ghirardelli chocolate and a lovely herbal aroma.
If you think "living green" means sleeping on a pile of straw inside a yurt, take a peek at Ecokiss, a tiny gift-and-decor shop that proves "fashionable" and "earth-friendly" aren't mutually exclusive. The eclectic collection of organic, recycled, and environmentally sensitive products includes artful jewelry composed of vintage pottery fragments, plates and serving pieces crafted from post-industrial glass, and whimsical stemware formed from recycled bottles. Green living is an admirable goal; now, thanks to Ecokiss, it's stylish too.
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