If you've ever been inside a comic book shop, you know it's damn near impossible to find what you're looking for. (Geeks are so messy.) The first thing you'll notice about Carol & John's at Kamms Corners — apart from Winston, the frisky feline who will greet you upon entering — is how meticulously organized everything is. The week's new comics are conveniently sprawled out on tables that meet you as soon as you walk through the door. Back issues are found — where else? — in the back of the store. Hardback graphic novels take up several shelves to the right; action figures are in the middle. But our favorite section lines the long counter that stretches across the front of the store. That's where you'll find tons of little toys, ranging from the Simpsons dressed for Halloween to the Japanese what-the-hell-is-he? Domo to hams smoking tiny cigarettes. Geek out!
17448 Lorain Ave., 216-252-0606, Cleveland, cnjcomics.com
It's really a district within a district, but it seems like Cleveland Heights' Coventry Village has finally found a solution for its under-trafficked north end: It's attracting a critical mass of trendy, youthful clothing boutiques, joining decades-old hippie emporium Sunshine Too, with its peasant skirts, leather jackets, and Indian jewelry. It all started when American Apparel moved into a big space vacated by an appliance store several years ago. Others quickly followed, including the new Blush boutique, featuring handcrafted jewelry and clothing by artist-designers; Brigade, with its upscale casual men's and women's wear (including Cleveland-based label Wrath Arcane); and Heart and Sole, which specializes in unusual sneakers. Even street fixture Attenson's Coventry Antiques has a cache of vintage clothing and jewelry. And in a few months, Pittsburgh-based Avalon Exchange, which fills the gap between a designer vintage store and Plato's Closet, will be moving into the former Utrecht Art Supplies/Irv's Deli space at the top of the block, providing a sort of gateway.
Coventry and Hampshire rds., Cleveland Heights, coventryvillage.org
We are smack-dab in the middle of the largest ironic fashion craze in human history — even Target's in on the nostalgic T-shirt trip. But any self-respecting band geek or nostalgia nerd knows that vintage gear is required whenever possible. That's why the best place to find the finest faddish digs is at the Village Discount Outlet in Cuyahoga Falls. Three long rows devoted to meticulously displayed T-shirts create a rainbow of cotton — and there's pots of gold all over the place. Your options are almost endless, from bandwagon sports teams (Browns, Ohio State) to locally grown school gear (Westlake Demons, anyone?) to vintage rock T's (both classic and cheeseball varieties) — it's all here. Craving a true original? Who wouldn't envy your Camp Kenston tie-dye personally signed by all the girls who attended, or the NAACP Voter Security T with accompanying jacket. There's gear for any ironic need you have, and half the fun is in the hunting.
2930 State Rd., Cuyahoga Falls, 330-384-8100,
Al Zaleski was 16 years old when his father opened Fleet Bikes. His intention was to build a family business. But when Al's father and brother both passed away shortly after the shop opened, he kept the place running. Thirty-nine years later, he's never worked anywhere else. For a while he carried a line of new bikes, but for years now it's all been reconditioned used rides built up from donations, with occasional bikes acquired from scrap trucks. When his showroom is full in the spring, scores of bikes fill the front room. Zaleski sells about 250 a year — all priced to move in the scuffling Slavic Village neighborhood. The bulk of his business, though, is repairs — which are also priced right: Fleet pledges to fix any bike for $15, plus the cost of parts. Zaleski's line of work introduces him to no shortage of interesting old machines, but he says his favorites were built in the 1940s and '50s. "Back then steel was steel, and a bike was a bike," he says. Amen to that, Brother Al.
5002 Fleet Ave., Cleveland, 216-441-3920
When an independent bookstore focuses heavily on themes such as music, art, and politics, it's bound to inspire a passionate following. By being located in the heart of energetic Tremont, Visible Voice all but ensured its place as a magnet for the neighborhood's like-minded folks. But this place is so much more than books: There's a wine bar, a garden courtyard, an upstairs meeting space. There are the obligatory book signings and poetry readings, but also wine tastings and art exhibits, with work scattered throughout the store. There are musical performances — including a free summer concert series in the courtyard offering a welcome blend of jazz, folk, and blues — and even a monthly feminist performance-art open mic. When's the last time the big box served up this brand of stimulation?
1023 Kenilworth Ave., Cleveland, 216-961-0084, visiblevoicebooks.com
Hairstyling is one of life's costlier necessities — routine maintenance you can't do without unless you're willing to settle for Flowbee results. Happily for the rest of us, Allstate Hairstyling & Barber College serves up haircuts and fades by barbers and stylists-in-training for the ridiculously low price of $4. An Ohio City institution founded in 1961, Allstate also offers hot lather shaves, perms, relaxers, beard and mustache trims, and hair coloring — and all at equally egalitarian rates. The place can't be matched for pure retro appeal: red and white canopies outside, 27 shiny red-and-chrome barber chairs inside, a diverse clientele, and no shortage of interesting conversation. Want to go really old-school? Get a hot-lather shave — they're free every Tuesday. Consider it your contribution to somebody's budding barber career.
2546 Lorain Ave., Cleveland, 216-241-6684, allstatehairstyling.com
When pals James Quarles and Rob Krumholz began churning out T-shirts, they didn't just want to make a buck with run-of-the-mill cotton wares tagged with canned irony or dumb pictures. Instead, the pair of art students were thinking mobile canvas for their intricate, hand-drawn street-art aesthetic. So yeah, T-shirts seemed like the smart play. Cut to three years later, and the clothing line they've founded, Def Native, is responsible for some of the loudest eye-catchers around. The ingredients are simple: one solid-color T-shirt decked out in detail-heavy imagery that could have been lifted straight off the side of a graffiti'd building. Def Native's designs combine hip-hop swagger with a mushroom trip, and include more than one nod to their Cleveland roots. The clothing line is available locally at Next locations and Sanity in Chagrin Falls.
"Record Store Day" is an annual event during which record labels large and small roll out exclusive product to mom and pop record stores around the country. When it's Record Store Day in Northeast Ohio, Music Saves is the place to be. Earlier this year, there was a line out the door of slavering vinyl junkies waiting to browse the limited-edition titles. On non-holy days, you'll have an easier time getting your hands around the place's huge selection. In fact, Music Saves regularly stocks hard-to-find vinyl releases that the big boxes just won't touch, as well as a hardy selection of locally made vinyl. Located next door to the venerable Beachland Ballroom, Music Saves doesn't post regular business hours, so check in advance to make sure it's open before launching your adventure.
15801 Waterloo Rd., Cleveland, 216-481-1875, musicsaves.com
After owner Melvin (just "Melvin") lost his longtime job early this year, the expatriate Brit had a vision: He was destined to open a head shop. He located a prime spot on Waterloo, with on-the-block neighbors like the Beachland Ballroom and Arts Collinwood. Cutting to the chase, he called his new establishment simply "the Head Shop" and opened for business in June. Rather than the usual cluttered cases full of cheap Jimi Hendrix roach clips, Melvin furnished the place with boutique flair and filled it with select paraphernalia — some handmade, much of it bearing the image of reggae great and stoner patron saint Bob Marley. And you'll surely hear Marley in the rotation of the music that's constantly pouring from the shop's wide-open doors.
15615 Waterloo Rd., Cleveland, 216-403-0328, theheadshop.org
Since holding a grand reopening party earlier this year — complete with a slight name change, from "Suite" to "Sweet" — Sweet Lorain has regained its rep as the city's best place for bygone-era treasures. Spruced up and reorganized so you can actually walk through its 8,000 square feet, the place features a little bit of everything: from Hawaiian shirts and vintage dresses and jewelry to home furnishings and furniture plucked from half a century ago. Helpful when you need a certain item, Sweet Lorain is even better when you've got an afternoon to spare and a yearning to wind your way through endless displays of kitschy odds and ends. After all: It's not about what you came looking for, but what you can't leave without.
7105 Lorain Ave., Cleveland, 216-281-1959, sweetlorain.com
Best that you show up to Chelsea's with some idea of what you want to come out looking like: The place is overwhelming — two enormous floors of vintage clothing and costumes depicting virtually every era, occupation, and character imaginable. Random browsing will probably cause you a nervous breakdown, but if you've got something in mind, you'll locate it here with relative ease despite the daunting volume — everything at Chelsea's, after all, is meticulously organized by category and vintage. They sell vintage clothes, but they also rent for special occasions, Halloween and otherwise. You won't ever have to come as you are once you've become a friend of Chelsea's.
1412 West 116th St., Cleveland, 216-226-9147