This place was South Congress before South Congress was SoCo. A longtime favorite vintage stop on the merits of atmosphere alone, the unique style of its 24 purveyors keeps locals obsessed. But they don't just come to this curiosity shop for tchotchkes and shirts: The jewelry selection will haunt your wallet until you have to go back.
They famously promise to treat you like they would their own parents, whether in the service department or out on the lot. You'll find new and used cars, great lease deals, weekly specials, and a website that lets you calculate your trade and get online credit approval before you even hit the door.
Celebrating its 39th year of buying, selling, and trading clothes, Buffalo Exchange is a favorite for bargain hunters and independent thinkers across the country. You could, for instance, bring in a sport coat that you've just never liked and trade it for something you love. And Buffalo Exchange, with such frequent turnover, always has something new … or at least new to you.
A lot of local comic-book stores have gone the way of the dodo of late, but even when this city had more outlets of graphic-novel goodness than there were Skrulls in the woodwork, Austin Books & Comics loomed head, shoulders, and propeller beanie above its putative competitors. Year in, year out, dancing a user-friendly retail tango to the tune of no fewer than 15 "Best of Austin" awards, this juggernaut of sequential-art objects seldom failed to satisfy even the geekiest jones, to impress the most discerning gimlet eye of fanboy and fangirl alike. So now, when other shops have vaporized and the competition's slightly less dog-eat-dog, now Austin Books has gone and upgraded itself with a complete remodeling, turning what was already best into something even better? Double-you tee everlovin' eff? "We've always had a healthy fear of the future," says owner Brad Bankston. "This medium has always been a niche market, even before the Internet, and who knows how long it can be sustained against alternatives in the Web, and so on. So we've tried to make ourselves more accessible to the general public, for people coming into a comic-book store for the first time. And there's the gentrification of the area, too, with the Triangle opening up and the biggest Half Price Books store in town down the street. So the landlord fixed up the outside of our building, and we fixed up the inside. … Because it's a matter of pride, too, of being proud of what you do and what you're offering. You know, there's nothing wrong with looking good." Which is one reason this perennial winner continues to flourish in these dismal economic times: You can walk around Austin Books as if you're touring a museum, ogling the walls of new comic books, the shelves of graphic novels, the free-standing displays of movie tie-ins, the life-sized Incredible Hulk statue near the store's center. Hell, you might even find old masters like Raphael, Donatello, Michaelangelo, and Leonardo amid the bounty – except here, they'd more likely be turtles. Of, yes, the teenage mutant ninja variety.
In this economy, the thrifty shopper can't pass up the deals at Discount Electronics. Four locations and thousands of options, from refurbished laptops to baskets full of optical mice, add up to significant computing power for your buck. The friendly staff are knowledgeable and patient with customers, whether n00b or level 50 wizard.
The taps of beer at Whip In are framed by bold graphic depictions of Mohandas Gandhi, Barack Obama, and a Hindu goddess raising a wine glass and a frosty mug of beer. Where do we sign up? The homemade and delicious food, the snappy and friendly service, and the international decor make Whip-In much more than a roadside stop: It's a destination. For those in the Cherrywood and French Place neighborhoods, nothing compares to the Monarch Food Mart. Beyond the great wine and cigarette selection (including schmancy Nat Shermans!), the two brothers that run the place are some of the nicest folks in Austin. Indulging your late-night snacking/drinking/socializing/smoking habits never felt so right.
Monarch Food Mart, 1402 E. 38 1/2, 512/478-4492
When you have a sinus infection paired with a raging case of pinkeye that makes it look like you've been in a fistfight for the past week, except with more oozing, you expect a fair amount of recoiling from the public. But walking into Peoples Rx, there's only professional prescription advice without any apparent clamor for a face mask. Pair that with a smoothie from the deli counter and a blast of some Porcine Gonadal Extract, and you'll feel like you're ready for a few more rounds with whatever ails you.
Do you think Vulcan gets tired of all these "Best of Austin" awards? Surely in back of one of the stores is a supply room stacked to the rafters with plaques, banners, and ribbons from the readers of The Austin Chronicle. Know why? Vulcan is simply the best.
Sleek. Chic. Four Hands and IKEA provide you with everything needed to make your space home- and garden-tour worthy. Whether it's a Moroccan table or a Chinese armoire, Four Hands' wholesale suppliers can get it from every end of the Earth and into your pad. And boy, does IKEA have choices! "I want that rug and those plates, and, oh, look at those doorknobs!" Who better to guide you through the trials and tribulations of becoming one with the feng shui than these two mega purveyors of domiciliary accoutrement?
These winners keep Austin ready to grow at all times of the year, and between the two you can always find just the right plant or yard gnome. Natural Gardener offers a plethora of down-to-earth gardening alternatives for the greenest of thumbs, while Great Outdoors attracts Congress commuters with its jungle spread of flora domination and oh-so-yummy, on-grounds (no pun) coffee shop, the NOLA-themed Garden District. Exotic, all-natural, and a roadside attraction!
Eco-Wise bills itself as the "Earth-Friendly-Everything Store" – and it ain't kidding! Looking for organic garden seeds? It's got 'em! How about a tankless water heater? It's got that too. It's got bamboo flooring and kitchen utensils, recycled paper glasses and recycled glass countertops. It may not have the kitchen sink, but if it did, we bet it would compost like its toilet.
Hyde Park dwellers thanked Bacchus early and often when the new millennium welcomed Twin Liquors to the Hancock Center – and near a video rental store to boot! With some 55 sister outlets, its upgrade was unexpected, to say the least; employees of Twin Liquors' new “flagship” headquarters next to Petco estimate the liquor barn's square footage at 40,000. That's the kind of mileage you'll rack up in its Champagne alone. Watch the cork!
On the verge of its 40th year, BookPeople is still on a campaign to win over the hearts and minds of Austinites. Whether you're buying the latest issue of McSweeney's or picking up a copy of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies to punk your high school English teacher, BookPeople is Austin's independent behemoth. In a world of e-books and Kindles, there's still no better way to spend an otherwise blah afternoon (and your dollars) than perusing this bookstore's shelves, guided by the always helpful and savvy staff.
How could you not love Breed & Co.? There's something in there for everyone. Need a pull chain for your ceiling fan? It will have plenty, and the little pulls that go at the end of the chain, too. Staff will give you advice on your vegetable garden and has the perfect dinnerware on which to serve it. Charming decor and fine service (plus a legendary bridal registry) make this an ongoing "Best of Austin." Congratulations, Breed & Co.
Cables, mixers, monitors, guitars, tuners, pedals, amps …. One doesn't become the live music capital of the world by songwriting chops and nightclubs alone. The knowledgeable folks at Guitar Center keep us stocked for all our collective musical endeavors – from the putzing to the professional – and they'll be around 'til the fat lady sings.
Female-owned, female-operated, and serving everybody, the staff at Forbidden Fruit can put you totally at ease when assisting you with your erotic purchases. Any experience here is far from a Times Square scenario involving dimly lit hallways and greasy paper bags; the staff's mission is to help create erotic self-awareness and improve intimate communication in relationships. Let them spice things up a bit for you … and your partners.
Recently rhizomed here from Houston headquarters, Domy Books' open doors unlocked a vault filled with visual brilliance – both high-end graphic design and street-level couture – presented by art aficionados so friendly and helpful that you might never use the word "hipster" as a diss again. House Pizzeria's thin-crust pies are so attractively rustic-looking you could fall into a foodie-swoon before the first bite hits your lucky taste buds. Italian sausage made in-store, real Stilton on the Blue pizza, a wood-fired oven: The reasons for this joint's success are more numerous than buffaloes 'round a mozzarella factory.
No newbie to "Best of Austin," Bark 'n Purr Pet Center is one of the many facets of our pet-friendly city that represent progress and care when it comes to business. This pet store is proud to pimp its hefty selection of organic, super-high-quality pet foods, munchies, and supplements and even raw dog food. With its roots established before many of our readers were even a twinkle in the eye, family-owned and -operated Bark 'n Purr beckons you to a fantastic shopping adventure for the furry love in your life.
Waterloo Records & Video is more than an independent music retailer; it’s a modern mecca of music – the Amoeba of the South – that’s inextricably woven into the legacy and notoriety of our local music scene. That much is evident not just in the depth of the store’s selection – CDs, vinyl, box sets, DVDs, books, clothing – but in its bounteous treasure chest of used arrivals and its range of in-store performers (Steve Earle, Bill Callahan, the Belleville Outfit). First opened in 1982 in the now-defunct Soccer World building on South Lamar, Waterloo moved three times before settling into its current Sixth Street location in 1989, which has become a local landmark worthy of historical status. Even as the rest of the music industry has crashed and burned with the rise of the iPod and illegal downloading, Waterloo has found ways to not only adapt and survive but to continue giving back to the community. The store sponsors countless local events, is an active participant in the notable nonprofit Health Alliance for Austin Musicians, and has made a habit of employing local artists, most notably Alejandro Escovedo (which is one of the reasons why it boasts some of the best staff recommendations in town). Waterloo is nothing if not a store of its times. A few years back, the local landmark began acquiring exclusive indie releases to counter the national big boxes. Recognizing the relative resurgence in popularity of vinyl, Waterloo has amped up its selection of both new and used vinyl to levels not seen since the mid-Nineties. The store offers a weekly vinyl happy hour and has been a very vocal participant and champion of the annual Record Store Day. More recently, Waterloo has been actively involved in the creation of Think Indie, a digital distribution network that puts independent record shops on the same playing field as iTunes.
A no-brainer based on selection alone, showcasing the latest in high-quality footwear – eye-popping high-heels, height-of-elegance men’s dress shoes, and belle-of-the-ball party wear. The bar is set, however, not solely by sheer number of choices, but in a level of customer service that is rarely seen or surpassed.
Dan Plunkett began building his musical street cred in the Eighties with N D magazine, a lens focused on experimental music and art. Almost three decades and countless record conventions later, End of an Ear proves fertile soil to fill gaps in any garden of musical knowledge. From metal to soul, Bollywood to country, 78s to DVDs, Plunkett and his partner Blake Carlisle (whose film expertise nearly rivals that of the Alamo Drafthouse's Lars) have what you need.
There are countless thrift stores in Austin, many of which do community outreach just like Goodwill. But with locations all over town and its position as the go-to spot for unloved clothing, furniture, and what-have-you, Goodwill's selection can't be beat. Honestly, you might want to head over there now before the Halloween options are picked through.
If retro styling is your thing but the thrift stores just aren't stocking what you're buying, then this is your spot: wall-to-wall and floor-to-ceiling … uh … stuff, including everything from records to cowboy boots to flatware. Of course, there are enough tables, chairs, desks, and art to decorate an entire season of Mad Men – without the stench of cigarette smoke.