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2011CriticsShopping

Best Book Woman
Susan Post

For 34 years, Susan Post has made space for women to gather, learn, and celebrate changing the world. As owner of BookWoman, she's created a launchpad for women writers, a sanctuary for literary seekers, and a safe space for generations of feminists. She keeps the doors open and hosts a jumping calendar of literary readings, concerts, and discussion groups. Post wins the prize for embodying the famous motto "Sisterhood Is Powerful."

BookWoman, 5501 N. Lamar Ste. 105-A, 512/472-2785, www.ebookwoman.com

Best Metal Lingerie
Brooks Coleman

Mad scientist Brooks Coleman, formerly of experimental band Liquid Mice and techno-savants the Robot Group, keeps the tender flesh of hotties around the world barely covered in sculpted layers of metal: metal bras, mostly, but also articulated belts, power cuffs, and curvy pubis-covering shields. We simply <3 the creative fashions of this one-man steampunk version of Frederick's of Hollywood.

Brooks Coleman, www.etsy.com

Best Microbusiness Incubator
Community Renaissance Market

It took a couple months for this endeavor to get off the ground, but now it's an important incubator of microbusinesses in the growing Southwest Austin region. Featuring antiques sellers, artisans, and a delicious cafe catering to vegetarian and gluten-free diets (the Native Nom Nom cafe), this market is a guidepost of our post-big-box future.

Community Renaissance Market, 6800 West Gate Blvd., 512/522-6161, www.communityrenaissancemarket.com

Best Nerd Sanctuary on SoCo
South Congress Books

If South Congress Books merely offered a cool eddy of respite from SoCo's hustle and flow (it does), that would be plenty in terms of general service to humankind. But, oh, that's just the beginning. The lighting is perfect. It smells lovely, like paper and wood. The proprietors have arranged their beautifully curated collection of vintage, rare, and a few new paper objects – first-edition Salinger and signed Bukowski, pinup calendars and pulp, vintage cookbooks, gorgeous art tomes, and a sigh-inducing illustrated kids' edition of e.e. cummings' "in Just-" from 1973 – in a way that makes them irresistibly inviting and infinitely browsable. It's lit-immersion therapy. Or lit-sexy central. We can't decide. Either way, when you've had your fill, it will gently pitch you back onto the avenue, inspired and enchanted.

South Congress Books, 1608 S. Congress, 512/916-8882, www.southcongressbooks.com

Best New Age Neighbors
Nature's Treasures and Vitruvian Vitamins

Coo-coo for crystals? Silly for selenite? Aggro for agate? Nature's Treasures will rock your Crocs off. And while we're totally bummed that some museum bought that humongous amethyst chair pictured on the billboard atop its I-35 shop before we had the chance to sit in it, we can't help but love to touch, feel, and generally rub up against the healing powers locked within the stony goodness of its fabulous stock of rock, et al. Trippy, huh? Well, what's even cooler is that Nature's Treasures couldn't have picked a better mini-strip-mall mate if it had gone to hippie town central casting. Next door is supplement shop Vitruvian Vitamins, and if that doesn't have you doing funny Renaissance man jumping jacks in a circle, we don't know what will. Gaga for ginkgo? Squishy for fish oil? Queer for coenzyme Q10? OK. We'll stop now.

Nature's Treasures, 4103 N. I-35, 512/472-5015, www.naturestreasurestx.com

Vitruvian Vitamins, 4103 N. I-35 Ste. C, 512/922-7628, www.vitruvianvitamins.com

Best Place To Tarry
Tarrytown Pharmacy

Chances are, if you're a many-generationed West Austinite, your grandpa's grandma filled her scripts here. Opened the day before the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, Tarrytown Pharmacy has shuffled a few locations and owners, but it has been held and run by generations of the same Newberry family since its first decade. Boasting as broad an array of gifts and necessities as big chain pharmacies, Tarrytown, too, is more than just a drugstore. But that's where the similarity ends. The difference is in the selection. Buyers Leslie and Gail Newberry stock the shelves with local art and jewelry, seasonal curios, candy, cards, and gifts, and they even offer a gift-wrapping service. It's easy to lose an hour wandering the smartly curated aisles, inhaling the luscious body-and-bath department or choosing the perfect windup toy for the kid whose sniffles sent you there in the first place.

Tarrytown Pharmacy, 2727 Exposition #105, 512/478-6419, www.tarrytownpharmacy.com

Best Refined & Recycled
Charm School Vintage

Going to Charm School can have a transformative effect on a woman – after selecting one of proprietress Shari Gerstenberger's handpicked vintage pieces, the lady in question will emerge confident, inspired, and sweetly caught up in a romantic daydream. Everything is just so achingly pretty, so easily imagined lit up with yellow light from the street lamps, half shadowed and remade by a soft Texas night. Feminine, bohemian, a little sassy, and a lot special, Charm School is the girl's girl of vintage.

Maison d'Etoile, 2109 E. Cesar Chavez, 512/944-2801, www.charlottebelle.com

Best Ringing Endorsement
Rings Unique

Sure, we all know about Clarksville Pottery, but like precious nesting dolls, Austin's aptly named Rings Unique is located inside Clarksville Pottery's venerable Lamar location. Featuring several collections from individual designers, there's something in Rings Unique's ring case that will tickle your loved one's fancy. And once your design is selected, it's custom made with the metals and stones of your choice. Between its beautiful selections, its informative website, and the personalized attention from owners Connie and Tom Quilter, Rings Unique can make a daunting prospect – finding a special ring for that special someone – seem all the more neighborly.

Rings Unique, 4001 N. Lamar #200, 512/454-9079, www.ringsunique.com

Best Soleful Imports
Inca Boot Company

Texans sure love boots. So it's refreshing to see increasing popularity of light, durable suede boots that differ from your typical cowboy and biker styles. Inca Boots are just that: authentic Peruvian boots and shoes in a variety of styles, all featuring traditional woven embellishments. With new styles for the fall ready to launch and a spring 2012 line in the works, the vibrant colors and imported uniqueness are already available at Mana Culture and online.

Mana Culture, 2214 S. First, 512/707-0200, www.manaculture.com

Inca Boot Company, 512/567-8738, www.incaboots.com

Best Stuffed Squid
Squid Friends

Who doesn't want eight arms to hold them? With her cuddly cephalopods, made from oddball remnants and reclaimed offcuts, Kristin Hogan (co-creator with her sister Katie of awesome indie Web comic Dead Squirrel Girl) has created an Etsy sensation that we're suckers for.

Squid Friends, www.squidfriends.posterous.com

Best Stunning Adornments
Shalena Designs

Have you ever had a ring that seemed to grow right out of your finger or a necklace that was suddenly in bloom? Have you ever yearned for a copper-and-silver boa to adorn your neck? Owner Shalena White loves her craft and puts her fine arts degree (metalsmithing and jewelry-making) from Texas State University to work forging, fabricating, and wire-wrapping a collection of simply stunning adornments. The otherworldly yet plucked-from-nature inspiration behind every gemstone, every wisp of molten metal, every piece of art created by White is an ode to life in action.

Shalena Designs, 512/297-1762, www.shalenadesigns.com

Best Talent Tie-in
Sarah Stollack's World on a String

We can wax rhapsodic about Sarah Stollak's crocheted jewelry: beautiful baubles of stones, beads, and string. We can go on about her violin and fiddle playing with such diverse groups as the Lonesome Heroes and Quartet-a-Tete String Quartet. But it's the life-size knitted guitars that seal the deal. Stollack doesn't knit cozies for guitars; she makes guitars out of whole cloth (yarn) with an astounding level of detail and witty cultural reference. There's the award-winning custom Fender, detailed down to the logo; Jimmy Page's double-neck SG; Jimi Hendrix's Strat, on fire and strung left-handed. Zing, zing, zing go our heartstrings.

World on a String, SoCo Outdoor Market, 1610-A S. Congress, 512/466-2589, www.worldonastring.us

Best Veteran Vintage
Big Bertha's Bargain Basement

For 15 years at Lamar Plaza, Big Bertha's Bargain Basement owner Henry Tarin has operated this shop that's on the required list for any true vintage aficionado. He prides himself on pairing new lines and a collection of one-off, upscale vintage selections. Memorable pieces are many, and a few notable designer pieces that have passed through his hands include Alaïa, Westwood, Mugler, Halston, Dior, Sprouse, and others. Bertha's has a rabid local following, and international, too, through Tarin's Etsy store. Fashion queens and drag queens alike have found their way to his legendary emporium, which also has attracted stars such as Johnny Depp, Sandra Bullock, and Kate Moss, to name a few. Tarin's reputation is stellar, and business is following suit.

Big Bertha's Bargain Basement, 1050 S. Lamar, 512/444-5908, www.bigberthasbargainbasement.com

Best Vinyl Surprises
Half Price Books

If we could bestow a piece of advice upon you, lover of vinyl, it is to wear pants you don't mind getting dirty the next time you go to Half Price. Sure there are stacks of Dan Fogelberg and Electric Light Orchestra records displayed at person-height, but down toward the ground are old DJ cuts and singles, scratch records and weird anthologies. At any other boutique these gems would wreck your wallet, here they're often less than a dollar. Wannabejays can amass an impressive and eclectic collection in a matter of months instead of years – and don't worry, established spinderellas, you can rest assured that your old vinyl is finding a life after life.

Half Price Books, 5555 N. Lamar, 512/451-4463, www.hpb.com

Best Way To Come as You Aren't
TIE: Lucy in Disguise; Costume World

Austin boasts some amazing costume resources for your personal fabulosity. On the southside, Lucy in Disguise (like any authentic Austin-grown shop, it's named after the owner's dog) carries a luscious array of accessories and costumes both new and vintage for your renting or buying pleasure. This is your central resource for dress-up or for dressing up your street wear. Up north, Costume World has a dizzying array of theatrical quality rentals. If we were teaching a class in fashion history, we would take a field trip here. Costume World alters any purchases for free, even if you buy from the cheap, made-in-China wall. The vast Austin store is but a link in a small national chain with shops in Dallas, Pennsylvania, and Florida (the Pompano Beach location is home to an exquisite museum of Broadway get-ups).

Lucy in Disguise, 1506 S. Congress, 512/444-2002, www.lucyindisguise.com

Costume World, 8207 Burnet Rd., 512/323-5949, www.costumeworld.com

Best Wig-Out
Coco Coquette

We had a dream last night about a shop where they made cake, and the shop itself was made out of candy. We may as well have been dreaming about Coco Coquette. Nestled in the back room of the Maison d'Etoile on Cesar Chavez, this tiny boutique is devoted to glamour. Instead of cake and candy, it offers everything to make your head look good enough to eat. The attentive style mavens will help you choose a wig to suit any flight of fancy, dust your cheeks with stage-quality makeup, and trim you like a Christmas tree with handcrafted spangles and fascinators – all in a relaxed setting that couldn't be more homey and unpretentious. This place is simply delicious.

Maison d'Etoile, 2109 E. Cesar Chavez, 512/944-2801, www.charlottebelle.com

Best Zaftig Zen
Venus Envy Consignments

There's something deliciously luxurious about the clothing at Venus Envy Consignments – the wide swaths of vintage silk, generous gathers of crisp cotton, lengthy cuts of lace. This innocuously strip-malled fabric-phile heaven specializes in plus-size consignments, offering beautiful clothing for the fabulously fleshy, the lavishly long-limbed, the beautifully buxom, and the fantastically full-footed. And listen here, luscious ladies (and lady-gents!), it's almost Halloween – Venus Envy has a plethora of new and vintage costumes.

Venus Envy Consignments, 1810 W. Anderson, 512/836-8768, www.venusenvyconsignments.com

Most Unassuming Spiritual Haven
Green & White Grocery

The iconic Green & White Grocery has been serving East Austin for three generations as a tamale factory, corner grocery, and botanica. These days John Cazares has honed in on serving up the paraphernalia of spirituality. Votive candles, traditional medicine, and the icons of the synchronistic religions of the Americas, such as Santeria and vodun, line the shelves. This place feels lively with living traditions. You can buy your tarot cards without the weird church-hush you find in other esoteric stores. Cazares is friendly and matter-of-fact, and if you're lucky, you might hear drums coming from the back on an odd holiday.

Green & White Grocery, 1201 E. Seventh, 512/472-0675

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