2005 Readers Poll
2005 Critics Picks
Best Antique Shopping

Is it midcentury modern you're looking for? Forties clothes? Turn-of-the-century repros? Victorian ephemera? You'll find it all at this old roller skating rink lined with stall after stall of housewares, clothing, jewelry, and furniture of every description. Noted across the region as an important destination on the antiques trail, the Austin Antique Mall is ground zero for great bargains.

Austin Antique Mall
8822 McCann Dr.

Best Art Wear for the Creative Dresser

Who said "mature" means "old and frumpy?" Not the owners of Wardrobe, who understand that the well-dressed woman may not wish to look like her teenaged daughter. Offering carefully selected and very unusual pieces of clothing, jewelry, and accessories, Wardrobe is also the in-town outpost for Vën Shoe Salon.

1715 W. 35th #101

Best Big Sleep on the Cheap

Cruising north up the I-35 feeder, it's impossible to miss - a banner headline adorning a former tattoo parlor, reading "Affordable Caskets" in foot-high font. Despite the implict strangeness, it's the store's matter-of-fact approach that's made Collier's Affordable Caskets a success since 1997. While we were sad to see the hand-painted sign of the cutest-lil'-casket go when the store expanded last year, we still whistle when we drive by.

Affordable Caskets
3705 N. I-35

Best Compost Tea

Sledd Nursery – an Austin original for nearly 27 years – has introduced another Austin original: Live Tea. This totally organic and sustainable compost tea is a blend of ingredients aerobically brewed to provide nourishment for all kinds of green, living things – Sledd's roses thrive on them. We can't even begin to list the ingredients ... OK, we'll try: seaweed extract, horticultural molasses, fish emulsion, and something charming called "montmorillonite." Not your average cup of tea, and probably not very tasty unless you're a shrub. Which we're not, but we are a fan ... along with roses, azaleas, camellias, etc. Pass the sugar, please.

Sledd Nursery
1211 West Lynn St.

Best Fresh Addition to South Austin

Locally grown fruits and vegetables came to South Austin last spring when the Westlake Farmers Market moved to the Tony Burger Center and became Sunset Valley Farmers Market, and it's been good eating ever since. When the popular market moved from the west side to the northwest corner of the AISD facility at US 290 and Brodie Lane, it gave patrons plenty of parking and the market room to grow.

Barton Creek Farmers Market
2901 Capital of TX Hwy. S., 512/280-1976
2323 S Lamar, 512/280-1976

Best In-Store Kitty

We like to think the "Best of Austin" list is somewhat prestigious. But when one of our writers went to the Lair for an interview with this category's winner and mentioned the Chronicle ... well, we hope that explosive release of a hair ball wasn't intentional. Maybe we expected too much. After all, Ashawan is a champion show cat. So, this ain't her first time in the winner's circle. Still, at least line her litter box with the Statesman.

Dragon's Lair Comics & Fantasy
2438 W. Anderson Ste. 1-B

Todd V. Wolfson

Best Letting Out of the Seams

Too many novice sewers receive outdated, hand-me-down machines and try to learn to use them on their own. They quickly become frustrated nonsewers. Sad! This 21-year-old sewing business has been one of our favorites before, but now they're legal, baby, and have expanded to a new, larger space just two doors down from the old one. We still like SMM for their commitment to service – when you buy a new machine, you get unlimited help and training on your model, a year's membership in a sewing club, and two years' worth of free maintenance. Once you "drive solo," SMM offers a range of classes in creative techniques and sells the notions, books, and software to make it happen. We call that a plan for happy sewing.

Sew Much More
3010 W. Anderson

Best Loot/Booty Free-for-All

At the end of every semester, West Campus looks like the furniture section of a Goodwill – except everything is free. Dumpster diving is never better than when students move out of their apartments. Whatever doesn't fit in daddy's SUV goes on the curb and is free for the taking – usually by other students. Most of their stuff was used when they got it, but a lot of it is still fine, functional furniture. Folks have been known to discover and salvage entirely decorated Christmas trees in their West Campus quests – just in time for the holidays!

Alongside Curbs and Dumpsters all over West Campus

Best Out With the Old

Recycling that garage full of old computer equipment has become as easy as a phone call and hauling the old computers and printers to the curb. While old computer equipment can still be dropped at Goodwill donation sites around town, this partnership of the city of Austin, Dell Inc., and Goodwill Industries will cart off the unwanted technology dinosaurs right from your yard for $10. The old machines are either refurbished for resale or sent to an electronics recycler.

Main office: 1015 Norwood Park Blvd.

City of Austin Solid Waste Services


Best Photographer's Haven

While Precision Camera maintains its status as the professional photographer's most trusted resource, the staff offers the same enthusiastic service to every level of amateur as well. Walking into the store on Lamar is like walking into a warehouse of every variety of film, lens, camera, housing, and gear available: from point-and-shoot disposable Kodaks to tilt-and-swivel Hasselblads, and everything in between. There's rental equipment, studio supplies, and certified help in every nook of this shutterbug's dream.

Best Place to Buy a Gift for Simi-one Who Is Hard to Shop For

Does gift-shopping make you go ape? Are your pockets lined with chimp change? Does the search for the perfect present involve too much monkey buisness? Then check out this monkey business: Monkey See, Monkey Do! is chock-full of cheeky goods from "chimpan-A to chimpan-Z" that will drive your giftee bananas. Maybe you wish to offer a token of affection that’s modest and not too mushy, like an iron-on panty decal (of a monkey) or a glass figurine (of two cuddling monkeys). The next evolution in SoCo shopping, MSMD is easy to find, just look for the giant monkey in the window.

Monkey See, Monkey Do
1712 S. Congress

Best Place to Buy a Rare Acoustic Guitar

Cozy couches, pictures of the family dog, and a funky monkey chandelier are not the only things that make this place resemble a den or clubhouse. What Pat and RoseAnn Skrovan have created is less a showroom and more a musicians' lounge, with gorgeous guitars mounted along the wall, seats situated all around, and a bowl of picks on the coffee table waiting to be used. In addition to the unique and rare guitars in stock, the Skrogans also offer an online catalog and can do custom design. The best thing about this place is that proprietor Pat is always willing to talk tech on any level, even if you’re not a performer or collector, because this man loves his work almost as much as he loves his dog. And how much does he love his dog? So much so that he named this haven for him: Quincy's!

Quincy's Guitars
515 S. Congress #106

Todd V. Wolfson

Best Place to Color Your World

Shop the red area ... or the green area ... or the yellow, blue, or purple. Vivid has the clothing, accessories, gifts, and housewares that you want ... all in vibrant, living color. A conceptual retailer, like its sister store Blackmail, Vivid dares to be different – and succeeds brilliantly.

1200 S. Congress

Best Place to Drop 10 Grand on a Lamp

Financially speaking, Design Within Reach might be a misnomer for most people. For those with disposable income, however, DWR offers plenty of ways to dispose of it, with original furniture from some of the world's most respected designers (i.e., the guys Ikea copies notes from). The ultramodern studio anchors the Second Street district and carries designs by the likes of Philippe Starck, Isamu Noguchi, and Le Corbusier. For those of us who can barely afford a subscription to Dwell, the staff encourages browsing (or, at least, they don't discourage it), and there's a certain thrill to sitting on an Eames couch, especially if your social circle is not widening anytime soon to include someone who can actually afford one. And yes, you can buy lamps pushing $10,000, presumably to light very lovely rooms.

Design Within Reach
200 W. Second

Todd V. Wolfson

Best Place to Find Fairies

Behind the motorcycle cop, hidden in the guise of a rustic shed, proprietress extraordinaire Yvonne Beltran shuns notions of what it means to run a successful boutique (/fine arts gallery ... /live music venue ...). Boasting a wide selection of Austin’s finest handmade gifts, jewelry, and soapy suds, the Stash encourages playful discovery and youthful curiosity. Browse the shelves full of trinkets and greetings, each more delightful than the one before. They've got garden shrooms and S.O.A.P. made by smelly ... errrr, aromatic South Austin hippies, not to mention a stunning array of sassy duds sewn by local artisans. Each week there's a new rotation of paintings and photography on display. How do they cram so much eye candy into one tiny location? Pixie dust, surely, is one of the key ingredients.

The Stash
2209 S. First Ste. J

Best Place to Find Hidden Treasures

Whether you're furnishing your home or business office or movie set, TOPS is a must for those on a budget or into recycling. Featuring an ever-changing stock from area office, store, and hotel close-outs and auctions, TOPS is the place to find a pre-owned Herman Miller chair or Steelcase file cabinet at half the price of the big-box stores. Other items include cubicles, executive desks, computer accessories, bookshelves, office art, and, yes, even Enron souvenirs. TOPS also rents items for conventions and movie sets. The East Fifth location is a true warehouse, and their new location has opened in North Austin. While you're shopping check out their gem and mineral store, Natures Treasures, which shares the locations.

Texas Office Products & Supplies
1100 E. Fifth, 512/472-1340
2307 Kramer, 512/833-7777

Best Place to Get Wired

When we find ourselves with an otherwise perfectly fine electrical appliance that has fried a small, replaceable part, we run to Harrell’s, which is packed with a huge variety of cords, coils, and other electrical mysteries. Sure, we’re willing to believe the home-improvement behemoths have this stuff, if you look hard enough, but we prefer to just walk into Harrell’s, mutely hand over our frayed thingamabob, and in minutes be presented with a fresh replacement, no explanation needed nor excuses proffered. It’s the kind of service that – along with the quirky, human-scale storefront – makes the world a tiny bit brighter.

1409 W. Oltorf, 442-5966; 5435 Burnet Rd., 451-6464

Best Place to Not Wear That Che Guevara T-Shirt You Bought at the Mall

Here's the deal: Che Guevara is not a fashion icon. He is a symbol for rebellion and subversive ideologies. Some would say in the service of the downtrodden and destitute, while others might argue he served only communist principles. Regardless, the good people at Resistencia – Austin's oldest Chicano performance space and bookstore – might find the idea of Che's face emblazoned on a mass-produced T-shirt, well, silly. Mainly because they understand who he was. Visiting the store, checking out a performance, and absorbing some of their lit might help the rest of us gain a better idea, as well.

Resistencia Bookstore
2000 Thrasher

Best Relocated Radical Retail

Tucked into a suave and spacious new location at Lincoln Village, Mitchie's Fine Black Art pulsates with community activity. The walls are lined with African-American- and African-themed art, jewelry, raiment, books, and curios. Kids Storytime every Wednesday and Saturday, a monthly Urban Poetry Slam, an early Voting Center, and a wireless environment: Mitchie's is the hub of a black community and supporters in Austin. All that from an Art Shoppe, y'all!

Mitchie's Gallery
7801 N. Lamar Ste. B-148

Best Return to Neighborhood Roots

South Congress' renaissance has been so successful, it's easy to forget its roots. With its proximity to the Capitol, its past is peppered with tryst-seeking dome denizens. The colorful corridor has even been known as a haven for hookers and drug dealers. Aside from its checkered past, Congress was also the main avenue of "respectable" commerce for adjoining neighborhoods: butcher shops, drugstores, and bakeries. You'd hardly know from today's über-trendy eateries and boutiques. Gratefully, some homegrown convenience survives amid the hipster haunts of today. The most welcome new addition in the spirit of neighborliness is Farm to Market Grocery. A sweet little shop, it's practical in its selection of milk, eggs, wine, canned tomatoes, cleaning supplies, etc., plus it champions locally grown produce, flowers, and shelf stable items. Proprietors Peg and Angela are setting down new roots with their throwback to old-fashioned friendliness: Kids, grandmas, and even hipsters all feel equally welcome here.

Farm to Market Grocery
1718 S. Congress

Todd V. Wolfson

Best Service in Women's Underwear

If statistics are correct, you're wearing the wrong-sized bra. But you might not ever know it until you put yourself in the hands of the professionals at Petticoat Fair. This full-service shop offers personalized attention that is dedicated to helping you look your best because they know that what happens underneath determines how you look on the outside.

Petticoat Fair
7739-M Northcross

Best Standard Bearer for the Vinyl Revival

It’s uncanny, really, how with each walk through the front door at End of an Ear (It’s a turn and a push, people!), a surprising new concoction of ear-pleasin’ and obscure tunage awaits. Whackadoo rare vinyls invite the curious and the collector-geek alike to comb the stacks. Oddities abound, sure to thrill even the snobbiest of art-hipster audiophiles. But don't be intimidated: Set that 45 for a spin at the listening station and chat up superfriendly proprietors Dan and Blake about new arrivals and upcoming in-store performances. Not only will they gladly put you on the mailing list for notices of these free events, they'll also encourage you to bring in vinyl to trade, buy outright, or sell on a consignment basis. What's more, this übercool store has a MySpace presence with which to be reckoned. Get in on the A-list of the vinyl revival; get on down to End of an Ear.

End of an Ear
4304 Clawson

Todd V. Wolfson

Best Store to Find a New Wardrobe for Under $10

Going thrifting is a full-body contact sport at the "Blue Hangar." It's the last stop before the River Styx (i.e., trash compactor) for all those Goodwill goodies that never got bought. Burly workers use hydraulic lifts to dump wooden crates of merchandise onto flat tables a block long. Shoppers must stand behind lines painted on the floor, salivating until the whistle blows, then catapult their bodies into the mountain of stuff. Sound surreal? It is. Unairconditioned. Unbearably cheap. Bring your own shopping cart.

Goodwill's Blue Hangar
916 Springdale, 512/928-8832
Goodwill's Blue Hangar North, 12317 Technology Blvd. #300, 512/249-5231

Critics: Services
2005 Intro

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