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Best Of 1999

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Best Of :: Shopping & Services

BEST FOREIGN FILMS RENTALS

Subtitled "Videos from Around the World" on the painted mural that adorns its outside wall, this truly international tape outlet is also a local treasure. We nearly flipped when we found Hou Hsiao-hsien's The Puppetmaster during a recent visit, and the many other ultrararities here include something for everyone from just about everywhere: Spain, Poland, Yugoslavia, France, Israel, Sweden, Russia, and more, each country given its own amply stocked shelf and often arranged by auteur (oo la la). But the highlight of this store (aside from the rental prices, which are as low as $1.66 per tape per day) is clearly its stunning Asian action collection, which numbers in the several hundreds of tapes and is categorized according to such stars as Chow Yun-Fat, Michelle Yeoh, Yuen Biao, and Jet Li, with an entire rack devoted to Jackie Chan. And did we mention the Japanimation? The shop is unkempt but also utterly unpretentious, with laser-printed signs offering, "If You Don't See What You Want--Ask!" Luckily, it doesn't often get to that point, not with such hard-to-find foreign titles as Ingmar Bergman's Brink of Life, "Beat" Takeshi Kitano's Violent Cop, Bigas Luna's Golden Balls, Dennis Potter's Secret Friends, Jean-Luc Godard's Sauve qui peut (la vie), or Ana Belén's wonderfully named How to Be a Woman and Not Die in the Attempt.

BEST 12-STEP PROGRAM FOR PLANT KILLERS

They're the Betty Fords of high-profile plant destroyers, the ICU nurses of wilting foliage, the Anne Sullivans of green thumbism. Got a bad habit of ruining houseplants, garden flowers, or vegetables? Never cared about growing anything besides a marijuana plant that withered away your freshman year? Join the line of plant neophytes at Garden City. The shop--in the long, skinny, red building across the street from Leaning Tower of Pizza--sells everything you need to get started, get fixed, get serious: houseplants, pots, planters, mulch, fertilizer, how-to books, Christmas trees in December, and seedlings in spring). But they're also known for their free advice. After a few informal, over-the-counter sessions with either of Garden City's co-owners, known to regulars simply as Winnie and Melanie, your days of dead leaves and brown sticks will be a distant shame. Bonus: All but a few items (think black-spot killer) are organic! Which makes sense, given that urban neighbors are usually in whiffing range rather than at the next spread three miles south. And, Winnie reasons, "Here in the city, gardening is a hobby--you're not putting kids through college on a soybean crop. So you shouldn't have to put on a mask and gloves and deal with stinky toxic stuff--it should be enjoyable."

BEST ADULT VIDEO STORE

Honey, this ain't San Francisco: You can't just saunter into any old adult video store and ask the clerks for some Nina Hartley film, or the instructional anal video Bend Over Boyfriend, and expect them to know what you're talking about. In this town, progressivism and funky sex are supposed to sit firmly on opposite sides of a clear Plexiglas barrier--which should explain why every local smut rental store we know of organizes its films by categories like "interracial" and "anal," and why you're on your own if you're actually looking for a specific film. That said, we're most encouraged by Sex World, which is currently installing a new computer system to help choosy shoppers locate just the film they're looking for. In addition, the store also offers an almost-respectable gay/lesbian section on the third floor, including woman-woman films that feature more than the same breast-implanted airheads going at each other instead of at some grunting, potbellied mullet. And the store's clerks don't give you that leave-me-alone-I-hate-my-life glare you can get for asking questions at other video stores, thus making the process a little less degrading--or at least more personable. (Rentals go for $4.28 for two days, and require a $50 deposit.)

BEST BABY GOODS STORE (NEW)

As one new mom recently explained to a mom-to-be, "They've just got all those things you didn't know you needed until you saw them." And it's true. There are more unusual--and unusually irresistible--items crammed into this converted Grand Avenue Victorian than can be found at the average superstore. Chances are you won't be able to tear yourself away from the first-floor display of pajamas with the elastic bottoms--you know, like the ones Maggie Simpson wears--and the shelves of breast-feeding supplies, the stacks of baby bouncers, back- and front-packs, tiny bathtubs, and everything else a teeny tot needs for optimum comfort. But, if you can, mount the front stairs and attempt to take in what is possibly the world's largest selection of layettes. Sure, they have the standard white or pale wood with square ends and curved ends, but Baby Grand also has sleigh-style cribs, changing tables with cherry finishes, and even a round crib. There's a different bumper-and-sheet set displayed in each tiny bed, but on the off chance the couple of dozen on hand don't appeal to you, the family members who run this business can special-order even more unique items.

BEST BABY GOODS STORE (USED)

So you're expecting. Or maybe your little bundle of joy has just checked in. In either case, you may be figuring out that nobody warned you, back when you were blithely tossing away your birth control devices, how much stuff a single human baby requires. Or--more likely to send you roaring back to the rearmost aisle at Walgreen's--how much said stuff costs. There're the regulation things like car seats and cribs and strollers. But then there's all this auxiliary stuff, like a bassinet, or one of those little bathtub seat thingies--that technically you don't have to have, but which would make parenthood so much nicer. Fear not. Each of Once Upon a Child's franchised stores is packed with gently used equipment. Items here generally retail for half of what they cost new and the chaff has already been sifted by staff who've been there.

BEST BAIT SHOP

Wedged between Supermercado Las Americas and the Hickory Hut, Hayes Tackle Plus seems, at first blush, a touch out of place on this battered stretch of East Lake Street. But the little bait shop has been an important neighborhood institution since its founding back in the '50s. Among other things, Tackle Plus has afforded generations of carless anglers an invaluable convenience. After all, where else in the Cities can you pick up a cup of night crawlers or a Mister Twister--with a busy, lake-bound bus line situated right out front? The prices at Tackle Plus are pretty typical: $2 for a dozen medium-sized leeches, $1.75 for a scoop of crappie minnows, and, for muskie anglers, ten-inch sucker "minnows" at a dollar apiece. A small but varied selection of rods, lures, and other essential fishing paraphernalia is also available on the premises, as well as expert reel repair service (a basic clean-and-lube job costs ten bucks). But it is the congenial manner of proprietor Larry Hayes and his staff that gives the place its true appeal. A staunch proponent of the urban lakes, Hayes enthusiastically regales visitors with stories of the big muskies and bass that have been hauled out of area waters; a bulletin board dotted with fish pictures suggests he knows what he's talking about, as does that stuffed five-pound-seven-ounce largemouth that employee Tom Carroll pulled out of Cedar Lake. Now 43 years old, Hayes has worked at the shop since he was 16. He bought the place four years ago, after the previous owner was murdered. The neighborhood, Hayes says, seems to have improved some since that episode--in part, no doubt, due to the resilience and pluck of businessmen like Hayes who refuse to give up on it.

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