Best Of 2006

The glories of capitalism

Best former roller rink-turned-store
Leon & Lulu
96 W. 14 Mile Rd., Clawson

It’s a whopping 15,000 square feet and the glossy wood floors are just begging to be skated upon, but Clawson’s new crown jewel, Leon & Lulu, is so much more than an old chestnut with a fresh coat of paint. Owners Mary Liz Curtin and husband Stephen Scannell have renovated the once-beloved Ambassador Roller Rink into an expansive, charming, home decoration-cum-high-end tchotchke heaven. Scannell and Curtin are former owners of the now-closed homewares specialty store Cargo Hold in Birmingham — and while rent’s a whole lot more affordable south of 15 Mile Road, their taste remains impeccable, not to mention ultra-hip. You can do it: Break free from the Ikea lemmings and support a mom-and-pop. Items are 75 cents and up.

Best reason to read directions carefully
41640 Ford Rd., Canton

You no longer have to fight your way through mobs to get the assemble-yourself goods, but metro Detroit’s long-awaited Ikea outlet has still been bustling every time we’ve visited. And that’s a good six months after the opening. That might spur some thoughts when you’ve opened, say, your elegant Malm chest of drawers and have a couple hundred parts on the floor at 1 a.m. Just think, with 200-plus similar stores in 30-plus countries, presumably doing similarly brisk business, no doubt somewhere else in the world, someone else is trying to parse these same iconic assembly directions. You might not be the only one who’s sealed the base of a dresser drawer in upside down with unremovable bolt 110519, only to resort to using a pocketknife to notch the drawer’s front piece and slide the base out. Ikea is not just furniture for your home; it’s a workout for your brain.

Best gift shop
Middle Earth
1209 S. University Ave., Ann Arbor

Anything from anti-Bush T-shirts to entire picture books about bad haircuts, Middle Earth has an eclectic assortment of gifts for everyone. Customers can choose from soaps and candles, art postcards, old-timey candies, handcrafted jewelry and hula dolls. Every nook and cranny in this shop has eye-catching, must-have baubles and novelties. And no items represent that more than the funky, retro T-shirts. Che Guevara and the Smiley Face — the cash cow of any funky T-shirt store — line the top of the walls with all the other cotton creations. Need a T from your favorite ’80s cartoon show? Heck, they’ve got Transformers, Thundercats, and Care Bears. So take your sweet time deciding whether to rock Dubya or Optimus Prime; it’s an important decision every American must make.

Best place to get locked up overnight
John L. King Books
901 W. Lafayette Blvd., Detroit

The folks at John L. King Books tell us that they take elaborate precautions to make sure that it’ll never happen again, but a few times over the years some daydreamer pondering an out-of-print edition of Dickens or Das Kapital has gotten left behind when the staff of the world’s biggest used store has gone home for the night. Only a bibliophile could think that four floors of used books (in a used glove factory, no less) is a good thing. But who else loses track of time and space in such a place? That it’s by far the most amazing used bookstore in this town — and stands up against the amazing bookstores of any town we know of — goes without saying.

Most unusual used bookstore
The Big Bookstore
5911 Cass Ave., Detroit

We’re told that 60 Minutes once called The Big Bookstore on research, looking for a story by Stephen King in an old issue of a girlie magazine, probably Genesis or Gallery. How many bookstores can say that? The Big Bookstore is an unruly hodgepodge of stuff better experienced than explained. Beyond unpretentious, it’s anti-pretentious, with the usual used bookstore fare, plus lots of comic books, magazines and trading cards stacked and otherwise displayed as stuff to actually read rather than fawn over. Then there’s the ample collection of what used to be called “adult” material that Mike Wallace’s crew rang about. For $1 — credited against your purchases — browse decades of Playboy and Penthouse, not to mention titles like Adam (The Man’s Home Companion), Nugget, Knight and Gay Blade. You can check out dog-eared titles like Run, Little Leather Boy, Lingerie Models and Shopping Center Sex. The Internet may have everything virtually, but it’s not the same.

Best conversationalist about antiques
2546 Michigan Ave., Detroit

With her short dark hair, one girl browsing at Xavier’s looked best in the flamboyant prints of a Pucci dress. Her petite friend looked charming in an Yves St. Laurent smock. Xavier was an absolute doll, fawning over both of them. It would have been great if everyone took tea, like they said they would as they kissed cheeks goodbye. For years, J. Xavier Slade has sold midcentury modern design and couture clothing from his storefront shop in Corktown. Not many people know he’s there, because his front window is crowded with leafy potted plants rather than furniture. But a discerning eye could spot the priceless piece behind the palm, the metal legs of a sleek leather chair shining brightly in the sun. Xavier sells everything from beautiful blown glass to Lucite tables. If you stop by, make sure you have an hour to kill, at least. He has a lot to share, and it won’t cost you a dime, which is a lot less than it should — visiting his store is like signing up for a weekend seminar in the history of 20th century valuables.

Best resale shop
Showcase Collectibles
3409 Cass Ave., Detroit

For the last five years, those with a bit of time to kill have found a diverting destination in Showcase Collectibles. A grab bag of used (often well-used) items, the wares run the gamut from completed paint-by-numbers canvases to foot-powered player pianos. It’s a challenge to spend more than a few moments in the store without falling in love with some odd piece of cultural jetsam from years past. But the real guilty pleasure is the room hidden in the rear that holds a massive trove of pornographic magazines, most of them from a time when women used Aqua Net and men wore Members Only jackets.

Best thrift store
Value World
8300 Woodward, Ave., Detroit

The interior has the look of a grainy black-and-white movie screened on whitewashed cinderblock; it’s dusty and dispossessed and the sun burns through smudged windows giving the feeling that it’s always Sunday at dusk. But forget so much gloom because what we’ve found on a few expeditions into these large rooms is outright joy. How about a perfect Armani double-breasted suit jacket for, get this, a buck-fifty? Got it. Or a vintage Coach bag for three finsters? Snagged that too. For a paltry $8, we landed a lovely, striking Persian wool coat that Ava Gardner would’ve killed for. The list of vainglories goes on, but you get the picture.

Best place to buy All-Stars by virtue of its name
Bob’s Classic Kicks
4717 Woodward Ave., Detroit

If you are going to shell out 40 clams for a pair of canvas Chuck Taylors, you might as well do so at a store that has the wherewithal to make their name as formidable as their boutique sneaker inventory. Whether they’re hawking Reebok Pumps (yes, they still make ’em), custom Nike Air Force Ones or Mediums (the way-cooler alternative to Rod Lavers or Stan Smiths), Bob’s discerning taste in inventory makes the tennie the focal point. And the store’s modern minimalist decor is more like an art gallery than a friggin’ shoe store.

Best vintage clothing store
Lost and Found
208 W. 11 Mile Rd., Royal Oak

In summer, select from a rainbow of gently loved terrycloth jumpers and print sundresses and men’s breathable cotton cowboy button-downs. In winter, peruse the racks of princess-sleeved sweaters stitched with ice-cream cones and ponies. This, my friends, is $25-$50 hipster heaven, where Levi’s Sta-Prest pants and Wrangler belts beckon boys to tuck in and strut their stuff.

Best online clothes shopping - Women
Queen of Hearts

Comely member of local old-timey, alt-country band Blanche, Tracee Miller is a lot more than some eye candy with a hollow low-ender draped around her neck, this broad is a local style icon. As luck would have it, so is her adorable partner-in-fashion, Bonnie Dee. What these ladies have done is so simple, it’ll make you wish you had the time to do it yourself. They take nondescript vintage clothes and alter, adorn and revise them into the most divine boho-urban-chic-retro wearables a girl could ever hope to own. The prices are surprisingly low. Personal style isn’t something you can just phone in: You’ve either got it or you buy it. Let them help you.

Best tailor
Eddie’s Alterations
826 E. 11 Mile Rd., Royal Oak

Eddie Bajju is a spry guy, real good-looking, but about as willowy as the suits hanging neatly pressed on a rack against the back wall. Unlike the rack, he’s not ready to keel over any time soon, although he could stand to put on the few pounds he’s burned off from running himself ragged at work. Bajju, who grew up in Iraq, spent his childhood ripping apart personal items, such as his backpack, and re-stitching them by hand. His family didn’t have much money, so he had to learn a trade early in life. He immigrated to the United States as a young man in 1983 and has owned his own shop for 13 years. Bajju’s experience has made him not only knowledgeable but quick. Countless customers come in with a rush job; he just cocks his head, gives a punishing smile, and says “You’re the boss,” telling them to take a seat — he’ll do it while they wait. Bajju has an appreciation for well-constructed clothing, admiring a customer who brings in a gently used vintage halter dress and admonishing a cleaner who hasn’t properly ironed the collar of a men’s button-down shirt. He can make you a wedding dress or sew on a button, and his respect for his line of work is contagious.

Best costume shop
Lynch’s House of Sequins
26752 Dequindre Rd., Warren
939 Howard St., Dearborn
36115 Plymouth Rd., Livonia

Whether you’re a drag performer, a belly dancer or a mom with three girls in beginning ballet class, Lynch’s has everything you need and everything you haven’t thought of yet. Buckets of fake blood, rows of long, brightly colored fringe, tap shoes, a gloriously sparkling wall of sequins and, oh, so much more. A Saturday-afternoon clientele can range from a gaggle of punk kids looking to outfit their latest fetish show to little Cindy being fitted for her first pair of pointe shoes. The best part about Lynch’s, however, is their incredibly helpful and courteous staff. No matter how busy they are, employees consistently go out of their way to help customers when items are out of stock, as well as advise them on tips, tricks and costume assembly techniques. Our sparkling top hats off to you, Lynch’s.

Best mega beauty supply store
Cherry Beauty Department
13421 W. 10 Mile Rd, Oak Park

Oh, the fabulousness that is Cherry: At no other place in metro Detroit can you get fake hair, fake eyelashes and a scandalously plunging red gown, all at ridiculously cheap prices. While Detroit is arguably the nation’s capital of beauty supplies and wig stores, Cherry tops them all with its quality, range and pricing. A favorite secret of many of Detroit’s glamsters and fashionistas, Saturday afternoons in this joint are bustling with women of all ages, shapes, sizes and walks of life, united by their need to look fabulous.

Best place to depilate in style
Todd’s Room
239 Pierce St., Birmingham

The foot-on-your-bathroom-sink, eyelid-pulled-past-your-nostril routine as you strain to tweeze stalwart eyebrow hair No. 37 needn’t continue any longer. Enter Todd’s Room, glittering Birmingham haven for the bright-eyed but bushy-browed. Aestheticians peddle their craft beneath a whimsical chandelier tree, providing makeup application services, eyebrow arching, and hair styling. Stylish depilation products are available for sale, along with one-of-a-kind jewelry and cosmetics.

Best ethnic art store
Polish Art Center
Treasury of Polish Heritage
9539 Joseph Campau, Hamtramck

Mere steps into this store, a fine importer and distributor of items from Poland, your eyes will light up looking at the celebration of arts and crafts. This center sells everything from language books, travel guides and flags to greeting cards, folk dolls and medieval amulets. The shelves pulsate with patterns on finely carved wooden boxes, Boleslawiec stoneware and egg art. Unless you have money to spend, steer clear of the stunning array of golden amber jewelry and trendy Christopher Radko Christmas ornaments.

Best ethnic market
Mediterranean Market & Bakery
32839 Northwestern Hwy., Farmington Hills

With Turkish delights filling the aisles and jewel-toned hookahs lining the walls, the Mediterranean Market is a purveyor of minor vice. A perfectly ordered variety store, the viewer is dazzled by the alluring array of socially acceptable bongs. Available in all shapes, sizes and colors, you near-expect to find Caterpillar lounging on a pouf in this wonderland of temptation. Hash not included, of course.

Best place to buy used VHS tapes
Video 22
9325 Joseph Campau, Hamtramck

Still refuse to replace your extensive collection of VHS tapes with DVDs? Think bonus features are an affront to the sanctity of filmmaking as art? You are not alone. With their many overflowing bargain bins filled with previously viewed movies, Video 22 in Hamtramck supports the notion that VCRs are simply a misunderstood — not dead — technology. They have a motherlode of old tapes ranging from travel guides to old movies to kitschy hard-to-find B-flicks, all for a song. Some of these items can be yours for a measly buck. And even if you only watch the flick once, you got your money’s worth.

Best record store
Ann Arbor
Encore Recordings
417 E. Liberty St., Ann Arbor

Sure, the selection is unbeatable on the Internet, the world’s largest record store. But you can’t touch the merchandise, and the closest you get to a helpful staff are the crappy customer reviews on For a truly tactile record-buying experience, Encore in Ann Arbor beats all comers. Recordings in every format and genre tower around you as you wind the comfortably narrow aisles; you can pick them up, pull them out of their sleeves, read the liner notes and decide on the quality. And if you need help, just ask one of the bed-headed savants standing behind the store’s long, narrow counter. They’re better than any FAQ. Record-shopping at Encore is like getting lost in an archive room. And its hominess might be what makes it irreplaceable.

Coolest record store staff
Record Time Roseville
27360 Gratiot Ave., Roseville

If you request some Olivia Newton-John best-of or the latest “jam where the dude sings, ‘Go ahead child and get your sexy on,’” you’ll never get a furrowed brow from staffers here. In fact, the merry Record Time inmates might even offer a persuasive case in favor of Olivia or Justin. On a casual glance, the clerks resemble classic record shop personnel of yore — witty dudes in specs and cynical girls in dirty Converse, a graybeard or two and restless college students with musical ADD. Their shared bond is passion for music, which is reflected in the shop’s inventory — it extends beyond everything you’ve ever heard of. What’s great is that the staff’s enthusiasm is outwardly impervious to the very things killing indie record stores, such as sweaty-palmed download addictions and a crap economy.

Best CD Selection
Memories and Melodies
23013 Gratiot Ave., Eastpointe

A difficult category because there are many worthy stores in the greater Detroit area, including Dearborn Music, Ann Arbor’s Encore Recordings and the hard-rock-specializing Rock of Ages in Garden City. But Memories and Melodies, with its musty looseness and seemingly never-ending maze of rooms, is a bin-diver’s dream. First, it’s a pop museum — thousands of rare 45 picture sleeves, signed photos, myriad classic lunch pails, Beatle-maniac appurtenances and music artifacts devour every square inch of wall (and ceiling) space. Some 50,000 separate titles on CD (and as many on vinyl) cram bins that cover seemingly every genre ever invented. Want The Best of the Ukulele? That’s here. The 12-CD Bear Family box set of Hank Thompson? It’s there on a shelf with dozens of other limited-edition box sets. That rare and limited Bad Company audiophile gold disc? Yup. The jazz and Motown sections are inexhaustible, and the country discs could fill a suburbanite’s finished basement. You can hardly find the “folk room” in the back. A fanatical eye and a love of local and international music informed each and every buying decision here. Go ahead, find that at your neighborhood Target or Best Buy.

Best Vinyl Record Store
Peoples Records and Collectibles
615 W. Forest Ave., Detroit

Vintage vinyl is Peoples’ market cubbyhole. “There’s only a finite number of records out there that haven’t been discovered,” says Peoples’ owner, musician Brad Hales. “I have a real passion for music so I don’t mind working really hard at it. We’re in no danger of going anywhere. Things are going well. It’s definitely a struggle, but a fun one.” Peoples opened shop in 2003 on deep-rooted music fandom and sweat. Theirs is more than a devoted customer base — some of whom they see every day — it’s more like a devoted fan base. Impossible-to-find country, jazz, R&B and soul records from Detroit and everywhere entertain 45- and LP-hungry tourists and their cash from the UK and Japan. What’s more, the cozy Peoples contributes to the greater good and quality of life in inner-city Detroit with its traditional sense of area unity and community.

Best High-end Audio
Audio/Video System
21128 Woodward, Royal Oak

This airy and elegant showroom is, in fact, total audio porn. Located in Woodward’s so-called “audio/video corridor,” walking distance from other worthy high-end dealers including Audio Dimension, Almas Hi-Fi, Audio/Visual Alternatives and Gramophone, AV System gets the MT nod, not because it tenders both entry-level and cost-as-much-as-a-house audiophile and theaterphile gear — from Classé, B&W, Rotel, Pioneer and Audioquest, etc. — but because of the courteousness of its employees, a rarity in the often elitist world of high-end audio sales. And it’s the golden ears of A/V System employees Mike Vallely and “Woody” that extend said virtues; both gents understand, if not live for, the “breath-of-life” aural experience and are willing to share their knowledge.

Best low-end audio store
Salvation Army
1627 W. Fort St., Detroit (and other locations)

In the musty basement of this downtown thrift store there sits what could be described as an audio chop-shop — unkempt piles of cables and wires, dented tuners and coffee-stained speakers, upside-down turntables with no styluses and the occasional 8-track player. You’ll find vintage pieces of battered systems with names like Concert Hall, RCA and Zenith that no doubt entertained many mirthful listeners in living rooms back in the ’60s and ’70s. With a bit of inventiveness you can cobble together a working stereo with somewhat room-filling sound for a price tag that won’t exceed the cost of a few rounds and some jukebox play at your local watering hole.

Best bong shopping
BDT Pipe & Tobacco
21640 John R, Hazel Park

Forget about beaded curtains, patchouli stench and a dubbed Dick’s Picks comp droning from some unseen corner speaker. BDT has the tidy, yet meticulously cluttered feel of a specialized boutique, the area of expertise in this case being the grass (or, er, tobacco) and how to smoke it. Glass baubles glitter and wink inside display cases, and bongs of every color, length and stripe climb up the walls of this cozy Hazel Park hide. And don’t be put off by the often-pierced staff — these people handle their products with a care and knowledge that’s inviting and remarkably professional. Can you get a contact high from great customer service? At BDT, there’s a real chance.

Best Way to Play Rich
Tip the bouncers

Admit it. You fantasize about having a real Rolex, a full-time driver and all the non-well drinks you want. Reality, however, has you hitting outlet stores instead of the Somerset Collection and looking for beer specials. A few stunts can at least make you feel rich for a few hours. Rent a limo for bar hopping. Wear expensive sunglasses. Accessorize with fake diamonds — not too big — while wearing blue jeans. Wear a suit on a Saturday, or better yet, a tux on a Friday. Spontaneously rent a nice hotel room. And always tip the bouncers. “I have so many little tricks,” said an east side source who remains nameless to protect his actual net worth. He warns against employing too many of these at once. “At some point, it goes from playing rich to just spending too much money.”

Best 45-second thrill for $30
Sphere USA
Mt. Brighton, 4141 Bauer Rd., Brighton; 810-229-9581;

When you’ve already gone bungee jumping, skydiving, rock climbing and guerrilla skateboarding, what’s an adrenaline-addicted weekend warrior to do? Strap yourself into a giant inflatable ball and go tumbling down a 750-foot slope at 35 mph? Why not! Local entrepreneur Robert Pelon first saw the phenomenon of “sphereing” on a reality TV show, and has since brought the new extreme thrill ride to our own Mt. Brighton ski center — it’s currently one of the only official Sphere locations in the country. Patrons can chose between an “Aqua Sphere” (sort of like being in the rinse cycle of the washing machine) or the “Harness Sphere,” which is essentially the longest, bumpiest and most disorienting 45 seconds of your life.

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