The signs decorating the warehousey building on the corner of West 38th Avenue and Osage Street in northwest Denver bilingually advertise everything from 14k gold jewelry, pagers and stereos to ropa and the joyería inside. But more than anything, it's the business's name -- against a logo bearing the colors of the Mexican flag -- that says it all: This is Ameri-Mart, brother, and all you need to be happy in this country is lots of stuff. Muscle shirts, mustard-colored jeans, packages of socks for two bucks, christening and communion dresses and Fruit of the Loom briefs. An entire aisle of shoes, 50 percent off. Kenwood and Bose speakers and subwoofers. Video games and Pokémon cards. Cleaning supplies, paper towels and trash bags. Monster squirt guns and brown dolls. Chairs, sofas and a "surprise" back room full of antiquey furniture, "Tiffany" lamps, gilded mirrors, faux elephant-tusk carvings and bronze deer and dolphin statues. Small appliances and Jesus candles. Dried chiles, freeze-dried coffee, corn husks and 25-pound bags of pinto beans for $9.50. Co-owner Mark Reichert says he and his partners "wanted to open a store that combined all the things we found other businesses in the area doing," but he swears that unlike that notorious, wholly American creation known as Wal-Mart, he's not trying to put nearby small businesses out. "I thought about that, but I think people like to come where they have a lot of choices. We have clothing, but that doesn't hurt the other clothing stores around here. People like to shop," he says. And when they run out of money, there's a Western Union at the front counter.

Remember the Saturday Night Live skit with Mike Myers wearing a kilt while screaming at customers "If it's not Scottish, it's crap"? Well, Frank and Sheryl Campbell, the owners of Thistle & Shamrock, which carries Scottish and Irish goods, don't greet customers with quite the same hostility, but they are passionate about their merchandise -- from souvenir-type gifts like plaid mugs, shamrock socks and shortbread cookies to serious items like kilts, claddagh rings, wool sweaters and vests and bagpipes. They can even order your family's very own tartan directly from a Scottish woolen mill. One thing that's sure to make a shopper kick up his heels, though, is an Aran sweater. The patterns, distinctive of certain Irish villages and knitters, were used at one time to help identify where a dead fisherman came from. Traditionally knit on Aran island, they're now manufactured all over. A machine-knit sweater costs $85, and a hand-knit one will run you $225. Not bad for a little taste of the old country.

Ivy Morgan is a traveler, and her little Sixth Avenue nook is a telling repository. Stuffed to the rafters with trinkets and clothing from such exotic climes as Nepal, Indonesia and Thailand, Cargo has wonderful novelties: Chinese Feng Shui compasses, temple candles, singing bowls and thangka prints and tapestries used by traveling monks to teach Buddhist stories. But for mass appeal, you can't go wrong with one of her imported T-shirts: Splashed from seam to seam with geishas, bodhisattvas, dragons, samurai warriors, anime characters and more, the body-hugging gear will open eyes and make you feel like you've been there and back.
Alice Monroney works out of an ordinary storefront, but what goes on inside is extraordinary. Her lush tapestry travel and passport bags, backpacks, flap bags, totes and cosmetic bags are made of fabrics adorned with everything from flora and fauna to the sun, moon and stars. Monroney finishes them herself with unique, handcrafted buttons, saucy tassels, moiré lining and braided loops and shoulder straps. Then they're shipped off to shops from Maine to Hawaii and all points between. If you like, you can log on to www.alicetapestries.com and she'll ship one right to your doorstep.

Kris and Lewis Butler know kids. Take note of the typical, screaming two-year-old behind the counter and you'll have no question about that. But they also know parents, and the evidence of that is in the snappy inventory of new and used children's clothes they carry in their narrow Gaylord Street shop. At Beez Kneez, you'll find pricey new duds, including such brand names as Tender Buttons, Chicken Noodle and Just Kiddin', which specializes in reversible dresses and rompers in bright prints, right alongside the recycled ones at bargain prices, including cheery plaid or poppy-print party frocks with big collars. There are also sturdy shorts, T-shirts, leggings and overalls, which often sell for $10 or less. Throw in some novelties -- wooden-bead "watches" with movable hands, elastic bracelets, hair ornaments, dragon hats and more -- and you're done shopping for the rest of the season.
The store policy says it all: Once Upon a Child will buy back your purchases when your kids outgrow them, a touch that makes a trip to Fort Collins worth the drive. Bargain-hunters will find everything they need here: slightly used V-Tech toys, cute stuffed animals, strollers, cribs, bassinets, bath toys, new overstuffed rocking chairs and a huge inventory of used clothing, both high- and low-end and befitting any season or occasion. Throw in a staff that obviously enjoys and knows the minds of children, and you'll be in a good enough mood to endure the ride home.

Unlike most gas-station car washes, Puddle actually gets cars clean. Pull up and select the basic wash, or "water works," which includes a car wash, vacuum, dashboard dusting and window-cleaning for $9.99. Then watch, through windows inside the store, as your car rides through the automatic process before being hand-dried. And if it's not to your liking, they'll send it back through. For $13.99, you can upgrade to the "dew drop," which adds a liquid wax to the package; for $16.99, "big thunder" will do it all plus wash under the car, Armor All the tires, clean the rims and leave a fresh scent in your car. Puddle also has a detail shop where you can select everything from getting your floor mats washed (75 cents each for rubber mats and $2.00 each for cloth) to getting your seats shampooed. Most important, the service is quick, the people who work there are friendly, and you can cruise in sparkling style.

Local seamstress Marcel Antoinette has been sewing for 25 years, but started her handmade children's line eight years ago when she had a daughter. One thing led to another: She'd dress the little one in clothes she'd made, people would ask, and soon she was in business. Antoinette works and sells the clothes -- simple, well-sewn garments of patchworked African print fabrics in bright and sometimes metallic colors (some imported from Senegal and the Ivory Coast) -- out of a Park Hill storefront, and she has a Web site in the works, but she doesn't want to expand too quickly for the sake of quality, the kind that's helped her bag awards for best children's clothes at the Capitol Hill People's Fair for two years running. "The majority of it is poor old me," she says (on a quick break from cutting new pieces), and that's the way her customers like it. And so do we.

Janet Banks hated her job as a graphic designer and longed for something simpler. One day, she opened up a book about wooden toys and hasn't been the same since. Though she remembered her grandfather making such toys when she was little, Banks had no woodworking experience, so she taught herself and recently quit her hated job to concentrate on building toys for her Sweet Lily's Toy Company. And what does she build? Wooden jack-in-the-boxes with latch tops that flip open, yo-yos composed of a single disc and dowel and painted bright colors, wooden puzzles and an Advent tree with 24 ornaments to attach each day until Christmas. She's pretty busy playing, but catch her if you can at local festivals or log on to her Web site, www.sweetlily.com.

Things are cooking at Sur la Table, and not just for you. This kitchenware, cookbook and gadget place caters to kids by carrying mini cooking and baking sets that look just like the grownup versions, dinosaur cookie cutters, clever rookie chopsticks, Mickey Mouse cookbooks, froggy aprons and tiny double-breasted chef's coats for gourmets-in-training. The crowning touch? A classic chef's chapeau, scaled down to size. Let's eat!

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