Doug and Barbara Crispin managed to grow African violets in the tundra. That should tell you something about the crop at their shop in Englewood, the Violet Showcase, the only store of its kind in the country. The Violet Showcase is packed with new and unusual varieties of the world's most popular houseplant, African violets in pink, purple, white, red and all colors in between. The Crispins grow and sell flowers in the store, stock everything from grow lights to leaf support rings to self-watering pots, and ship orders nationwide. "It's an odd little business," Doug says of the 31-year-old shop. "We're basically a plant farm, roadside stand, mail-order company and retail shop all in one."
Located in the new, improved University Hills complex, Timbuk Toys still manages to exude the feel of a neighborhood store. Featuring an attentive staff that obviously enjoys children, it offers a versatile selection and wide price range for a relatively small space. Mostly, though, it's just fun to go to, fully lacking the plasticized overkill of a big-box toy store. From Beanie Babies to tea-party dishes, hobby horses to wooden train sets, the store has something for everyone under the age of twelve. Better yet, it's still a pleasure to visit for anyone over the age of twelve.
If it's getting more and more difficult to call great-aunt Edna's Morris chair an "heirloom," perhaps its time for a touchup. Be kind to your mold-crusted chair. Or throw it away and start from scratch. Little more than a hole-in-the-wall with eclectic collectibles on South Pearl Street, Yesterday's Child, which stands by the motto of "My Chair or Yours," applies a personal touch to the art of refurbishing furniture. Don't just sit there!

Best Place to Find Stocking Stuffers Year-Round

H. R. Meininger

H.R. Meininger Co.
Artists must celebrate the coolest Christmases around. If they don't, they're not buying their paint at the right place. Meininger's, long known as one of the city's best-equipped art-supply stores, also carries compelling little items that make opening up old socks a tradition worth keeping. Although the inventory changes frequently, shoppers can glom onto such marvels as Elvis magnets, pens with the shape (and texture) of slugs, bendable alien figurines, miniature chattering teeth, temporary tattoos, cowboy cutouts and dancing skeletons. And if the alien-autopsy toy doesn't capture your imagination, you can always load up your basket with paint sets, modeling clay or pens filled with glitter paint.

Organized annually by the eclectica palace on South Pearl Street, Manorisms and Blackbird of Evergreen, this craft fair is a rarity of the holiday season. Of a manageable size and offering handmades and gifts -- vintage linens, fragrant pots of paperwhites, one-of-a-kind children's clothing, sensuously scented candles, folk art, imports and more, all chosen thoughtfully with the overall show's presentation in mind -- Gifts for Yule is also beautiful, with spacious vendor booths engaged in a friendly, write-in competition for the title of "Best Display."

Since moving down the street from an isolated corner to more compact and socialized digs, this shop has added a singular and eccentric brand of color to South Pearl Street's already charming retail community. Bold hues of green or pink (or whatever color best defines the season at hand) command the corner storefront's picture windows: For instance, orange brooms, green shoes and striped socks for Halloween; three-foot chocolate bunnies, geese lamps and jaunty bedsprings announcing "spring" for Easter. One brief window sporting party hats made from folded paper and gift-wrapping materials even had to be dismantled because a customer bought the hats for her child's birthday party. Of course, the real point is to get people inside the store, but it does put a whole new participatory spin on the fine art of window-shopping.

Best Place to Buy and Then Smoke Exotic Cigarettes

Paris on the Platte

Paris on the Platte Cafe & Bar
Cassandra Kotnik
Paris on the Platte is Denver's best approximation of a European-style cafe, the kind of place people go to eat baguettes, drink strong coffee, read, write -- and smoke heartily. Like the city it's named after (where travelers are free to light up immediately after stepping off a plane), Paris on the Platte is one of those increasingly rare places where those who indulge in a taste for nicotine can do so without inviting disapproving stares. In fact, the activity is almost encouraged: The adjoining bookstore features cigarettes from around the world (in addition to new and used books and assorted oddities) packaged in colorful, shimmering boxes. With its window seats, friendly staff, great music and yummy food, Paris on the Platte is an ideal place to while away the hours -- and the ashes.

Best New-CD Store -- Underground-Music Variety

Wax Trax

Wax Trax Records
If you're looking for something out of the ordinary or want to pick the brain of someone who eats, drinks and breathes music, Wax Trax is still the bee's knees. The store's stock czars make sure that just about every new, intriguing, indescribable or curious release is on hand, be it imported or independently released, and the rest of the staff is capable of pointing adventurous customers in very interesting directions.
Of course, locals know that Wax Trax isn't a single store, but a several-headed music hydra -- and the branch dedicated to used product shouldn't be overlooked. The space is crammed with oodles of previously owned treasures: CDs and LPs from a wide range of eras, as well as stacks upon stacks of 45s available on the cheap. A great way to go forward into the past.
An annex to the original Twist & Shout (recently named Retailer of the Year by the National Association of Recording Merchandisers), conveniently located on the other side of the street, Underground stocks a potpourri of musical accessories, including new and used stereo equipment, cartridges, and clothing intended to bring out your inner raver. But it's built around two rooms filled with vinyl -- one jammed with new and old LPs from every conceivable genre, the other overflowing with the newest and hottest dance jams. No wonder DJs from all over the state make the store their one-stop shopping place.

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