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Best Bookstore for Readers Who Have Time (and Life) on Their Hands

Denver Book Fair

In the digital age, people don't browse anymore; they use their browsers to search databases. For vintage browsing, though, this is the place -- and not just for well-thumbed paperbacks. There are stacks and stacks of old magazines: muscle mags, guns, golf, aviation, decorating, a Life from the week your favorite baby boomer was born, Architectural Digest, Oui and, of course, a collection of National Geographic that stretches back to the early 1900s. Students of the twentieth century, breathe in the pulpy atmosphere, and leave your laptops behind.
There's a special ambience about the Ross-Broadway Branch Library, a certain feeling that if you close your eyes, you might open them to find Frank Lloyd Wright (reputedly the inspiration for Ayn Rand's Fountainhead character, Howard Roark). The Ross-Broadway branch was built in 1951 in the Prairie School style that Wright popularized, and it featured stunning woodwork, stained-glass windowpanes, made-to-order reading benches and bespoke burgundy benches. After more than fifty years in service, the library was getting a little tattered around the edges, but recent renovations restored some woodwork and window glass, added fixtures and counters, and modified the entryway for easier access for the disabled. The worn, frame-banging entry doors were finally replaced with sturdy, silent hardwood ones in a repro-Wright style. So silent are they now that, if you listen closely, you can almost catch the faint echo of Gary Cooper's voice giving a Roark soliloquy.

Lots of organizations have child-friendly websites, but the DPL's section for kids is downright chummy. The site offers a monster-truckload of homework resources (including access to the library's interactive ask-a-librarian feature, Smarty Pants); quick links to other sites designed with kids in mind, such as the Colorado Virtual Library for Kids; info on how to read aloud to a dog for the popular Paws-to-Read program; a second-by-second countdown to the release of the new Harry Potter novel this summer; and even an opportunity to write book reviews and post them online. Shazam!

Face it: Most elementary-school field trips provide less practical information than the average episode of Fear Factor. Not so at Young AmeriTowne, a daylong, hands-on event specifically designed to teach fifth and sixth graders something about the grownup world around them. Students must interview for positions in the mini-community's government and business sectors, then hold their own on the job, running TV or radio stations, putting out a newspaper, acting as judges, police officers, or even mayor. The program, run under the auspices of the Young Americans Center for Financial Education, has become so popular that a new branch recently opened in Belmar to supplement the original base in Cherry Creek. That's great, since nearly every kid who visits Young AmeriTowne actually learns something along the way. What a concept.

Calm down, Doors fans: The Jim Morrison behind isn't that Jim Morrison. He's a Conifer resident whose website helps track down loved ones in case of an emergency -- whether they're sitting at home or sailing the high seas. Families who pay the $29 sign-up fee receive cards listing standard contact data, as well as a password to the site, where they can input new numbers and travel itineraries. Also included are private pages where clients can store information about their driver's licenses and passports, in case they're stolen. For people constantly on the go, provides a 24-hour-a-day link to loved ones. Talk about an open-door policy.

Parking tickets are loathsome no matter how you pay them. But now they're slightly less painful, thanks to, the city's well-designed, easy-to-navigate digital hub. Computer-savvy motorists can erase vehicular debts and challenge tickets, all from their desktops. The site also makes municipal life run a little more smoothly -- and saves you a trip to the Webb building -- by offering everything from weather reports and City Council information to zoning maps and building-permit forms. The map section is of special interest to Denver-philes, thanks to cool, interactive images taken from planes flying above the city. Welcome to the City Beautiful.

The unsung Office of Employee Assistance provides city employees and their families with short-term counseling, referrals and other help in dealing with a host of workplace and personal issues -- everything from stress and anger management to relationship or substance-abuse problems, grief and financial losses, even the terror of being laid off. It's all confidential and free of charge, and the professional staff is friendly, committed and amazingly unbureaucratic.

There isn't always a method to the mad way movies are displayed at Video One. The

alphabet? Fuggedaboudit. If you're looking for a particular film, you'd better hope it finds you. Yet there's a love for film and a quirky kind of community vibe that oozes from this Capitol Hill mainstay. Clerks banter about new releases and Kurosawa while cleaning out the popcorn machine. Clever notes about the merits or failings of a particular film are taped up everywhere -- and the staff is likely to have actually seen many of the movies in the store. The inventory numbers in the thousands, with a well-worn back catalogue of older documentaries, music videos and stand-up comedy to match its cutting-edge selection of new foreign, gay and lesbian, and low-budget releases. Video One is an indie oasis in a corporate-controlled industry, as diverse and well-worn as the neighborhood it serves.

Paul and Jill Epstein launched Twist & Shout in 1988, moving the business to its current location seven years later. Now the pair is looking at relocating to the long-vacant Lowenstein Theater on East Colfax Avenue -- a move that would roughly double the size of their floor space. That such a plan is even on the drawing board is a testament to the great sales and service the Epsteins have always provided. Twist & Shout has practically every CD a music fan could want, a knowledgeable staff that can point listeners in new and exciting directions, and a dedication to live and local music that's won acclaim far beyond the city limits. The store may be getting better in the future, but it's pretty damn good right now.

Now in its mid-twenties, Wax Trax provides the sort of music-shopping experience that's become all too rare in the age of big-box stores and corporate homogenization. Its new CD branch stocks the coolest and latest discs, as well as imports and recordings far too bizarre or obscure to find their way into the Best Buys of the world -- yet the vinyl wing is even more of a find. Within its walls are piles of long players and 45s available at rates that make the prices regularly charged on eBay seem downright astronomical. For anyone with a working turntable and a nose for bargains, it's a little slice of paradise.

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