Parking tickets are loathsome no matter how you pay them. But now they're slightly less painful, thanks to denvergov.org, 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.

Twist & Shout
Ken Hamblin III
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.
Wax Trax Records
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.

Since most print stores aren't run by a legitimate hero, Power Imaging was hot last October after owner Matt Casias was shot while trying to help a purse-snatching victim. But there are other reasons to stop in addition to meeting Casias, a governor's Medal of Valor winner who was recently featured in People magazine: Power Imaging has extremely competitive pricing that's typically lower than what the big chains offer, as well as personalized sales and service with a neighborhood feel. Supporting one of the good guys pays unexpected dividends.
This is a store like no other. Not only is the 20th Century Emporium full-bore retro, it has a scholarly edge that is lacking in most retail shops. That's because the emporium was created in conjunction with the opening of a related permanent exhibit at the Lakewood Heritage Center. Some of the merchandise is hokey -- Aunt Bee's Mayberry Cookbook, for example -- but, thankfully, there isn't a trace of Betty Boop anywhere. What patrons will find is a retro penny-candy collection (fifty kinds), oilcloth linens, Depression-era glass and museum-quality prints of old Denver.
Who knew that little Lakewood would bloom into such an inspirational hotbed? Thanks to the booming Lakewood Cultural Center and artsy Belmar, the old-time suburb is remaking itself. The Artisan Showcase highlights this renaissance by featuring more than the usual museum-store shlock. Lisa Janisch keeps the shop filled to the rafters with handmade items, from sterling silver jewelry to glass pumpkins. For spring, she is featuring elaborately patterned Pysanky -- Ukranian Easter eggs -- that are so delicate you barely dare to breathe on them.
Artist Carol Simmons didn't plan to open a business last summer, but her middle daughter, Lisa, surprised her with a newly leased Downing Street duplex and said, "You see that? It's yours." So Simmons commenced to sculpting out a charming studio with yellow walls, a wealth of handmade items, and a smattering of antiques, soaps, candles, cards and the like. This spring, gardeners will find plenty of outdoor decorations at Sunflower, including recycled-metal sculptures, unique reflective garden spheres, stepping stones, hand-painted flowerpots and sweet wooden garden angels. Indoorsy types can choose from striking handmade ceramics in intricate black-and-white patterns, colorful shaman pins, painted gourds and fabric dolls. For artsy folks, Simmons recently opened a new fiber room dedicated expressly to hand-spun, hand-dyed and hand-painted fibers. All in a day's work.
There will be no surreptitious stuffing of the pockets with spare change when you tour the Denver Mint -- security is mighty tight. But you don't have to leave empty-handed, either. In fact, the gift shop at the Mint offers a fabulous selection of souvenirs, everything from the expected first-day-issue and collectors' coins to sweatshirts, hats, tote bags, water bottles and, in honor of the 200th anniversary of their expedition, lots of Lewis and Clark commemoratives. At the Mint, you not only get to watch money appear -- you get to watch it disappear into gift-shop cash registers.

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