Winner and still champion: The Horseshoe, already our favorite in 2011, is only getting better as it hits its stride. The brainchild of Amy Yetman, a crafter herself, the market isn't really a pure flea market, per se; rather, its 100 or so booths hawk everything from the antiques you'd expect to adorable handmade children's clothing and accessories, locally designed hipster jewelry, vintage shoes, steampunk earrings and more, and the people-watching is more than awesome. Bottom line, the Horseshoe is also so well run (you can thank Amy and her husband, Doug, for that) that it's a joy to be there; along with wares new and old, this market welcomes food trucks and special attractions (last year, a traveling screen-printing van visited at one market), and Berkeley Park invites across the street, should you need to rest your feet and dogs. This year's spring market is on May 5, with additional dates to follow in July and October. And remember: It's called "Horseshoe" because of the lucky connotations. Come down to Tennyson Street, and see just how lucky you get.

Readers' Choice: Mile High Marketplace

Warm Welcome Childcare Center

Jury duty is a hassle. But there is one perk to spending the day at Denver District or County Court: free child care. Run by Mile High Montessori Early Learning Centers, the Warm Welcome Childcare Center was opened in 1999 after judges noted that courtrooms are no place for children. The center's staff will watch any child ages six weeks to twelve years whose parent has business at the court, whether it be jury duty or a criminal proceeding, with a few exceptions: no sick children, no yelling at the staff and no dropping your kids off and then ditching court to go shopping. While it may be tempting, common sense says it's best not to break the rules while at a courthouse.

Readers' Choice: 16th Street shuttle

Read more: Denver's five best free services

In this era of shy economic recovery, it makes sense for small businesses to advocate for one another, which is why we applaud entrepreneurs Meghan Throckmorton of Rakun boutique and Ellis Ann McClung of Thread Handmade Consignment, who decided to take matters into their own hands to create Denver Independent Boutiques. It's loose, but its goal of creating a buzz by banding together to host communal boutique crawls and other shared events is a worthy one. Throckmorton and McClung are already strong advocates for buying local — their shops almost exclusively carry clothing and jewelry by Denver-area designers, some of them just getting started — and it's such an important point for them that they stipulate that DIBS members carry at least 50 percent local merchandise. Kudos, ladies, for reaching out and grabbing the hands of your colleagues.

Verde Natural
Scott Lentz

With its Alice in Wonderland-like paint scheme inside and jars of organic medicine grown by renowned breeder Chuck Blackton, Verde was one of our favorite visits in 2011. But what made it truly stand out are the cases upon cases of high-end glass pipes from Sheldon Black and Roor, as well as vintage pieces from Jerome Baker Designs. The shop also has a sick assortment of locally made pipes, slides and bubblers to take home along with your eighth of Lemon Skunk. Bonus: You don't need to be a med patient to shop for pipes at Verde.

Illuzion Glass

Illuzion Glass Galleries is home to some of the most extravagant and expensive glass pipes in the world, including a $35,000 alien throne and a $30,000 glass pirate ship. The shop also carries worked tubes and pipes from local and nationally known artists that range from $100 all the way up to several thousand dollars. Illuzion has been working on bringing in-house pipes to the people of Denver through their glass studio in the back of the store. There are also plenty of affordable pieces here, but taking a tour through the shop is worth the visit alone.

It's not uncommon for a herd of motorcycles to be parked outside of Fallen Owl Tattoo, a hard-core, old-school ink joint smack in the middle of a nondescript Lakewood strip mall. Inside, Sublime and Metallica play while owner Adam Rose moves his needle over a customer's bicep. But both Rose and his store have softer sides: Rose, who grew up with an older sister and a single mom, focuses roughly half of his business perspective on how to provide for children in homes like his own. Among other projects, 2011 found the shop partnering with the Flobots' Youth On Record program to design skateboard decks for auction and launched a Christmas special that traded ink for toys. This is one business that gives a hoot.

Kittie Mae Millinery & Accessories

Miss Kittie Mae, aka hatmaker extraordinaire Susan Dillon, knows her craft well. But she is by no means a crafter. Dillon is an artist through and through, sculpting stunning couture headwear out of a little felt and feathers, like a millinery Rumpelstiltskin spinning straw into gold. Though a good deal of Dillon's business is in creating one-of-a-kind, high-style wedding gear, the rest of her hats would dress up any look for a night on the town. "I just want people to come in and have fun," is her retailing credo, and it's not hard to do so when faced with the prospect of trying on so many millinery confections — cheeky hats and headpieces combining mesh, ribbons, feathers and bows. Kitty Mae also carries several lines of locally designed jewelry, scarves and clothing, but the main dish will always walk out on your head. Dillon's latest foray? Hats for men: smart newsboys and, eventually, fedoras and bowlers.

Either you get Hello Kitty or you don't. But if you do, you should be cartwheeling over rainbows just knowing about the arrival of Lollipop Gift, a Denver Pavilions newbie dedicated almost exclusively, but not quite, to the glorification of Japan's greatest contribution to the "cute" industry. Inside, the Hello Kitty well spilleth over: The morose will have to take in this store slowly, but folks already under the spell will fall willy-nilly all over its shelves of Hello Kitty stationery, candy, toiletries, toothbrush holders, plush, teacups, dolls, lunchboxes, totes and school supplies by Sanrio. There's also room for one of Hello Kitty's chief rivals, San-X's Rilakkuma (or "Relax Bear") and other cute friends of the Pacific Rim, eye-popping J-pop T-shirts, Super Mario merchandise and other pop-culture eye-junk. Word to the wise: Lock up your daughters, now.

Goldyn

Vanessa Barcus's Goldyn is something of a couture pipeline, shipping in designer styles direct from the fashion Valhallas of New York, Los Angeles and Paris. Begun as an online store, Goldyn first hosted occasional pop-up events in Denver before setting down roots as a brick-and-mortar storefront last summer in Highland's LoHi Marketplace at Olinger, much to the glee of local landlocked couture snobs dying to touch a little bit of the real thing. If your heart longs for a piece of Helmut Lang, See by Chloe, Current Elliott, Rebecca Minkoff or other comparable labels, weep no more. Check out Goldyn, and keep an eye open for Goldyn events and trunk shows.

Common Threads

We awarded the Boulder Common Threads the Best Boulder DIY Boutique of 2009 on the laurels of its unique combination of secondhand chic boutique and community-conscious sewing studio, and then called it the "boutique of the future." But although Denver's new annex, on South Pearl Street, is much smaller and comes with only the boutique element intact, it still follows that prediction, seamlessly hanging both chic new clothing and upscale secondhand from its racks, with a dollop of recycled-green pride. Other differences? The Denver store is curated with a more citified working-girl clientele in mind than in Boulder, featuring still-chic, better-brand consignment items on its carefully ministered racks. We dare you to come in and not leave with some little treasure tucked under your arm.

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