Best Place to Get Free Fertilizer
Echter's Greenhouse and Gardens
5150 Garrison St., Arvada
Echter's has acres of trees, shrubs, annuals and perennials, plus a knowledgeable, helpful staff. Now there's another reason to go--free fertilizer for your houseplants. Next time you stop in, bring along an empty one-gallon milk jug (or buy one there for 50 cents) and fill it up with free fertilizer water from the garden center tank located way in the back next to the Pepsi machine. There's no minimum purchase requirement and no strings attached. Why do they do it? "Because we're good," says one employee. We knew that.
Best Free Seeds
Colorado State University Cooperative Extension Seed and Plant Giveaway
Lower-income gardeners can put fresh produce on their tables, thanks to the agrarian scholars of CSU. Working locally in conjunction with the City of Denver, the university's extension service allows applicants to not only receive free vegetable seeds and seedlings but also get advice on how best to grow them.
Best Free Botanical Advice
Denver Botanic Gardens' Helen Fowler Library
1005 York St.
How does your garden grow? They'll know. Knowledge is in full bloom at the Denver Botanic Gardens' Helen Fowler Library. The largest botanical library in the Rocky Mountain region, it contains thousands of books, magazines and videos that anyone can peruse for the price of admission (Gardens members can check them out for free). Even nonmembers can call the library hotline and leave a botanical question; staffers will research the answer.
Best Living Carpet
Applewood Seed Co.
5380 Vivian St., Arvada
An Arvada company has come up with the ultimate sodbuster: After all, why lay down grass when you can instead roll out a Wildflower Carpet? Although several other companies are now fighting over this same turf, it was Applewood Seed that created the concept of studding groundcover with wildflowers. The Wildflower Carpet actually arrives (via UPS, at $65 for five square feet--call 1-800-247-6945 to order) as a mat of densely placed, three-inch-high, three-month-old wildflower plants, fifteen perennials in all, nourished by a thin layer of soil-less planting medium. The carpet blooms within two months of installation and continues to show its true colors through the growing season.
Best Use of a Dead Tree
The Enchanted Forest
Stumped by what to do with that dead tree in the front yard? Call David Mitchell. Using chainsaw and chisels, he'll carve the remains into a real piece of art for under $2,000. Although he takes requests (specialties include animals, birds and human forms--and don't miss that winged lion on Yale Avenuue), Mitchell can also look at the trunk and find "what's inside the tree," he says. "Some people know what they want. Some people just know they have a tree."
Best Christmas Tree Lot
Rocky Mountain Fireworks
5401 Federal Blvd.
Rocky Mountain Fireworks isn't the kind of place where you'll find a tree worthy of the White House lawn. But the store carries a selection that will warm the cockles of the bargain-hunting tree buyer's heart: little trees, scraggly trees and trees that might look fine stuffed into a corner. Thanks to the fireworks folks, we have't paid more than $8 or $10 for a Christmas tree in the past two years.
Readers' choice: Sears, Cherry Creek
Best Use for Christmas Trees When They're Dead
Treecycle Mulch Giveaway
City of Denver
What happens to your dry, scraggly, shedding tree after you leave it out for the garbage trucks? Denver Recycles turns up to 30,000 of them into Treecycle Mulch, free for the taking every April to anyone who wants to haul the stuff away.
Best Place to Buy Garden Hats
5810 W. Alameda Ave., Lakewood
Hobby Lobby has been lionized by the artsy-craftsy set, but gardeners know it as a cheap-hat haven. To illustrate: A plain straw twelve-inch bonnet costs only 75 cents. And that's not even a sale price. The store also carries all manner of fake flowers, ribbons, paint, sparkles, rickrack and other frou-frou to personalize your cut-rate chapeau.
Best Place to Buy a Cactus
City Floral Greenhouse
1440 Kearney St.
It's a prickly situation at City Floral just peruse the huge selection of cacti and succulents. If you're looking for something big and dramatic, you'll find the right Southwestern statement, but the greenhouse also boasts a good stock of little guys and the pots to put them in.
Best Place to Buy a Grotto
1516 Emerson St.
Need a gargoyle? They've got them in all sizes at Ruins Etc., where a big one sits thinking in the window and little ones cackle from every corner. Also appearing are heavenly cherubs, jumping fish, graceful columns and Roman friezes--just what you need for your own neoclassical backyard pond.
Best Ruin Repair
Boltswagon Car Care
399 W. 11th Ave.
Your VW hasn't been tuned up since the Partridge Family was a hit (the first time around); your Volvo is a Swedish meatball. Rick Mera's eighteen year old shop specializes in foreign affairs.
Best Place to Buy an Auto
H.M. Brown & Associates
6081 S. Quebec St., Englewood
Last year H.M. Brown & Associates automotive brokers bought 1,200 cars--which begins to explain the good deals they can get for all the rest of us who can't stand the thought of dealing with car dealers. But the hands-on service is what really counts: After discussing what you want, the Brown crowd will find the car (used or new), get the cheapest deal possible (their fee is 2 percent of the final price) and even have the car delivered. What a way to go.
Ice cream trucks
The 23-year ban of ice cream trucks from Denver city streets means an entire generation of Colorado kids grew up not knowing the pleasure of delivered-to-your-door desserts. But the Denver City Council wisely decreed in February that the next generation shall not be similarly deprived. This summer the bells are chiming once again. Let freedom ring--and give us that Drumstick.
Best Place to Study the Classics
Soneff's Master Garage Inc.
2165 Curtis St.
John Soneff loves old Hudsons, the American-made cars that went out with ducktail haircuts and "I Like Ike" buttons. He loves them so much that he's Denver's Hudson king, having bought so many spare parts from a long-defunct dealer that he and his staff at Soneff's Master Garage Inc. could probably build you a new Terraplane from scratch. Soneff can sell you an already-assembled Hudson--or one of the dozens of other lovingly restored classic cars that sit like pampered children in his cavernous 1947-era garage, everything from Model A's to drop-top Caddies and cherry Corvettes. That's vroom service!
Best Place to Take an Indian
965 Santa Fe Dr.
At Harry's Motors, the "motors" stands for "motorcycles"--and this proud establishment has seen its share. Founded by owner Harry J. Tagaris's grandfather back in 1927, the place remains a happy hunting ground for bikers who favor Indians, the stocky American two-wheelers that roared across the landscape before their builder went out of business in 1953. Tagaris's family sold Indians for a quarter century, and the store still has boxes of original parts to prove it. Harry and his crew will restore your vintage Indian to like-new condition, even tracking down stainless-steel spokes and other rarities. But you may have to hang on: Thanks to a recent boom in the vintage-cycle market, the shop is booked up to a year ahead.
Best Place to Buy Wooden Indians
1398 Wadsworth Blvd.
No, that's not a misprint: Pro Tint, which specializes in automobile- and home-window tinting, is the exclusive Denver headquarters for wooden Indians and totem poles made by Ralph Gallagher, a 68-year-old Navajo from Prescott, Arizona. Gallagher, whose work is on display at the Smithsonian, chose this unlikely setting to market his wares for a simple reason--he's a fishing buddy of Pro Tint owner Galen Foster. These gorgeous, colorful artworks are not all that expensive (they range between $150 and $300), so be the first on your block to own a Gallagher original.
Centennial Wood Inc.
985 S. Logan St.
Centennial Wood Company is as rough-hewn as its raw and beautiful wares, with hand-built storage shelves, the musty, sweet smell of sawdust lingering in the air and a caboose sitting out front. Inside you'll find bird's-eye maple, white pine, mahogany and red oak (a specialty), along with dozens of other domestic and imported hardwoods. Fine woodworkers will also find paneling, fancy moldings, plywood and veneers. The staff is well versed in woodlore and wisdom, and they'll mill and cut your wood to order for the asking.
Best Hardware Store
True Value General Hardware
660 S. Broadway
Use any excuse that's handy--tell your spousal unit you need to get a part for that veeblefetzer--and journey to the delightful General Hardware any Saturday morning. The prices and stock are good, but the banter is great--and it's free. The friendly wisenheimers who troll the aisles looking for lost customers are eager to b.s. (or exchange barbs) with just about anybody who comes in the door.
Best Used Tools
Charlie's 2nd Hand Store, Inc.
2227 Larimer St.
Harold and Dorothy Rosenblatt have been selling everything from claw hammers to pneumatic drills at Charlie's 2nd Hand Store for 48 years. And their well-stocked emporium of previously owned implements, now overseen by son Steve and son-in-law Ron Shiroff, can still set a handyman's heart to pounding. Operating under the longtime family motto, "We buy anything that doesn't eat," Charlie's has a dazzling array of merchandise on the shelves, a lineup that's drawn raves from the construction workers building nearby Coors Field. But don't make the mistake of the misinformed bargain hunters who, Shiroff says, call the store asking for "wedding gowns or this, that or the other. It's tools," he says. "Just tools."
Best Place to Buy Used Chrome
V&R Job Lot Co.
1845 W. 12th Ave.
An open-to-the-public warehouse, V&R Job Lot Co. is filled to bursting with the kind of accessories Architectural Digest loves to use to decorate its high-tech lofts: strings of halogen lights, chrome fixtures, glass shelves, knobby cascade hooks that retail stores use for hanging scarves and purses, magnificent standing coat racks, Plexiglas swirls, revolving clothes carousels--all made with gleaming, still-handsome chrome. These sorts of originals would shoot big holes in your wallet at the antique store, but here a couple of world-weary elderly gentlemen make great deals by the item or by the box on salvaged retail equipment. Sure, they think you're nuts to want this stuff in your home--but the bargains are worth a little ribbing.
Best Cooking Instructor
Aurwan "Noy" Farrell
A Thai native who's paid her dues at numerous restaurants around the country, Aurwan Farrell (that's "Noy" to you) uses wit and charm in teaching others to prepare her native foods. She's full of practical advice ("Never spill fish sauce in your car") and cautionary tales ("In Thailand, if you don't slice the lime leaves fine enough, you will never get married"). Noy's students at Colorado Free University or The Seasoned Chef cooking school might learn to make spicy Panang shrimp, curried fish, sticky rice with mangoes, beef salad and/or phat Thai during the multisession classes. Noy tops off the classroom experience with a Saturday morning excursion to a Thai market, where she explains how to find the more exotic ingredients that are a part of Thai cooking.
Best Cooking School
The Seasoned Chef
999 Jasmine St., Ste. 100
Don't have the time or money for the Cordon Bleu? Try a one-night trip to Park Hill and the Seasoned Chef, which has become a playground for novice and advanced cooks. Owner Sarah Leffen strives for a well-rounded culinary experience, lining up local caterers, chefs and restaurateurs to teach everything from French cuisine to stuffing picnic baskets. Students can learn the intricacies of puff pastry or receive tutoring in the most basic cooking techniques. Leffen's classroom is designed specifically for cooking instruction; hanging mirrors over the prep areas guarantee there's not a bad seat in the house.
Best Kitchen Soul
Peppercorn Gourmet Goods
1235 Pearl St., Boulder
1230 Spruce St., Boulder
The Peppercorn is utterly elegant, witty and, well, huge. The housewares are high-quality, contemporary and smart; if it's kitchen gear you want, it's there as well--sturdy saucepans and skillets from Le Creuset, Chantal, Cuisinart and Calphalon, high-tech Swiss gadgets, slatted wooden dish racks and frisky whisks.
Best Boon for Brown-Baggers
The worst part of taking your lunch to work isn't usually the food, it's the utensils. You have to rely on flimsy plastic forks that hit the garbage in record time or you shlep your own silverware from home--it's either environmentally incorrect or a big hassle. Local entrepreneurs Claudia Bonar and Karen Benson decided to change all that and came up with HaSQA-WARE, a portable set of stainless-steel flatware in a zippered and washable fabric case. Retailing for around $12.50 and selling briskly at Cook's Mart, the Peppercorn Collection, McGuckin's Hardware and other area outlets, they're popular with outdoorsy types as well.
Best Herbal Remedies
Green Earth Farm
23443 U.S. Hwy. 285 S.
Lillian McCracken has studied with nature-cure doctors on several continents for 25 years and is something of an herbal alchemist. Though she imports herbs and essences from all over the world, a large part of her raw material is grown on the organic farm she runs with her husband, Thomas. Write her for a list of products and the ills they cure--and if you don't see what ails you on it, call Lillian. She'll know what to do and what to send you.
Best Local Bottled Water
4615 N. Broadway, Boulder
While most bottlers in the area get their water from wells, PeakRock owner/operator Steve Dolson brings his down from the mountains. And it takes no more than a swallow to tell you PeakRock water has filtered through some particularly pleasant alpine geology on its way from the crown of the Continental Divide to the springhouse at 9,400 feet where Dolson draws it. You might expect to pay extra, but Dolson's low overhead (he and a part-timer run the operation) brings a five-gallon bottle to your door for a good buck cheaper than the bigger dealers charge.
Best Place to Buy Wine and Beer (Selection)
The Wine Company
5910 S. University Blvd., Littleton
The Wine Company isn't the biggest liquor store in town, so don't walk in expecting miles of aisles piled with everything from cheap rotgut to Dom Perignon. But if you're looking for a fine wine from California, France, Spain, Italy or even Colorado, or a hearty stein o' suds from Belgium (a specialty), Jamaica, Germany, Great Britain or American microbreweries, then by all means step right in. The refrigerated walk-in is coolly packed with unusual ales, stouts, porters and pilsners, while the rest of the store features poignant Chardonnays, powerful Cabernets and a vintage staff of oenophiles who'll make sure you don't ferment while waiting for service.
Readers' choice: Applejack
Best Place to Buy Wine and Beer (Price)
700 E. Colfax Ave.
At 25,000 square feet, Argonaut looks more like a supermarket than a liquor store, but it's all beer, wine and other spirits. The store, which has been operating on the same spot since 1959, expanded significantly in the Seventies; today the cooler alone, which houses more than 100 brands of exotic beer, is bigger than the selling space in the original store. If you have the money, you can pick up a $940 bottle of Remy Martin cognac (in a hand-blown Baccarat glass bottle). But the owners will be just as happy to sell you a six-pack of Bud--and at the best price around.
Readers' choice: Argonaut
end of part 4