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BEST STORE TO BROADEN YOUR MIND AND COVER YOUR HEAD
Casa de Rodriguez
156 Stanton St. (betw. Suffolk & Clinton Sts.)
212-995-8880
I’m sure that David and Jody Rodriguez of Casa de Rodriguez had no idea that as they walked me through the hat-making process—everything from choosing the style, material and lining—they were actually tearing down decades of psychological neuroses. All the childhood taunting from my siblings had pretty much convinced me that I would never be able to fit a normal-size chapeau over my allegedly enormous head. The initial sizing, during which I was assured that my skull was an average human size (take that, Sis!), was my first step towards closure. It all came for a price, of course—this ain’t no $12 hat stand on Astor, after all—but I like to think of it not so much as a fashionable purchase, but retail therapy at its finest.

BEST PSEUDO-LEGAL FRUIT AND VEGGIE MARKET
The Vendors Near the Manhattan Bridge
We find our favorite bruised, damaged and/or cheap produce flanking the Manhattan Bridge’s Chinatown buses. Ragtag vendors commandeer the sidewalk, selling a dozen ripe mangos for $5, a pound of soft strawberries for a dollar and slightly browned bunches of bok choy for 50 cents. The deals change daily thanks to the hawkers’ bulk-purchasing power—and the fact that they buy slightly off produce. While most edibles won’t last a couple of days, the bazaar’s perfect for day-of dinner shopping when stews, soups and stir-fries mask every delicious imperfection.

BEST LOW-PRICE, GROCERY-STORE GOURMET BEER SELECTION
Key Food
369 Flatbush Ave. (betw. Park & Sterling Pls.), Prospect Heights, Brooklyn
718-789-3007
Every blue moon, we treat ourselves with classy beer not bought from a bodega. Do we visit Bierkraft? Nope, its lofty price tags are a real turn-off. Instead, we discovered a comparable selection of craft beer is sold at an unassuming Prospect Heights Key Food. Beyond the automatic doors awaits, quite literally, a wall of beer: Suds are stocked from floor to ceiling, encompassing everything from big ol’ bottles of Chimay and Avery Salvation to sixers of Dogfish Head 60-Minute IPA. Better yet, every offering’s sold at prices that could convert a panhandling wino into an erudite beer snob.

BEST PLACE TO FIND EXPENSIVE JUNK YOU DON’T REALLY NEED BUT CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT
Olde Good Things
124 W. 24th St. (betw. 6th & 7th Aves.)
212-989-8401
Olde Good Things excavates architectural remnants, from entire rooms to bizarre bric-a-brac. Its website (oldegoodthings.com) is one way to become acquainted; a better way is to browse its Chelsea showroom with over 9,000 square feet in discarded and salvaged antiques, including plumbing fixtures, mantelpieces, tin mirrors, stained glass, bronze doors and furniture from all eras, even the ones you’d rather forget. Not sure when we’ll need two 12-arm crystal antique chandeliers ($45,000), a sign from Barrymore’s restaurant ($2,500) or a brass spittoon ($50), but it’s always reassuring to know they’re there when we need them.

BEST PLACE TO SUPPORT YOUR IMAGE AS AN INTERNATIONAL JET-SETTER
Kiosk
95 Spring St., 2nd fl. (betw. Mercer & Broadway)
212-226-8601
The owners of Kiosk know that the best thing about taking foreign vacations is bringing back all the knick-knacks that you can’t get in the states. Nothing says you’re a citizen of the world like nonchalantly exclaiming, “Oh, this little thing? I picked it up in Mexico City” when someone noticed you writing with your adorable collapsible fountain pen. Rotating their inventory every six months or so to make room for a new delivery from a new faraway land, everything from Japanese toolboxes, Swedish baby booties and Germanic egg cups are handpicked and shelved alongside charming little note cards referencing the items’ origins and ideas for it’s use, which at times, is needed. I mean, how else would you know what to do with a seprafix?!

BEST PLACE TO SURRENDER ALL AESTHETIC CONTROL TO AN ARMY OF SILENT BUT TASTEFUL EYEBROW THREADERS  
Gulzar Beauty Salon
74-01 Roosevelt Ave., Jackson Heights, Queens
718-779-2800
The environs of this particular threading joint are less than appealing: South Asian women stand poised over the 10 or so barbershop chairs that sprinkle the “salon,” either waiting for their next unsuspecting, hairy victim or, more often than not, tending to the multitudes that await the eyebrow treatment. What this place lacks in atmosphere it makes up for in the skill of its employees: You’ll leave Gulzar with the optimal arch, with not too much or too little taken off the top and the bottom of each. Just don’t expect them to listen to you when you tell them what you want: The Gulzar threaders make your face the palette by which to realize their own creative vision. At $5 for the brows, you’ll never need to tweeze again.

BEST UNDERUSED STUDY HANGOUT 
Max Brenner East Village
141 2nd Ave. (at 9th St.)
212-388-0030
We all know about the delicious chocolate-y menu of the more high-profile Max Brenner Union Square location (ah, the tourists!). But its East Village branch has its own attractions. Besides being less crowded than the original, it boasts free wireless Internet, which makes it surprising that more people haven’t capitalized on its charms. Of course Max Brenner is a great, relaxing study environment, unlike the Starbucks two blocks from the NYU campus that has all the crazy overachievers tweaking out about the same sociology paper.

BEST REASON TO JOIN NETFLIX 
Closing of Park Slope’s Video Edge
While our friends awaited Netflix’s little red envelopes, we’d saunter to Video Edge, a ma-and-pa antidote to antiseptic, Internet-ordered movies (forget Kim’s, that’s so last century). We adored Video Edge’s Asian horror films, renting three or four a month at $3 apiece from knowledgeable clerks with trustworthy advice. It was a real connection in an increasingly disconnected world. Then we went on vacation. Upon returning Video Edge had closed, perhaps victim to its antiquated name. So now we’re forced to join the herd and order our movies online. We only hope our post lady says hello when she drops them off.

BEST SALON TO GET A TONED-DOWN HIPSTER HAIRCUT WITHOUT FEELING  LIKE A DORK
Parlor Hair Salon
102 Avenue B (at 6th St.)
212-673-5520
The skilled stylists at this LES Aveda outpost actually manage to give you the haircut you ask for every time. The Parlor stylists really listen to you when you tell them you want no more than half an inch off. Plus, all their cuts have an urban edge without getting too crazy. This isn’t the kind of place you’ll leave with a mullet (and we’ve been to those kinds of places as well, so we understand your pain). They also have a kick-ass incentive plan to gain clientele: If you refer three people to them, you get half off your next haircut.

BEST HANGOUT FOR THE CHILD WITHIN  
Harlem Lanes
2116 Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. Blvd., 3rd & 4th flrs (at 126th St.)
212-678-2695
You’d think this bowling alley would be pretty much what-you-get-is-what-you-see, but that’s only if you stick to the third floor of this Harlem destination. The standard arcade games, snack bar, 12 lanes and rental desk is just an introduction to the joys of Harlem Lanes. Upstairs is a fashionable-looking bar decked out with cushy furniture and at its lounge-y best, a pool table, a karaoke machine and 12 additional lanes. You can buy pitchers of the “Harlem Lanes Brew” for $13 each, or for the chic set, there’s a full bar for whatever type of cocktail suits your fancy.

BEST STREET FOR BIG BOOTY GIRLS TO BUY JEANS UNDER $40
82nd St., Jackson Heights, Queens
The mannequins in the windows of the shops that line 82nd street in Jackson Heights look just like any other mannequins except for their colossal bubble butts. It’s refreshing to see these stores embrace body types that are more reflective of the female population in general, and this area of Queens in particular. And, unlike at those stores selling clothes that seem to be tailored for the most androgynous of bodies, you won't have to size up just to accommodate your backside.

BEST ALTERNATIVE TO THOSE LAZY GOOD-FOR-NOTHING FRIENDS WHO DON’T
WANT TO HELP YOU MOVE
NY City Van
www.nycitystuff.com
New Yorkers are constantly picking up and moving. Rents rise, new apartment complexes are erected and, before you know it, your lease is up and you have to haul all your shit to a new building halfway across the city. If you can’t afford the usual professional mover rates, don’t trust that man with the van and you can’t coerce your friends into helping, this crack team of writers and artists cum movers is great. They charge less than standard rates: to move out of a one bedroom on a five-floor walkup it costs around $125. 

BEST PLACE TO FEEL LIKE YOU’VE MOVED TO TOKYO
Zakka
155 Plymouth St., Dumbo, Brooklyn
718-801-8037
Zakka was our favorite little spot to escape the annoyance of Nolita. Walk through the doors and you feel like you’ve escaped to some cool Tokyo spot, not a painful fashionista zombie zone. Then it closed its doors. Luckily, they’ve moved to an out-of-the-way spot in another so-painful-it-hurts nabe: Dumbo. But they’ve still got the cool books, silk-screened T-shirts and toys that make for a must-visit destination. And if you’re artistically inclined (like every third person in Dumbo seems to be—unless you’re a coke-snorting hedge funder) then there’s even a chance to exhibit your work.

BEST WAY TO AVOID CASH MACHINE SURCHARGES 
Actors Federal Credit Union ATMs at McDonald’s
The next time you’re about to withdraw another hundred bucks Downtown, step back from the major bank chain terminal and look for the Golden Arches. What? We’re actually going to write about the fast-food chain without a bunch of bile? At not one, not two, but all the McDonald’s that dot the boroughs, you’ll find ATMs that charge you just 99 cents for your trouble, courtesy of this humble financial institution. Who’d of thought you could enjoy the aroma of a Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese and save money at the same time? It’s the simple things, really. The most financially savvy among us will save those 99 cents for a rainy day. The rest of us will put it toward something on the Dollar Menu and hope we have enough left over a bottle of Maalox.

BEST $20 MANICURE/PEDICURE
Spa Lotus
63 W. 8th St., 2nd Fl. (at 6th Ave.)
646-654-0808
A post-work quest for the cheapest mani/pedi along a mile-long stretch of Sixth Avenue was met by a $20 bargain. We rang the bell and ventured upstairs, worried we would soon enter a happy ending nightmare, but our fears were assuaged by an enthusiastically friendly staff, filled manicure chairs and pedicure stations, and a gushing woman emerging from a facial in the back. Since that day a few years back, the salon has grown in popularity but its soundtrack is still erhu and zither covers of Western muzak classics; think Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” and Peter Cetera’s Karate Kid theme song, “Glory of Love.”

BEST PLACE TO HAVE A RAZOR HELD TO YOUR THROAT
Frank’s Chop Shop
19 Essex St. (near Hester St.)
212-228-7442
Situated in that gray area of hinterland between the LES and Chinatown some know as LoHo, Frank’s Chop Shop doesn’t strip and sell hijacked car parts. They scissor and straight-edge the scalps and mugs of skinny-jeaned scenesters, yuppie stockbrokers, skate rats, hip-hop legends, gentlemen of leisure, working class stiffs and anyone else who cares about his cut, but not enough to plunk down a Franklin for it (trims start at $25). Street artist-turned-head barber, Mr. Bee, holds court in this old-school-meets-young-charm salon, shaping and styling the look of the new city man with confidence (by appointment only). More than just a sweet style for a sweet deal, Frank’s provides the crucial service of reviving a disappearing venue of a bygone era: the let’s-hang-out-and-shoot-the-shit barbershop for guys who don’t want highlights and wax jobs. Amen.

BEST CAVITY-PRONE DENTIST
Dr. Udi Yohanan
360 W. 22nd St. (betw. 8th & 9th Aves.)
212-242-5910
After years of commuting hundreds of blocks to an awkwardly located dentist office, I’d had enough. Not looking to replace her—I fear change—my laziness took over when Dr. Udi Yohanan opened up shop just down the block.
Dr. Yohanan’s cheerful, modern, yellow-walled office features TV and iPod distractions in exam rooms. I shamefully copped to owning at least eight cavities before opening my mouth to Dr. Udi, who confessed that, due to poor dental treatment as a child in Israel, his cavities are well into the double digits. Too shy to disclose the actual amount, Dr. Yohanan will make sure yours never reach as high.
What’s not to love about a dentist guiltier than you of poor dental hygiene and still has the ability to make you entrust him with your own precious not-so-pearly whites?

BEST PLACE TO UNLOAD YOUR CDS AND DVDS
Norman’s Sound and Vision
67 Cooper Square (betw. 7th & 8th Sts.)
212-473-6599
We were clinging tightly to our CDs and jewel cases, snubbing Case Logic books and only recently tossing our CD tower. But Mac finally broke us down and we reluctantly got an iPod. Our music’s now all digital, so we’re finally ready to sell our music library, entrusting Norman’s staff to help. There will of course be judging, though slight, when copies of Jessica Simpson and a Dawson’s Creek soundtrack are discovered in our eclectic collection, but Norman’s will offer fair value for CDs in good condition, and enough cash ($2-$5 per CD) to help us pay a few bills and feel good about finally letting go.

BEST WAY TO FEEL LIKE YOU’RE SAVING A FEW SHOPPING DOLLARS, WHEN YOU’RE NOT
Monk Thrift Shops
177 Avenue C (at E. 11th St.)
212-505-7309
Other locations throughout the city
With at least four Manhattan locations, and a new outpost in South Park Slope, this vintage shop more than qualifies as a chain. While the stock isn’t dependably vintage—Old Navy and American Apparel fill in the gaps—a large selection of quality thrift can be had for a bargain, without the markups you find at Cheap Jacks or Andy’s Cheapies. Each small location specializes in a little something different, but all are packed with a random mix of men’s and women’s garb; $5 secondhand T-shirts, $30 leather jackets, $20 skinny and flared jeans, $12 & up dresses from every era and all manner of shoes. In order to guarantee searching success, we suggest a Monk crawl.

BEST WAY TO FINALLY GET ORGANIZ-IZED
Cross It Off Your List
915 B’way, 20th fl. (betw. 20th & 21st Sts.)
212-725-0122
www.crossitoffyourlist.com
For $65-$95/hour you too can hire a personal organizer who will wait for TimeWarner, weed junk mail and manage email and tackle a messy closet. We may not have the money to fork over for such a handy service, but thanks to Cross It Off Your List, the brainchild of personal organizer Linda Rothschild, a simple phone call dispatches a trained and experienced organizing consultant to your door, prepared for tasks large and small—from sorting storage rooms, color-coordinating Manolos and stocking fridges for can’t-be-bothered clients to orchestrating major moves; sometimes relocating families across the globe. If you’re never going to get to it, pay the dough to hire someone who will.

BEST HASSLE-FREE DRY CLEANER/TAILOR
Jerri's Cleaners & Launderers
444 6th Ave. (betw. 10th & 11th Sts.)
212-982-2100
We thought all dry cleaners were created equal: laundering was expensive, clothes returned both clean and intact wasn’t guaranteed and alterations weren’t always possible. Unbeknownst to us, Jerri’s Cleaners is anything but and has been since 1964. Jerri’s reputation far eclipses it’s small plain storefront, catering to neighborhood families, suits, and local celebrities. Charging slightly more than your corner cleaners, Jerri’s offers superior service more than anything. They have free pick up and delivery, are experienced with gala gowns and couture costumes, use a great suede, leather and fur cleaner, offer garment storage and employ a detail-oriented tailor who can a mend the worn crotch on a pair of skinny jeans without making them tighter.

BEST SOLUTIONS FOR SMALL APARTMENTS
Tiny Living
125 E. 7th St. (betw. Ave A & 1st Aves.)
212-228-2748
www.tinyliving.com
While the masses flock to The Container Store for metal shelving systems and plastic storage boxes, desperate souls with discerning tastes, tight budgets and typical Manhattan apartments lacking counters, closets or just square footage seek out Tiny Living. Living in cramped quarters—including a 257-square-foot studio—inspired the married owners to think small when it came to stocking this appropriately tiny East Village store. Opened a couple of years ago, customers continue to seek out their affordable and distinctive space-saving solutions like a toaster oven, coffee maker and griddle(!) combo unit, a roll-up keyboard, suction toothbrush holders and rollout drying rack—taking advantage of every inch of that windowless room you rent.

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