WINNER: Alamo Music Center
> From your little sister's trumpet to your dad's vintage Fender Stratocaster, with two (and a half) locations and 87 years in operation, Alamo Music Center has invested countless hours and human-power into supplying San Antonio with all of its musical instrument needs and as a locus for lessons on any and all instruments, with the knowledge necessary to play whatever beats, rhythms and melodies set our toes a-tapping. The original location in the heart of San Antonio is packed wall-to-wall with pianos, accordions, wind instruments, guitars and the basement is full of recording and sound equipment. Alamo Music Center has provided San Antonio's musicians, pros and amateurs, with exceptional options for years.
255 E. Basse Road, Suite 1085• (210) 822-4111
3. TIE: Robot Monster Guitars
517 E. Woodlawn Ave. • (210) 320-1710
WINNER: Bussey's Flea Market
18738 I-35 N. (Schertz)
(210) 651-6830 • busseysfm.com
> Since it first appeared in the Oxford English Dictionary back in 1922, the term "flea market" (derived from the French marché aux puces) has sadly devolved to encompass establishments trafficking in designer knockoffs, bootleg DVDs, costume jewelry, imported plastic toys and other unsavory items destined for landfills. In short, nothing shabby or old enough to shelter a flea, pulga or puce. While the odd second-hand treasure can be found at spots like Eisenhauer Flea Market, the new easily outweighs the old. Up the road at Schertz's long-running Bussey's Flea Market, that's far from the case. Opened back in 1978 by H.P. Bussey and now owned by Harold J. Smith and his three kids, the decidedly old-school market reportedly draws hundreds of vendors each weekend. After browsing through the garage-sale-like tables set up in the parking lot facing I-35, shoppers and browsers can work their way through a maze of covered walkways to find stalls offering everything from military memorabilia and Nintendo collectibles to estate jewelry and vintage toys. Among the more specialized dealers, Allen's Bird Shop — a Bussey's constant for 30 years, located at spaces P66 and P67 — sells such exotic creatures as military macaws ($1,295) and African grey parrots ($995) but also offers bird cages, feed and even "wing and nail trim service." And when it comes time for a break, covered picnic tables and an array of snack bars beckon with breakfast tacos, nachos, hot dogs, raspas and ice-cold cans of beer.
> The Texas stoner staple features a plethora of pipes, one-hitters, vapes, Medusa-like hookahs and bongs of all shapes and sizes. You can always buy your Tinkerbell-delicate bodega bowls from the local family-owned convenience store, but you can't also pick up an issue of High Times, Low Rider, Barely Legal, a French tickler, novelty penis straw or discreet giant black dildo, now can you? Whether you need to restock on hair oil for your dreads, tattoo needles for your gun, plugs for your scenester kid sister, black lights for your "chill room," papers for the dude on the couch, potions to fix your cloudy piss or nag champa for your crusty roommate, there's one place that's got it all, and they're open late: 420-friendly hours.
Tell 'em Mary sent-cha. Mary ... Jane. Don't really say that. Or talk about weed at all, for that matter. That shit's illegal, and they'll kick your narc ass out.
2. TIE: Monster Vape
727 S. Alamo St., Suite 200 • (210) 263-9729
WINNER: Pearl Farmers Market
312 Pearl Pkwy. • (210) 212-7260
> You don't have to be a foodie to love the Pearl Farmers Market. Open Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., this farmers market is one of the city's most prominent places to spend a weekend morning. All vendors are located within 150 miles of San Antonio, so you can feel good about supporting local business while chowing down on a pastry or buying your week's groceries.
Once you've finished perusing the ever-growing rows of fresh produce, homemade soaps, local honey and artisanal goods, grab a seat and tap your toes to the live music. Bring your kids and let them run loose with chalk, or head out solo and enjoy one of the many mouth-watering breakfast options while trying to pet every dog in sight.
The Pearl Farmers Market is a true weekend destination. Every year it gets bigger and better, and 2016 is no exception. Take a trip and you'll see why it's been voted Best in San Antonio for the fourth year in a row.
2. Castle Hills Farm To Market
2211 NW Military Hwy. • (210) 259-8359
1800 Nacogdoches Road
WINNER: Cheever Books
3613 Broadway • (210) 824-2665
> Cheever Books smells like a used bookstore ought to.
It's a scent so specific that it can only be adequately described as "old book smell." It smacks you in the face when you walk in the door and lingers in your nostrils long after you've walked back out onto Broadway.
The source of the aroma is the thousands of tomes stacked floor-to-ceiling in the old, blue building, first opened in 1986. The store buys and sells books, and specializes in rare copies. Many of those are located to the left as you walk in the store. They include signed copies, limited editions and leather-bound titles like The Brothers Karamazov and works by Goethe. On the top shelves, almost brushing the ceiling, sit big-ticket items: 21 volumes of Ernest Hemingway for $2,750, the full works of Charles Dickens, the teachings of Plato.
Walking farther into the deeper recesses of the store incites the best kind of claustrophobia, as the high, cluttered shelves and makeshift stacks of books on the floor force bibliophiles to tip-toe between sections. There's a full fiction room across from a history section, which includes specific spots for San Antonio history, Texana and western migration in the United States.
There is something in the store for everyone, but you've got to actually go there to get it. Cheever Books doesn't have a website, which somehow feels right. It's the kind of place that must be felt, seen and smelled to be appreciated. Find a book and a spot to nestle into the stacks.
WINNER: Bike World
> Since 1971, the Alamo Heights institution Bike World has lived up to its name: if you can't find it among their stacks and upturned bike racks, it's not likely to exist on this planet of ours. Now operating at three locations — the original Broadway, the Pearl and Stone Oak — Bike World offers a staggering array of options and price points. From four-figure, road warrior beauties to starter cruisers and day-at-a-time rentals, the franchise has every essential and accessory to get you out of the car and onto two wheels for the morning commute. For those who prefer buying careworn beaters on Craigslist, Bike World's service technicians are truly unparalleled. If you give them a strict budget, they'll do everything within that penny-pinched limit to tune up your ride. If you just want that childhood heirloom rolling again no matter the cost, these mechanic/necromancers will work their magic to raise it from the dead.
1016 N. Flores St. • (210) 226-2453
1414 S. Alamo St. • (210) 858-0331
WINNER: Fleet Feet San Antonio
> The 1994 film Forrest Gump drops invaluable bits of wisdom in nearly every frame. But here's one that's stuck with us, courtesy of Gary Sinise's Lt. Dan Taylor: "One: Take good care of your feet. Two: Try not to do anything stupid, like getting yourself killed." The first part of that quote is especially sage advice and one of the reasons why we value a damn fine running store like Fleet Feet San Antonio. The store has been in business for nearly 20 years, and they have the staff and products to ensure your feet are taken care of while you're pounding the pavement (or trail or track, for that matter). They carry all the top brands, as well as necessary accessories, such as socks, tops and shorts. There's even a treadmill to help you find the best fit. Make note: The original Alamo Heights location will relocate to The Quarry later this month.
3. TIE: San Antonio Running Company
711 S. St. Mary's St. • (210) 246-2253
11503 NW Military Hwy., Suite 116 • (210) 698-7600
Alamo Records & Sheet Music
> Like an audiophile's Purgatory – a place with everything you could ever want in near-mint condition but knowingly priced – Alamo Records and Sheet Music is the vinyl buyer's great Catch-22: a record store that houses magnificent unfound finds and obscure wax, in every version, pressing and color you could want, but under the watchful eye of the record collector's record collector, a man who knows the worth, and what's more, the sonic value of every piece of wax in his stacks. True vinyl hounds come from far and wide to dig through the motley collection at Alamo Records. Originally opened at Eisenhauer Flea Market in 1990, the store moved to a basement on Houston Street in 1992 and eventually relocated to the third floor of the Antique Mall at the corner of Broadway and Travis in 2003. Owner Will Day has amassed a treasure trove of what must be at least half-a-million records, primarily from individual owners. From soul to country, conjunto, hip-hop and rock 'n' roll, the tight, cramped aisles of boxes, bins and containers are sure to include something for every type of listener. However, don't visit the space, also home to 15,000 pieces of sheet music, expecting to find the bargain of a lifetime. Day knows the value of his wares and, although fairly priced, you won't be sneaking away with any steals. You can, however, kill hours perusing through the impressive collection, looking for (and most likely finding) exactly what you've been seeking ... rare vinyl gems and a story from San Antonio's landmark vinyl institution.
WINNER: The DoSeum gift shop
2800 Broadway • (210) 212-4453
> Children's stores, even modest ones, can offer a kind of magic to visitors, whether they're browsing, buying or doing a bit of both. There's a sense of learning coupled with innocent joy and imagination, which is hard to find elsewhere. The DoSeum gift shop is a fine purveyor of this magical, nearly ineffable feeling of possibility. If you visit the shop after a few hours in The DoSeum, your mind is already primed for the thrill of discovery and the purposeful, experimental experience of quality play. And, as a children's store, The DoSeum gift shop is chock-full of toys, gadgets, puzzles, games, models and kits, all unique and all with an educational bent. Among the store's most novel and popular items are pre-made gift sets (designed by Retail Operations Manager Christa Simpson and her staff), customizable for age, interest and learning focus. Whether you're looking for a gift for a special child in your life or just looking to experience a truly awesome children's store, stop on by The DoSeum gift shop and prepare to be wowed. Note: it is not necessary to pay the admission for The DoSeum if you just want to pop into the shop.
WINNER: Alamo Antique Mall
125 Broadway • (210) 224-4354
2. Karolina's Antiques
1705 Blanco Road
1704 Blanco Road, Suite 102