Best Of 2016

WINNER: Bussey's Flea Market

18738 I-35 N. (Schertz)

(210) 651-6830 •

> 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.

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.

Alamo Records & Sheet Music

125 Broadway

(210) 212-4200

> 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: Shades of Green

334 W. Sunset Road •(210) 824-3772

For more than 30 years, a plant nursery just off Broadway has offered the finest in organic gardening — and it’s also a great place to just enjoy the scenery. The pet-friendly Shades of Green, in itself, is one of the nicest gardens you could relax in, with trickling water bubbling from fountains scattered throughout a complex that’s filled with everything from red-tinged Japanese maple trees to exotic-looking desert roses. One staffer said during a recent outing that Shades of Green’s organic specialization has garnered the nursery notoriety around the country and world because they were ahead of the curve when it came to understanding the dangers of using toxic substances to grow plants. This is also a nursery for gardeners of all levels. The staff is helpful and accessible. And there’s much more than plants, although there’s a ton of those. There’s a smattering of fun pots and planters sprinkled all through the garden, from the most basic ceramic pot to brightly colored planters of all shapes and sizes. If you haven’t planned to spend all your green by the time you’ve meandered throughout the extensive nursery, the gift shop has plenty of cool stuff, too; from fanciful sculptures, to tools, to gifts for the kids, to books about gardening, South Texas native plants and more. Good luck just trying to visit without purchasing a new addition for the porch.