Providence's Alternative Source!

The Best

[] Best argument against speed reading

The Be Here Now Bookstore & Center will slow you down, all right. Even if you don't notice the photographs of Hindu gurus and Tibetan rinpoches, just perusing the shelves of the primary categories -- psychology, philosophy, and world religions -- will get you into a meditative state of mind. So will the incense that greets you along with the open smile of proprietor Karen Nygaard when you step in the door. She's been running this business for 15 years and has gradually expanded the subjects to such categories as health and women's studies. She started out mainly selling new titles, but now her stock is about half used books, supplemented by her occasional cross-country book forays. Although "While Driving, Just Drive" is a good Zen aphorism, spiritualism and New Age CDs and books on tape are also available, for sale or rent. 227 Thames Street, Bristol, (401) 253-4099.

Best places to get phunked up

Four years of steady business at Phunky Stuff has helped create a successful chain of shops, including the offshoots It's All Good and two Off Tha Hook locations. The Christmas season brings in wall-to-wall business in the typically crammed quarters. The selection of blown glass (ranging from $25 to $390) is infinite at Phunky Stuff, and the requisite back room cove is filled with water and hookah pipes in all shapes and sizes at reasonable prices. The store is split in half with separate entrances; one side is devoted to the 18-plus demographic in search of "tobacco-use only" equipment, body cleansers, and safe cans designed to lessen hassles with John Q. Law while he kindly tears apart the interior of your automobile without provocation or explanation. The other half of the shop sells hundreds of hip-hop and R&B mix CDs, body jewelry, lava lamps, and clothing, including must-have Tony Montana T-shirts. 553 Park Avenue, Cranston, (401) 941-2647.

Best jersey nook

"I never thought I would find one around here!" an ecstatic Pack fan friend commented while scooping a Terry Glenn jersey, enthralled with the selection at Continental Ltd., a 40-year-old downtown treasure trove for those of us who cannot afford the outrageously priced Mitchell & Ness gear. The tiny stockroom and high ceilings (literally wall-to-wall jerseys) has a midtown NYC feel, covered with a wide range of jerseys priced a few bucks cheaper than the paltry selection in the local mall. Choose from at least 50 Reebok NFL and NBA player jerseys, with quality embroidery replacing the light mesh Champion replicas of years past. This is the first place in town to offer new Redskins and Seahawks uniforms, as well as "alternate" color jerseys. Where else could you find star RBs LaDainian Tomlinson, Ahman Green, Warrick Dunn, and Shawn Alexander? From rookies like Shockey to Broncos vet Ed McCaffrey (!), Continental has it covered. And of course the NBA Nike "Swingman" jersey is a hot year-round seller. Carter, Kobe, and Shaq jerseys are played; the kids are now clamoring for names like Darius, J-Rich, and Rasheed -- and old-timers are already on the hunt for a Charles Oakley Wizards jersey. And if they don't have it, they'll go out of their way to find it. So the next time you hit Geller's for yet another pair of vintage Air Force 1s and three sets of matching laces, peek in next door and complete the mission. 128 Washington Street, Providence, (401) 421-4721.

Best leather not in a biker bar

Who says a belt has to be one of those ordinary ones with a row of unaesthetic holes that you don't need and that ruin the looks? And why can't your belt use a clip, instead -- or have a cinch ring that keeps the design elegantly simple and makes a mystery of how it opens? Get it made by leather craftsman Jim Manson of East Bay Sandal Co. and you can have it your way, custom-fitted. Better yet, have Manson make you sandals to order. Pick a style and he'll do line drawings of your feet, accounting for high or low arches and the stray bulging bone. You even come back for a second fitting, to make sure everything's just right. Your feet will feel as fussed over as a couple of cute little twins in bespoke suits. 93 Gibbs Avenue, Newport, (401) 847-7645.

Best place to dig in the crates

If Fred Sanford were still in business, his multimedia section might resemble the diamond in the rough Music Magick Compact Discs & Tapes, which has long been a coveted spot for pre-owned CD, DVD, and even VHS rummaging. Random, hole-in-the-wall record shops are the way to go to stretch the almighty dollar, whether buying or selling. Music Magick assists the 25-plus demographic scouring shelves for long-lost emcees that the franchise retailers would never think of stocking. It's a guarantee you'll dig up something you haven't seen or heard on disc in over a decade. A recent visit helped fulfill a DJ's wishlist, picking up pioneer hip-hop from Kwame, 3rd Bass, Pete Rock and CL Smooth, and Special Ed. Most compact discs are priced to go for $5.98. And with the addition of PlayStation 2 and X-Box video games offered at super-low prices (including ol-skool varieties for Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo), Music Magick is a one-stop spot for buying, selling, and salvaging. Look for the blue awning way, way down Smith Street -- it's worth the trip. 1806 Smith Street, North Providence, (401) 353-8580.

Best gifts for your feathered friends

If those colorful visitors to your backyard are flitting by too fast for you to look them up in your bird book, you might want to pay a visit to the Bird Nest, which bills itself as "A Wild Bird Lover's Paradise." Owner Janet Marshall will hand you a free chart listing which birds like which seeds and advise you on not plying hummingbirds with pumpkin seeds and orioles with nectar. You could really get in good with your feathered friends here. In shelters alone there is a range for you to provide, from large cedar or plastic houses to tiny rush enclosures with little holes for wrens. Marshall, who opened the shop at the end of March, says that seed and feeders have been selling best, though her offerings extend to pricier items such as bird baths and high-end Nikon binoculars. 2462 East Main Road, Portsmouth, (401) 682-BIRD.

Best bronze flamingo birdbath

Well, if Aardvark Antiques doesn't have that in stock, how about a life-size bronze rhinoceros? For the past 30 years the shop has been providing moneyed householders and imaginative architects such items as stained glass, mantle pieces, fancy iron gates, and even fancier outdoor fountains for, and from, Newport mansions. In the last decade they have begun specializing in elaborate bronze statuary. Think Versailles with a sense of humor. Their outdoor display alone is a stroll through Alice's Wonderland. Giant tortoises here, stately ibises there and, yes, an aardvark here and there. Lions and tigers and bears? You bet. One Chinese lion has wings like the griffin of Occidental mythology. Water spills past nymphs and dryads in one working fountain, past arc-necked swans in another, and spurts from the mouth of a sinuous dragon on a third. We've come a long way from lawn jockeys, baby. 475 Thames Street, Newport, (401) 849-7233,

Best new sauce for charity

One of Buddy Cianci's most lasting physical legacies may be a simple jar of marinara sauce that raised money for scholarship funds. Now Michael Dressler, of Porino's Gourmet Foods, has joined in by creating several kinds of pasta sauces, with a portion of the purchase price donated to local New England charities such as food pantries and homeless shelters. Porino's has a tasty "tomato-and-basil" variety that takes some of the work out of making "homemade" lasagna; a serious porcini mushroom/Kalamata olive that is rich with olive oil and romano; and even a "pink vodka" sauce that dresses up frozen ravioli, gnocchi, or cavatelli. The label says that these sauces are "kettle-cooked in small batches" and though they do contain corn syrup for sweetener, they can be forgiven for the generous nature of their company. 280 Rand Street, Central Falls, (401) 726-6601.

Best use of hot air

You see them when you drive by, in any month of the year. Like the Venetian craftsmen from whom they are descended, the glass blowers at the Glass Station, co-owner Eben Horton and his many apprentices, have infinite patience for this ancient art. The small white-hot furnaces that bring the shapeless blob of glass at the end of a long pipe to a blowable, moldable temperature give off so much heat that even on the coldest days, the two garage doors of this former gas station stand open, beckoning curious passersby to watch the magical process. Just as magical are the end products, displayed in the tiny adjacent space, overseen by co-owner Woodi Woodring: globes and balls that could ornament a tall Christmas tree, vases, goblets, beads. Colors twine and twist through the shapes, and on a sunny day, the whole shop glitters with light. 318 Main Street, Wakefield, (401) 788-2500.

Best way to beef up those vegetables

Everyone knows that an eggplant, properly prepared, can be as hearty as a hamburger. But in order to grow such hefty veggies, you have to have rich, fertile soil, not the leftover dirt beneath your lawn grass. You have to feed that dirt with compost, and by far the best in the state is at Earth Care Farm. A heady blend of organic materials goes into the compost made by Mike Muerner and his family: gurry (fish scraps), shellfish, and seaweed; manure and bedding from Roger Williams Park Zoo (including elephants and camels); the same from farm animals, especially horses; leaves, wood chips, vegetable, and flower trimmings. It takes exactly one year, with at least 12 turnings, to compost those items into nutritious soil food. An average garden (600 square feet) could use a yard and a half of compost ($45 per yard). 89 Country Drive, Charlestown, (401) 364-9930.

Best imaginatively designed stuff

How'd it happen? Or, rather, not happen. With all the international cachet of Rhode Island School of Design grads, why in the world did this place open only a year ago? Anyway. Now there's a venue for the creative outpourings of alumni and faculty at risd | works. What a range. Simple, graceful handblown mercury glass bowls by Laura Kramer ($40). Or maybe Jeffrey Davis's way-cool bowls pressed out of old vinyl LPs ($35). Jan Baker's calligraphy-bedecked pillows ($50). James Dieter's curvilinear punch-pattern lamp ($340). LeeAnn Herreid's metal ruler bracelet ($40). David Bradford's photograph collection, Drive-By Shootings, taken while working as a New York taxi driver ($19.95). And don't forget industrial designer Roy Thompson's elegant gun-metal black Master lock ($14). Great stuff. Come December 5 through January 4, there will even be a "Small Works" show of one-of-a-kind art works for $500 and under. 2 College Street, Providence, (401) 277-4949,

Best replacements for fingerpainted overalls

The first kiddie clothing manufacturer who starts producing their entire line in Spandex will make a fortune. If there's anything that grows faster than those teensy compressed sponges you throw into water, it's tykes. Paying for new clothing your little ones grow out of in a few weeks is good preparation for paying for their education, but otherwise it's just frustrating. That's where consignment shops like Baby Boutique come in handy. You'll pay more than at Goodwill, but you'll have a wider choice and better chance of finding brand names. There are more than duds to check out. Kids also grow out of ice skates and in-line roller skates, available here for as little as $10. There are usually a couple of cribs and plenty of fancy strollers. The place gets a lot of grandparents buying them to keep around for visits. 36 Charles Street, Wakefield, (401) 789-8620.

Best recourse for wide guys

And narrow women. Foot-wise, that is. Just as every woman doesn't wear a size 5 dress, men can't wear dainty James Bond's Church & Co. brogues because their feet are EEEE (so called because of the sound emitted when they try to fit into James Bond-size brogues). For one female friend of ours, shoes that are merely extra narrow still flop, so she searches high and low for quads, usually to no avail. There is, however, recourse. Since 1950, Yorker Shoes has been catering to the formidable of foot. They stock some brand names, too. Birkenstock and Dansko. Clarks and ecco. Here no salesperson needs to find a thinner shoehorn to scrunch you into those Bostonians and then watch you hobble and wince. Men's sizes from 8 extra narrow to 17 extra wide; women's 6 extra narrow to 12 extra wide. 1503 Hartford Avenue, Johnston, (401) 274-2211,

Best complication of a simple pleasure

If you know those people who mix dreadful powdery substances with water and call it coffee, for mercy's sake, help them. Get them one of the offerings at Majik Café -- a coffee shop whose house blend contains no fewer than five varieties: Columbian Popayan Supremo, Mexican Altura, Brazilian Monte Carmelo, Indian Monsoon Malabar and, in the dark version of the blend, some extra Sumatra Mandheling to allow longer roasting. Eight bucks a pound. In total they offer 15 blends, 20 single origins, plus seven decaffeinated beans. "Bird Friendly" and worker-friendly fair trade sources are promoted here. You can work with coffee connoisseurs Mark and Christopher Olivieri to develop a custom concoction. You can have the label printed with the blend name you specify, and the formula will be kept on file for future orders. Designer caffeination. What will they think of next? 7726 Post Road, North Kingstown, (401) 667-0255,

Best place to rekindle that old flame

"We just always wanted to have our own small business, and it turned out to be a really good thing," says Rhody natives Robin and George Simeon. Well, the owners of the Robin's Nest picked the right spot along the bustling and historic shopping trail in the heart of East Greenwich, part of the eye-popping array of festive shops on scenic Main Street. The perfect little spot offers tons of Yankee Candles (the Macintosh Apple is a best seller), incense, the popular Boyds Bears for every occasion, and other goodies designed to brighten the old lady's day or simply mask the funk emanating from your boyfriend's living room. A candle is probably the most versatile gift for family members or significant others, whatever the intended result -- romantic, therapeutic, apologetic -- and, most importantly, they're not too expensive. Avoid the elbow-to-elbow nonsense of mall shopping and the cockeyed wicks and odorless fire hazards offered by the larger "candle outlets." Friendly mom 'n' pop owners, walk-in traffic, and word of mouth have contributed to the Robin's Nest success during a steady 10-year run. 36 Main Street, East Greenwich, (401) 885-7717.

Art & Entertainment | Romance | City Life | Food & Drink |
Issue Date: November 22 - 28, 2002