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|SHAVE AND A HAIRCUT:
Bob Mitton has been entertaining the follically challenged for 40 years.
Best Thrift Shop
Nabbing treasures — a sweetly embroidered granny apron, pink polyester raincoat, or glamorous art-deco ashtray — is increasingly difficult to do in Portland’s thrift market. Goodwill Industries is jacking prices and racking up “slightly irregular” high-fashion garb, and the Salvation Army is often so picked over that pilled acrylic sweaters start to look like finds. Yes, the influx of Rodeo Drive gear is exciting, but sporting an orange, silk halter top on more than a couple of occasions can be daunting for your average citizen. Also, while vintage and consignment shops are fun for browsing, you’re paying for the owner’s pleasure — they got to score the good buy. So what’s a second-hander to do?
Visit the nuns at the Good Cause Thrift Shop. With a seemingly endless supply of old Catholic ladies to collect from, the sisters at Good Cause rotate their merchandise regularly, charge a fair price for used goods, and in general, run a tight ship. (A little too tight, some say — one regular customer stopped going on account of a sign that read: “We reserve the right to search all baby carriages.”)
But, idiosyncratic window displays aside (Mary, hand me the creepy baby doll and the ceramic pumpkin head . . .) there is usually something worth having on the cluttered, crowded shelves of this Congress Street store. And watching the nuns manage the clientele is entertaining, too — on a recent shopping spree, a giant man clad in overalls, a shearling-lined denim jacket, and denim beanie discovered a trumpet hung above the register.
“Is this for sale?” he bellowed at the tiny old woman behind the counter.
“Why, yes it is,” she replied, with a firm, disciplinarian’s nod.
“Does it work?” the giant man hollered, and without waiting for a response, blew into the horn, which emitted an incredibly loud honking fart sound.
“Yes, it works,” the woman said, tugging her cardigan tightly around her middle. “Elizabeth? Elizabeth. ELIZABETH!”
Another elderly woman emerged from the back room, a striped bowling bag in either hand, to a squealing serenade from the tarnished instrument.
“Elizabeth!” the woman behind the counter yelled over the din: “How much is this trumpet?”
Good Cause Thrift Shop, 693 Congress St., Portland, (207) 772-4903.
Best Place to Get Hosed
|TWO RIGHT FEET:
Terra Firma stocks the best socks.
A good shoe store sells so much more than shoes. Hosiery, you see, is key. And we’re not talking about the $1.99 athletic socks you can pick up at Payless. We’re talking about row upon delightful row of knee socks, ankle socks, thigh-highs, tights, and everything in between. We’re talking about Portland’s hippest shoe store, Terra Firma.
Sales clerk Lori Dorr says the boutique has been “working hard to become the place where you come to get interesting legwear.” Any discriminating shopper would have to agree that all that hard work has paid off. Aside from wardrobe staples like black cotton tights (pick up a super-thick pair of German-made Stern Lein’s for $22 —ýthey’ll last you a decade of Maine winters), Terra Firma offers a whole universe of offbeat options. Witness the sockling ($9 to $10), a sturdy cotton/lycra creation by E.G. Smith that comes to just below the knee and is available in a variety of prints and solids. (The prints are all “space-dyed,” a thoroughly modern take on the thoroughly dated tie-dye.) Or, for the chillier months ahead, there’s the over-the-knee sock ($7 to $14). Pick up a pair in stripes, solids, argyle, or print, from a slew of trendy designers.
Dorr says knee socks of all makes, be they the kind that fall just below or just above their namesake body part, are by far the best seller in the store. Even in the winter. “People wear them over tights,” she says. “Or, if they’re wearing a long skirt, without any tights at all.”
Also a big seller as Christmas nears, Dorr says, are a particularly funky line of tights by Look from London ($19). With everything from anime scenes and Japanese kanji to extra-large-weave fishnets — and with more designs on the way — the only challenge is wrapping up these goodies and parting with them.
Terra Firma also stocks a limited but artfully chosen selection of handbags, hats, gloves, mittens, and scarves from many of the same designers who populate the sock section. Because your feet shouldn’t have all the fun.
Terra Firma, 611 Congress St., Portland, (207) 772-5613.
Best Use of Industrial Waste
What do you do with a dozen trash bags full of fabric remnants? A crate of surplus wooden dowels? Reams of leftover acetate and matte board? If you’re the Creative Resource Center, recipient of all manner of unwanted excess from Maine companies, you put a rock-bottom price tag on it and open your doors for business.
Founded in 1975 by teachers who wanted to “encourage the creative use of materials that were being habitually discarded by the Maine industry,” the CRC has become the place for thrifty crafters and odd-jobbers alike. The brightly painted Forest Avenue house is literally overflowing with recycled . . . stuff. Beads, belt buckles, corks, rubber stamps, film canisters, wallpaper books. A giant bag of string, 50 cents. How can you beat that? (There’s only one way: Become a member for $15 a year and get 20 percent off.)
Though most of CRC’s inventory just begs to be part of a fourth-grade art project (fleece? felt? every color!), there are also plenty of practical uses for these goods. Recently, a couple down from Ellsworth informed the cashier that they had stopped by the Center for the express purpose of harvesting some scrap material. “We’re going to make a canvas to cover our boat,” the wife said, nodding sagely.
Even if you don’t have a specific project in mind, the CRC is worth a visit. Helpful staffers have assembled idea sheets and booklets of craft instruction for the less creatively inclined, as well as fabric patterns and ready-made craft kits. For those truly in need of guidance (or just looking for some entertainment on a rainy afternoon), the staff offers a rotating schedule of crafting workshops that incorporate materials available at the Center.
And last but not least, CRC induces warm fuzzies for more than just its recycling efforts: The organization also works with shelters and nonprofits in the area, providing kids with, as the staff puts it, “environmental and educational materials that are designed to teach about human relationships and responsibility to the environment.” Warm, multi-colored fuzzies — $1 a bag.
The Creative Resource Center, 1103 Forest Ave., Portland, (207) 797-9543.
Best Gift of Gab
For many males, especially those not on the singles scene, getting a hair cut (or, rather, all of them — hah!) is more chore than errand. Generally, the barber with the shortest line, the quickest cut, and the lowest price gets the most business. But, for Bob Mitton, at Bob’s Barber Shop, slow and steady wins the race.
Mitton has been on Fore Street, in the Old Port, for 43 years now (at 342 up until 1970, and now at 343), and though the prices are still dirt cheap — $7 for a haircut, $6 for a shave — there’s nothing quick about a visit to Bob’s.
For one thing, the clients are a sophisticated breed, and they like to talk politics, so you know someone’s going to get animated, and often it’s Bob. It’s hard to cut hair when you’re waving your hands around wildly.
And Bob likes his jokes. Here’s a sampling from a recent visit:
“Man, it’s so cold out there, I saw a lawyer walking down the street with his hands in his own pockets.”
“My son, you know, he’s smart. He’s going to be a doctor. Me? I got kicked out of the sixth grade for dating the teacher.”
You get the Rodney Dangerfield idea. It wouldn’t amount to a hill o’ beans, however, if Bob didn’t give a mean cut. And, just like the Senior Citizens Barber Shop we’ve called the best in the past, he finishes you up with a straight razor. Now that’s a throwback.
Bob’s Barber Shop, 342 Fore St., Portland, (207) 774-2872.
Best Guilty Pleasure
Even those of us who are socially conscious — patronizing small businesses, eating organically, buying locally — occasionally slip. Who hasn’t, when they’ve forgotten to pack the free-range egg salad sandwiches, turned off the highway and ordered a Super-Sized Big Mac meal? And who is so strong that, on a depressing Sunday evening, they have never driven past all the great local bookstores to the comfort of a well-stocked Borders? However, the occasional trip to Wal-Mart may be completely outside the bounds of morality. Good thing there’s a Target here now.
Sure, it may be a big corporation (the country’s fourth biggest retailer), whose stores spoil virgin landscapes and push out mom-and-pop operations. But it’s just so darned convenient. At South Portland’s Target (the hipsters give it a French pronunciation), one can find just about anything a new apartment or home might require. And, unlike Wal-Mart, Target boasts wide aisles, neat displays, and upscale accoutrements of a fairly chic design. Plus, their commercials are way cooler than Wal-Mart’s. In fact, the place never seems to be that crowded, making for a relaxing shopping experience.
And speaking of guilty pleasures, a trip to Target never fails to trigger memories of John Hughes’s 1991 romantic teen-comedy Career Opportunities. In the movie, Frank Whaley plays loveable loser Jim Dodge, a chronic liar in his first night on his new job: night watchman at a Target. When über-popular rich girl Josie McClellan (Jennifer Connelly) falls asleep in the changing room as the store closes, the unlikely pair are brought together for a night they’ll never forget — they fall in love, battle a pair of robbers, and make plans to move to LA together.
As you wander floors that are as sanitized as Hughes’s script, and gaze at rows of brand-new product that are as fresh as those two young stars’ faces, it’s easy to see what inspired the famed Brat Pack director. Career Opportunities may not quite have stood the test of time, but Target still holds the possibility that, one day, you’ll be the lucky one to get locked inside overnight with Jennifer Connelly, her cleavage, and a large selection of brand-new sleeping bags at your fingertips.
Target, somewhere out by the Maine Mall, find it yourself.
Best Place to Rub Elbows
Buckdancer’s Choice music-store owners Phineas Martin and Tim Emery are a lot like expectant mothers. Their pride and joy is about to pop. Have you been in there lately? They’ve got cables, straps, amps, guitars, basses, picks, recording equipment, books, and sheet music stacked up to the rafters. Apparently, business is good.
It’s not hard to see way. For players of stringed instruments, there’s no better place to get what you need, be it equipment or some advice. See, the place is just as packed with musicians as equipment.
Tim Emery lays down the honky-tonk for the McCarthys (some of you may remember him from the country covers band, Streamliner), sure, but he’s just the top of the fretboard of musicians who populate the store. Former Twitchboy Todd Hutchisen, now of Vespertine and Seekonk, is almost always working the register. Jerks of Grass Carter Logan and Jason Phelps are usually giving lessons out back. Muddy Marsh Rambler Scott Conley fixes and makes guitars which he sells through Buckdancer’s (he’s got a 12-fret job coming out that will run more than $5000). These guys know their guitars.
And those are just the guys that work there. On any given trip, you’re bound to see local musicians eyeing Fender stacks they can’t afford, or picking up strings, and the hip-hop community has even been frequenting the place lately thanks to Buck’s reasonable PA rentals (something the Phoenix took advantage of for our Eder-Garrity debate, though we didn’t end up using amplification).
To top it off, they’re all nice guys. Word is, they’ve been putting up with jazz musician/historian Al Lowe’s daily visits for almost two years now, since he switched from sax to guitar.
Buckdancer’s Choice, 248 St. John St., Portland, (207) 774-2219.
Miranda’s Vineyard offers more than 1200 varieties of wine and is the third-leading seller of wines in the state, but what they really offer is knowledge, and lots of it. Owners Charlie and Holly Miranda have been collecting wine and pairing it with food for almost 20 years. The couple became famous among friends for their multi-course wine dinners that would leave guests staggering with delight. When the Portland Public Market opened four years ago, the Mirandas took all that knowledge and poured it into the Vineyard.
“We just love to turn people onto wine,” Holly says.
Not only does Charlie know about wine, but he knows a little bit about everything else, too. As a math teacher at King Middle for the last 20 years, Charlie has taught half the city how to figure out fractions and percentages. He’s also taught on Peaks Island and in Harlem, he’s driven a cab in New York City, he toiled in the sewers of Westbrook, he concocted colors in a paint lab on Commercial Street, he labored for a moving and storage company, and he’s coached football and basketball for 18 years at King and Portland High. Like any fine wine, Charlie has grown wiser with time.
And if one of the Miranda’s owners can’t help you find that special bottle, then 74-year-old employee Richard Tucker can surely help. Tucker claims to have been drinking wine since age three, and his father was partners with Frank Schoonmaker, one of the first American importers of European wines.
The Miranda’s specialty is helping you pick just the right bottle of wine to go with the dinner you have planned. To that end, they give classes about once a month with Holly cooking and Charlie pouring. If you want to sign up for the instruction, make sure to do it early, because these classes, which turn into roaring parties, fill up quickly.
“It’s all about the appreciation of good food and good wine,” Charlie says. “Its doesn’t have to be expensive, just good.”
Miranda’s Vineyard, 25 Preble St., Portland Public Market, 228-2016.
Best Art Supply Store: Artists and Craftsmen
Best Barber Shop: Bob’s Barber Shop
Best Book Store (new): Longfellow Books
Best Book Store (used): Cunningham’s Used Books
Best Clothing Store (men’s): Stitchez
Best Clothing Store (used): Goodwill
Best Clothing Store (women’s): Shop!
Best Comic-Book Store: Casablanca Comics
Best Furniture Store: Young’s Furniture
Best Garage: The Buggy Shop
Best Hairstylist: Akari
Best Jewelry: D. Cole
Best Laundromat: Soap Bubble
Best Musical Instruments Store: Buckdancer’s Choice
Best Newsstand: Joe’s Smoke Shop
Best Pet Supply Store: Fetch
Best Record Store (new): Bull Moose
Best Record Store (used): Bull Moose
Best Shoe Store: Terra Firma
Best Smoke Shop: Joe’s Smoke Shop
Best Sporting Goods Store: Olympia Sports
Best Tackle Shop: The Tackle Shop
Best Tattoo Parlor: Sanctuary Tattoo