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Goods & Services - Staff Picks 

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Best selection of gold by the pound

Magic Mall
2155 W. Colonial Drive

Nameplates! Doorknockers! Gucci bamboo hoops! Cuban links, herringbones, dookie ropes! Medallions! Dog tags! Caps and grills! On strictly utilitarian purchases like these, it just makes sense to seek out rock-bottom prices. To ensure you're not getting ripped off, hit one of the many gold stalls at the Magic Mall and pay by troy weight, with no poncey designer markup.

Best 24-hour gym for nerds

1355 Bennett Drive, Longwood 407-406-5946,

Familab is a "hackerspace": a tool-stocked workshop where creative thinkers of all stripes can come together to teach and learn. Software coders, makers of robots, steampunk solder-monkeys – all can meet for classes in microcontroller platforms and Python programming language, or slip in at any hour to use the 3-D printers, laser cutters and power tools. (It's like the best shop class ever, minus the angry eight-fingered teacher.) If you would prefer to geek out over Arduino and RFID technology rather than kettlebells and endurance gels, this is the 24-hour-access key card to have in your wallet.

Best party venue you never knew existed

The Acre
4421 Edgewater Drive,

There's probably a reason you don't know this place exists, and it's because, by and large, only those in the know have used it as the rustic-in-all-the-right-ways venue for parties, festivals, photo shoots and celebrations. It sounds trite to say it, but trust us, this place is magical. It's a little compound in College Park comprised of quirky and rough-hewn garages, barns and outbuildings that have been restored and landscaped just enough to give the place class, but not enough to make it feel generic or precious – instead, it kind of feels like an eccentric neighbor's backyard retreat, a cross between a serene commune and an artist's studio. Owner Tim McMahon has been working on the place diligently, and he hopes to use it to host weddings, shows and parties. If you're not into the outdoors, and the idea of having your guests wander through various buildings, as if in a half-awake dream, sounds more like a nightmare than a party, this place is not for you; but if the idea of holding your wedding/birthday party/whatever in a sterile hall or hotel ballroom makes you cringe, you probably want to check out the Acre.


Best selection of bike messenger bags

Ace Metric Cycles
444 W. New England Ave., Winter Park

There's nothing more perfect – or important, if you're using your bike for more than just recreational riding – than a well-designed bike messenger bag. You want something lightweight, but sturdy. Comfortable, but practical. And of course, you want it to look cool. Ace Metric carries a small but well-curated selection of some of the most well-designed and fashionable bags we've seen – Burro out of Jacksonville, Makr bags (made in Winter Park) and a handful of structured, minimalist bags made by the makers of Linus bikes with padded sleeves so you can safely transport your laptop. Now you have no excuses not to bike to work.


Best indie convenience store

Handy Pantry
522 E. Amelia St., 407-423-8954

In the brave new world of Aldis, Super Targets and Walmarts (not to mention 7-Elevens), Handy Pantry, located in the middle of Lake Eola Heights, recalls the charm of old-timey corner stores like those still found up in New Jersey or Massachusetts. Literally a mom-and-pop shop – a mother and father practically live there seven days a week – Handy Pantry offers a decent selection of wine and beer to accompany your typical snack-bag fare. But the real treat is the homemade sandwiches; the deli counter offers a variety of them named after downtown streets (our favorite is the Cathcart!), which you can eat there or rush home with in your laundry-day sweats. They also play host to the neighborhood association's annual block party, which is more fun than it might sound.


Best museum store

Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art
445 N. Park Ave., Winter Park

Technically, there are probably more adventurous museum gift shops out there – ones that sell a wider variety of the tchotchkes and trinkets and coffee mugs and so forth that have become de rigueur at most museum gift shops. We like the gift shop at the Morse because, like the Morse itself, it's true to form. It focuses on American arts-and-crafts inspired pottery, glassworks, jewelry and bowls, stained-glass panels and accessories modeled on the designs of Louis Comfort Tiffany, to whom this museum is dedicated.


Best place to buy local art in your underwear

Twelve21 Gallery online store

Twelve21, already rockin' it since 2010 with exhibitions of local art stars and lesser-known discoveries, has added online shopping to the mix with their new website. Check the store, put some art in your cart, and choose shipping or local pickup: easier than Amazon. (Actually, there's no good reason you couldn't go to one of the openings in your underwear. Just don't tell them it was our idea.)

Best relocation

Sam Flax
1800 E. Colonial Drive

We were sad when we heard last year that Sam Flax was moving out of its longtime location on the corner of Shine Avenue and Colonial Drive. In our minds, that was the Sam Flax building: Quirky and loud from streetview, complete with a portrait of the business' founder and a mural by Orlando artist Andrew Spear painted on the side, and packed to the hilt with paints, easels, pastels, canvases, portfolios – a working artist's store if ever there was one. But then we saw what they had in store for the new space, just up the road in an old furniture gallery on Colonial. Lots of room to browse, an expanded retail space for gifts and stationary, plenty of floor space for demos, workshops and classes and art markets in the parking lot on weekends. And if we missed the artwork on the old building, the new artwork is even more impressive: Spear's company, Metro Finishes, painted the facade of the building to make it look like it was inspired by Mondrian, and three more murals by local artists – Spear, Swamburger and Charles Marklin – grace the wall next to the store entrance. It's a welcome jolt of color and energy on an otherwise dull strip of Colonial Drive.


Best stuffed animals

Walnut Animal Society

Local artisan Lauren Alane Bradshaw, previously known to Etsyers for her needle-felted birds and custom wedding-cake toppers, has bested previous adorable efforts with her Walnut Animal Society collection. Each Wes Anderson-esque fox, bunny, bear or what-have-you is filled with sustainably gleaned kapok, exquisitely stitched and hand-finished, and costumed in removable clothing. The pristine members of Bradshaw's Society are more keepsake material than kid stuff, but they're nearly irresistible to anyone still in touch with that inner child.


Best homebrew supply

Heart's Homebrew
6190 Edgewater Drive

Heart's Homebrew, a nondescript shop in a strip mall on Edgewater Drive in College Park, is our go-to place when we get the yen for making our own beer and wine. The store has a wide range of homebrewing kits and booze-making equipment that'll suit the novice and advanced homebrewer alike.

Best expansion of the local food movement

Homegrown Food Co-op Farm Store
2310 N. Orange Ave.

Since Homegrown has opened its storefront on Orange Avenue, it's only gotten better – more local produce, more local meats and dairy products, a wider selection of prepared treats like popsicles and heavenly homemade flans. But even better: The store is now open seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., which means it's super-easy to put your money where it belongs – in the hands of local farmers and producers in our community who grow and raise the food you put on your table.

Best vegan meth

Free ice chips at Artichoke Red
1813 N. Orange Ave., 407-898-3353,

The candy "ice chips" given away free with purchase at Ivanhoe Village vegan supply depot Artichoke Red are homemade, tasty and, well, vegan – all traits that ought to make them unimpeachably wholesome. But the little plastic baggie filled with translucent whitish chips does bear an unfortunate resemblance to Nazi cold. Sweet and habit-forming, though perhaps (thankfully) not as addictive as the street variety.

Best local Zucks

Crunchy Logistics
189 S. Orange Ave., Suite 1530-B

Young entrepreneur Neil Dufva and his small team of tech-y imaginers at Crunchy Logistics have a thing for interactive screens – big ones. Investing millions into R&D paid off for the Orlando-based pioneers when they unveiled – via viral video, naturally – what they call the "Padzilla," a 70-inch, fully functional iPad that can double as a conference room tabletop, a check-in tool at a luxury hotel or, as currently on display at various Hard Rock Hotel and Casinos, a multimedia tour guide. Next up for the Padzilla: Xbox 360 Kinect integration, retinal technology and, well, a really big carrying case.


Best place for green thumbs

Lukas Nursery
1909 Slavia Road, Oviedo, 407-365-6163,

As a newbie gardener, you need to know one thing above all else: how not to kill your plants. Which is why we love the sprawling Lukas Nursery in Oviedo. The place is staffed with a welcoming and helpful group of Florida-certified horticultural professionals who'll help you get to know your root rot from your dry rot, and the plant selection is adeptly sorted by variety, height and tolerance to sun exposure. But the best part about this nursery is its Butterfly Encounter, a year-round butterfly conservatory where you can not only watch swarms of pretty, colorful insects flock to the nectar-rich flowers but also feed them from your fingertips.


Best way to preserve floral arrangements

Keepsake Floral
724 Brookhaven Drive

If you've been married, you know: Brides spend an asinine amount of money on wedding floral arrangements. If you've dished out all that cash for something that's just going to wilt and die anyway, it makes sense to try to get some kind of long-term keepsake out of it, right? It just so happens that Keepsake Floral, a nationally renowned company featured in pubs like Martha Stewart Weddings, calls Orlando home. The company's custom floral-preservation packages range from $100 for something simple to upward of $800 for more elaborate packages. Shadow boxes, glass displays, framed mementos – you name it, they offer it. Keepsake Floral's 10-14 week processing time might seem lengthy, but we're talking about memories here. Plus, your only other option is to let your floral investment go to waste, right? Trust us, it's worth it.


Best nostalgic voodoo

Treasures and Artifacts
1263 S. U.S. Highway 17-92

Deep in the heart of one of 17-92's many strip malls lies a film lover's must-see: A Hollywood memorabilia and antiques shop – a "uniqueatorium," in fact – where old McDonald's tie-in toys rest in peace beside a 1969 Dark Shadows board game with a boy's gameplay notes still inside. The best part: Ask nicely and the owner might show you his Marwencol-esque, self-assembled and painted G.I. Joe action figures, reimagined to suit his own dream world.

(Sorry, no information is currently available for other years in this same award category.)



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