Best Of 2010

Twin brothers Bob and Jim Margherio opened their Kirkwood Hardware store three decades ago, yet it's still humming. How can a 5,000-square-foot retailer survive in the age of the big-boxes? Simple, says manager Jeff Armstrong: customer service. Whether it's painting, plumbing or electrical, he and his staff have done it all with their own calloused hands, and they'll always slow down and offer thoughtful advice — unless, that is, you need your power tools fixed ASAP or your keys copied in a jiffy. Local contractors favor the shop because the in-and-out is quick: no big parking lot, towering aisles or long checkout lines. Certain old-school policies remain in practice, such as running tabs for familiar folks and even lending out tools. "We're on the honor system here," Armstrong says. "It's either sell them a $30 tool or let them borrow it. Yeah, I missed a $30 sale. But I gained a customer. And our customers are loyal."

Attention, future brides: The 2011 Vera Wang catalog is out, and there is nary a spaghetti strap, let alone a sleeve, to be found in the whole damned thing. And as Vera Wang goes, so goes the bridal nation. If you do not have Michelle Obama's upper arms, prepare to attach yourself to a pair of dumbbells for the length of your engagement. If your house of worship has a dress code or if you have an unsightly tattoo (or what your future mother-in-law believes is an unsightly tattoo), get ready for the wonderful world of shawls and bolero jackets. And oh, did we mention, that coverup is gonna cost you even more than what you were prepared to drop on the gown itself? (Aw, don't worry! It's your wedding day! Who cares if the final bill ends up approximating the GNP of a small island nation?) But if you're not on board for all this trauma, or if you're afraid that, in twenty years, your strapless gown will look as hilariously dated as those early-'90s butt bows, you'll want to go to Chatfields Bridal Boutique, which has positioned itself as the only "modest" salon from here to Salt Lake City. Owner Debbie Welcher is a kind woman. She won't look at you with unmitigated scorn if you confess that you don't want to spend more than $1,000, or that you happen to be larger than a size 8, or that you don't actually want to wear a strapless gown. She'll even smile as she tells you that, no matter Vera says, everything's going to be OK.

Call it retro, call it vintage, just don't call it old, because the wares at the Future Antiques, or TFA, are anything but outdated. You could easily lose yourself in room after room of furniture, clothes and decorations as classically American as June Cleaver's pearls. After sixteen years of business, TFA has perfected the art of finding the diamonds in the rough of estate-buyout sales. The folks here specialize in mid-century items that are clearly chosen for their appeal to this century's eye and aesthetic; everything can be easily integrated into your modern-day life. What TFA sells is in great condition but still has the personality and true vintage style that can't be found in plastic re-creations. And thanks to the store's chic displays, Grandma's kitchen gadgets and Great-Aunt Myrtle's hats and dresses never looked so fabulous.

Successful hostesses will tell you that it's essential for any great party to have a mixture of guests from a wide range of backgrounds. A great mall is sort of like that, too. It shouldn't just specialize in stores full of things the average person could never afford to buy — or stores full of cheap crap that the average person would never want to buy. Instead, it needs stores to sell both things you yearn for and things you settle for (and actually take home). West County Center has such a mix, as evidenced by its three anchors: Nordstrom for the high-end shoppers, JCPenney for the bargain-hunters and Macy's for the in-betweens. It's got Claire's and Coach, Spencer's and Brooks Brothers, Dairy Queen and Godiva. And it's got Chick-fil-A! Shop on.

Euclid Records has had a busy year. The record store opened a second outpost in New Orleans, released the debut CD from Troubadour Dali on its newly formed record label and continued with its Euclid Sessions series of limited-edition 45s. What's lost in the hubbub? Its selection of used CDs continues to be the best in the city. Although the store's "this just in" bin has always overflowed with classics old and new — we're talking both indie favorites and KSHE staples — the store's entire selection has become a buyer's market. The number of people going digital and dumping their CD collections (or deciding to opt for MP3s over CDs for future purchases) has been a boon for stock. Albums that used to be rare are now easy to find — and as an added bonus, they cost even less than what you'd pay to download 'em.

Paint Supply Co. already has a pretty plain name, but those who frequent it tend to simplify that even further: the paint store. It's that essential. The Ash family has operated out of this old-school building in Tower Grove South for more than half a century, and even though they're crowded on one side by big-box home-improvement stores and on the other by stores connected to the biggest paint companies (Benjamin Moore, Glidden), no one can match Paint Supply Co. for quality, price and especially friendliness. For those who haven't settled on a color, the store carries the full spectrum of Devoe paints, but if your heart's set on this season's hottest color from one of the big boys, the store has a computer to match the color precisely — for a more reasonable price. You won't be compromising on quality, either, because the base paints at Paint Supply Co. are topnotch, be they matte, eggshell or semi-gloss. Not sure what you need? That's when Paint Supply Co. really shines: This staff knows paint, and they will guide you to what you need efficiently but kindly. Of course, Paint Supply Co. provides all the other stuff, too: brushes, drop cloths, rollers and more. Even after one visit, you'll find yourself dropping the uppercase letters. There is only one paint store, and this is it.

Amateur porn sucks. Someone had to say it. A decade-plus of Internet porn — free or almost free, easily accessible from the privacy of your own home, of seemingly infinite variety — has convinced some viewers that lumpy, pimpled everyday Janes and Joes are just as sexy as the stars of the adult-film business. But it's just not true. For the good stuff, the Jenna Hazes and the slick Wicked productions and the reliable work of Hustler and that old poon-and-ass hound Rocco Siffredi, you need the adult-video store. They don't come any better than Spankys Video, which is clean, bright and organized for the connoisseur by production company, star and fetish. (Not a connoisseur? Don't worry. The cover of each DVD makes the subject of each movie more than apparent.) You do have to pay a price — most newer titles will run you about $40 — but it's worth it for the hard bodies and actual, you know, production values. And if you don't want to rid Internet porn from your life entirely, never fear: A wide selection of Internet-legend Bang Bros titles are available.

The terminology of framing can be frightening if you don't get things framed much — and that applies to most of us. So it's nice to go into a frame store and meet a guy like Dave at the Great Frame Up in the Central West End. He doesn't hold your hand literally, though it can feel that way as he calmly explains the differences between various mats and why some frames cost more than others and why you need a little bit of space between the glass and the paper. Best of all, when the time comes for him to give you a price quote, he does it so calmly and reasonably, all you can say is, "Frame that sucker up!"

If getting your first tattoo is a physically harrowing experience, then choosing which shop to go to for it is nearly impossible. What if the artist laughs at you? Is the shop clean? Can you trust them? While touring St. Louis' many ink shops, it's easy to get caught up in the details. The argument for Trader Bob's Tattoo Shop, however, is simple: Without a few thousand happy customers and good reviews, it wouldn't be the city's oldest ink shop, in business since 1930. (Indeed, asked why they're the best, they simply crow, "Because! We're the best! Eighty years can't be wrong!") Another perk of choosing Trader Bob's for your fresh ink is the specialization. The shop does only tattoos, not piercings, which means you won't be subjected to fifteen-year-old Brittany, whose OMIGOD SO COOL! mom let her get her bellybutton pierced for her birthday, and who's being accompanied by four of her loudest friends. Come to think of it, that may also explain Trader Bob's longevity.

Don't walk into Pudd'nhead Books looking for an indiscriminate hodgepodge of every book ever written on a particular subject, piled up like so many boxes of drill bits at the Home Depot. Owner Nikki Furrer and children's and young-adult buyer Melissa Posten have carefully edited their stock, so they sell only the most essential books in every category. And, oh, about those categories... Forget "Memoir" and "Thriller." Pudd'nhead has "Books by Really Cool People" and, in honor of Stieg Larsson madness, "Oooh, More Swedish Thrillers." Pudd'nhead's booksellers are omnivorous readers; between them, they've probably read just about everything in the store and are more than willing to chat about the book you're about to buy or, after a few astute questions, advise you about what you should read next. They're also open to suggestions; Furrer has added several books to the store's collection based on customer recommendations.

The plantation-style chairs and heavy wood-carved wall art on the top floor is handsome. The mermaid rain gauges and Airstream birdhouses on the main floor are whimsical — funny, even. But the oversize flowerpots and out-of-season holiday decorations are why you're here. Or should be, anyway. The Bug Store's cellar is an ever-changing trove of one-off clearance, discontinued or occasionally damaged home accents. That might mean scoring lovely fall harvest decorations just in time for Easter, but who cares? Stock up. Besides the small army of garden gnomes and flock of windsocks, there's a surprising amount of monogrammed goods — think coasters and wine glasses — that make thoughtful hostess or housewarming gifts. At the Shaw location, half of the downstairs space is devoted to discount pottery: For the oversize mosaic pots and the rich, earth-toned planters, errant chips do nothing but add character and lessen prices.