Yeah, Sams = Wal-Mart = Evil Empire, yadda yadda. But good service is good service; were not gonna fault people for making a living. And maybe were naïve, but Keith and Rosalie seem to be in it for more than just the money. Theyre respectful, knowledgeable, efficient and, most important, friendly. Just because you work with the public doesnt mean you have to be nice to them. Being polite and friendly is a choice. Keith and Rosalie choose to be nice. So we choose to give them our business. And our Best of the Bay. 5135 S. Dale Mabry, Tampa, 813-805-6602, www.samsclub.com.
Hey, we love the independently owned haberdashers, but in all honesty we cant really shop there. We just dont have the scratch. Yes, these small stores do have periodic sales and you can ferret out good deals, but there are deals aplenty at Dillards, spread out over several thousand square feet and featuring an array of au courant designers. Bottom line: Unlike a lot of stores whose clearance racks are paltry, you can routinely get really good stuff here for 50 percent off and often get another 30 percent off of that. We havent shopped at all of the Dillards stores in Tampa Bay, but among the ones we have, the International Plaza branch has the best selection. 2223 West Shore Blvd., Tampa, 813-342-1220.
The problem with antiquing is that unless you know exactly what youre looking for, or have a really good idea about stuff thats actually worth (or not worth) a good chunk of your hard-earned dollars, its really easy to get ripped off. Sure, antique stores are great and all, but most of the goodies you find are pricey to say the least, and not always as old or as valuable as the collector would like to believe. The best Bay area location to find cool old stuff? South Tampa yard sales, specifically Palma Ceia and Beach Park. Most likely, this has something to do with the old money aspect, not to mention the areas standing as one of the most expensive places to live in town. But somehow, it seems that South Tampans have a greater need to shed non-essentials with little fuss, regardless of their subjective value.
There are several extremely good bait and tackle shops scattered about the Bay area, this being Florida and all. But if we have to spotlight one above all others, weve gotta go with Gandy Bait & Tackle. Six or so years ago, Gandy Bait moved half a block up the street from the little hut it occupied forever (the little hut is now the still-worthy All Pro Bait & Tackle), and has since become a full-service anglers one-stop, offering an impressive selection of live and frozen bait, an even more impressive selection of artificial lures and other gear, and plenty of credible advice from a friendly, knowledgeable staff. Perhaps most important, Gandy Bait keeps longer hours than most 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. Mon.-Thurs., 5 a.m. to 1 a.m. Fri. and Sat., and 5 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sun. in order to hook you up early or late. 4923 W. Gandy Blvd., Tampa, 813-839-5551, www.gandybait.com.
The days of the three-sport high school kid are basically over. Its all about specialization. Often before the age of 10, a child will have chosen a single sport. And then comes an entire pre-adolescence of training and playing in leagues. And instruction. Baseball, especially, requires expert individual coaching, which kids get in spades at the All-Star School. The large indoor facility, just a few months old, is located in an industrial park in St. Pete. Its been cordoned into sections with chain-link fencing and nets, in order to create several lanes for hitting, pitching and fielding instruction. Along with it are the usual menagerie of pitching machines and other gear. This is all well and good, but the value in a place like this lies in the coaching quality, and this is where All-Star excels. Owner Chris Wilson, camp director Pete Snyder and former major leaguer John Frascatore, along with others, run kids through creative drills. (They also work with teams.) The atmosphere is fun, energetic and, most of all, designed to make better baseball players. 4801 31st N., St. Petersburg, 727-528-3186, www.allstarindoortraining.com.
You dont need the address or even directions. Just follow your nose. The buzz-inducing smell of fresh-roasted coffee beans at the Naviera Coffee Mills in Ybor City (founded 1921) can be olfactorily detected from the Crosstown Expressway on a good day. In the front of the mills is the El Molino shop, selling a variety of the freshly roasted beans and shots of deep-brown espresso. Great specials, a wide selection and its cheaper than that ubiquitous coffee shop chain with the round green logo. 2012 E. Seventh Ave., Ybor City, 800-531-9587. You can order online at www.elmolinocoffee.com.
Runners-up: Botanica Day Spa
Youre looking for three things in a drive-thru experience: good food, quick service and exact change. Café Con Trey takes care of all three theres no better place for an on-the-run noontime egg sandwich and café con leche but our man Carlos is the key. Hes the anti-telemarketer, full of personality and warmer than your grandma. When he asks how youre doing, he genuinely wants to know. When he says good luck, he actually means it. And when he hands you the food, you have to hold yourself back from inviting him to hop into the passenger seat. It just wouldnt be fair to the next person in line. 2702 W. Kennedy Blvd., Tampa, 813-875-8739.
Teaching those group exercise classes looks easy, doesnt it? You learn the routines, climb the platform, turn up the music and off you go, whipping your minions into shape. But to be a truly good instructor takes something more and thats not easy. Katharine teaches classes at Lifestyle Family Fitness in Hyde Park: Body Pump, a weight-lifting session set to music; and RPM, a spinning class. Her style is to motivate through fun, humor and a bit of showmanship. Workout teachers who force out exhortations or try to conjure crowd response (Are we feeling GOOD yet?!!!) often fail. Katharine gets everyone up, smiling and into it without even seeming to try. 1610 Swann Ave., Tampa, 813-258-0500. Ask the club for Katharines schedule of classes.
7801 Park Blvd., Pinellas Park, 727-544-5319
Runners-up: Oldsmar Flea Market
Big Top Flea Market