Normal Heights is populated by people looking to spend their money locally. The shopping along Adams Avenue is fun and friendly, as one shopkeeper after another made sure I hit a neighboring store, their friend's store or even their competitor's store.
If you're looking for books, you have two good choices here: The Book Tree (3316 Adams Ave.) and Adams Avenue Bookstore (3502 Adams Ave.). Around since 1965, Adams Avenue Bookstore was the mainstay of what was a bustling book mecca in Normal Heights. This two-level store has a library-like feel and specializes in theological studies, cookbooks, children's books and military history. I found the inventory to be eclectic, diverse and a bit scholarly. The Book Tree, two blocks down, finds its niche in fiction, self-healing, metaphysical / spiritual and sci-fi. Half of the books at The Book Tree are used, so you can pick up great titles for not much money.
If you're looking to scratch your artistic itch, you might try Andrea Rushing Academy of Fine Arts (3535 Adams Ave.), Visual Art Supply (3524 Adams Ave.) and Art of Framing (3333 Adams Ave.). The day I stopped by Rushing's gallery, there was a lively class of acrylic and oil painters busy at work. I was invited to watch and ask questions and encouraged to attend a session—all levels are welcome. Visual Art Supply specializes in urban-art supplies, including spray paints, nozzle tips for the cans, acrylic and oil-based markers and a variety of other art supplies. Visual also hosts two art shows a month. In addition to being a frame store, Art of Framing also displays a variety of colorful and creative handbags, original artwork, glass and ceramic art objects and several jewelry lines. I had my eye on a necklace by artist Lisa Confetti made with a piece of pressed mosaic in a large pendant splashed with brilliant colors.
The retail-oriented shops on the north side of Adams will keep you happy, too. Stuff (3514 Adams Ave.), a furniture consignment shop, is well-named—it's stuffed with reclaimed, re-purposed and one-of-a-kind pieces. Owner Scott Haring walked me through the store and pointed out fixed-up items that had come in broken or worn. I found a wonderful old mahogany secretary desk with a flip-out top for $259. I also spied a tiny 8-inch-wide entry table for $110 in an espresso stain.
Elos Shoes (3404 Adams Ave.) is a beautiful, newish store offering modern but classic footwear for men and women. This loft-style store carries styles from Miz Mooz, Bed Stu, Pons and Clarks, among others. I couldn't resist a pair of silver Pons—they're made in Spain of soft leather and recycled tires in a classic sling-back espadrille style.
I did a quick browse through Nickelodeon Records (3335 Adams Ave.) to take in history through stacks of fantastic old records, posters and memorabilia. The owners buy and sell mainly 1940 through 1970s vinyl—I could have chatted with them all day. To quell a midday thirst, I stopped by Bine & Vine (3334 Adams Ave.) and found a small-batch-brewed root beer to sip while I gawked at the excellent wine selection from mainly Italy and France. Next, I popped into Villainous Lair Comics (3371 Adams Ave., a block down from Villainous Lair Gaming) and took in a visual and auditory lesson on its vast selection of collector comic books, video games, board games, role-playing games and collectables. My last stop was Back to Tombuktu (3564 Adams Ave.), a deceivingly large store filled with crafts from all over the globe, but mostly from Mexico, South America and Japan. I picked up a brochure on its craft workshops, as the shop does many classes based on art for Dia de los Muertos.