Each of Merrifield Garden Center’s three locations overflows with thousands of plants throughout the year, encompassing such variety that a reporter for CNN’s Eatocracy claimed “I might as well endorse my paychecks straight to them…because I always want to grow what they've got.” Knowledgeable garden experts, 25 of whom have been with Merrifield for 25 years or more, guide customers through row upon row of flowers, trees, shrubs, and other plants, or help them sort through an extensive selection of bulbs and seeds. Visitors may also bump into the founders themselves, or their children and other family members, 38 of whom still work at the thriving business that started 40 years ago. Merrifield doesn’t just proliferate plants, however; amenities such as cafes in Gainesville and Merrifield and a dog park in Gainesville make each garden center into a leisure destination as well. Three of its garden gurus run an hourlong TV show that's been going for more than two decades, and other staff publish gardening advice on the website and Facebook. The staff also work to protect the environment with a variety of eco-friendly initiatives. Besides stocking native plants and water-saving devices for their customers, they also compost more than 20,000 tons of soil and 25,000 cubic yards of brush left over from their comprehensive landscaping services every year. The Gainesville location also gathers old concrete, metal appliances, and rusted Optimus Primes for recycling free of charge.
Before Comfort One Shoes' sole experts are allowed to fit a single shoe to a customer's foot, they must graduate from Comfort One University and undergo a mentorship process. It's only then that they can help shoppers find their desired footwear, whether it be lace-up Ziera boots, On running shoes with CloudTec technology, or Thierry Rabotin shoes, handmade without uncomfortable, rigid components. Alongside men's and women's footwear, the shop stocks an assortment of bags and accessories such as colorful iPhone cases from Triple C Designs that protect phone exteriors and conceal scratches from the last time you transformed into a werewolf.
Comfort One Shoes also seeks to better the world through creative philanthropic efforts, such as collecting 25,000 shoes for those without and offering their employees half their pay and time off to volunteer in the community. Perhaps such initiatives are part of the reason Comfort One Shoes earned the National Shoe Retailers Association’s Retailer of the Year Award in 2011.
Founded by local track coaches Rob Dulin and Jason Grant, The Running Store combines professional service with a large stock of running and walking shoes to fit patrons with the footgear that best suits their needs. Knowledgeable staffers provide complimentary foot, shoe, and gait analyses to shoppers, including electronic foot scans to determine weight distribution and treadmill-based walk/jog investigations using special cameras and jumbo contact lenses. Equipped with new knowledge of their nether hands, patrons are then free to choose from a selection of shoes ($90+) or moisture-wicking apparel ($30+) built for bipeds of every variety.
Golfsmith's online and in-store storerooms house an almost endless list of golf gear for men, women, and children alike. Clubs, balls, and accessories from brands such as TaylorMade, MacGregor, and Callaway give players precise control over their game, and polos and long-sleeved shirts from Nike and Snake Eyes garb players in course-appropriate attire now that tuxedo T-shirts no longer qualify. Along with the extensive collection of equipment and golf bags, Golfsmith also carries GPS systems to give players a high-tech edge and tennis gear to help them overcome the bunkers’ tricky nets.
The style-savvy staff at A Formal Affair spiff up patrons for fancy occasions with a plenitude of formal wear, rentals, and accessories for all shapes and sizes. Bodies can get gussied up in a Max and Cleo dress (up to $168), while appendages bedizened with stately jewelry ($25–$200) catch the light and the attention of eligible magpie bachelors. Customers can also create a sleek foundation for glamorous ensembles with wrinkle-free Spanx undergarments ($30–$100), or add a touch of majesty to Scrabble victories with one of A Formal Affair’s elegant tiaras ($100–$300). An After Six Sand dress suit rental ($149) dapperizes gentlemen, helping them get a figure as sharp and sophisticated as an ice pick quoting Tennyson.