If you want to truly understand a city’s unique character and culture, what do you do? Spend an evening at the opera? Take in the symphony? Line up for the hottest art exhibition in town?

Hell no. You go shopping.

The fine arts are, you know, fine and all, but it’s in the little stores, charming boutiques, and quaint emporia that a town really reveals itself to us. We’re not talking about every store, of course, not the ones that proliferate and multiply like so many clones in heat. No, it’s the special ones, the homegrown, the one-of-a-kind (or three-of-a-kind, maybe) that define us. There are hundreds in Houston to choose from, but we’ve gathered our favorites—exactly 101 of them.

Brutally reductionist? Perhaps. Know, however, that there was a method to our madness. No store could be on our list unless it was founded in Houston and is still locally owned. We also decided to exclude art galleries, salons, and other service-oriented businesses that don’t focus primarily on retail. Also nixed: stores dedicated solely to a specific life event, like getting married or building a house.

Why, you ask? Because we want you to feel free to stop when you pass any of these 101 storefronts, to pop in and shop—or at least window-shop—knowing that the wares inside each are truly special. Or better yet, pick a neighborhood and spend an afternoon exploring stores that are new, or just new to you. Whatever you do, though, just don’t send us the bill.

In This Feature:

101 Great Little Shops: Women’s Apparel

27 spots where style-setters shop for local finds and designer goods—plus, 5 resale shops and 4 places to look for your next pair of boots.

03/16/2015 By Sarah Rufca Nielsen

101 Great Little Shops: Men’s Apparel

Everything guys need to suit up or dress down can be found at these 10 shops. Plus: 3 food specialty stores (because shopping should be delicious).

03/16/2015 By Sarah Rufca Nielsen

101 Great Little Shops: Jewelry

Find a little sparkle for every budget at these 11 shops—plus, 3 museum shops for the artsy, odd, and unexpected.

03/16/2015 By Sarah Rufca Nielsen

101 Great Little Shops: Home

Class up the joint with antiques, accessories and other furnishings from these 32 shops—plus, 4 adorable shops for the little ones in your life.

03/16/2015 By Sarah Rufca Nielsen

101 Great Little Shops: Gifts

These 21 shops have the enticing extras that are perfect to give or receive.

03/16/2015 By Sarah Rufca Nielsen