With more than a billion sites vying for attention in the Internet marketplace, Stephen Sondheim's well-known lyric from the musical Gypsy holds truer than ever: "You Gotta Get a Gimmick." In that regard, Half.com came up with a dandy way to draw attention to itself: The marketer of used books, music, movies, and games has the distinction of being the first site with a town named after it.
Halfway, Ore., a hamlet of 345 located between the Oregon Trail and Hells Canyon, officially changed its name to Half.com last January, resulting in a flurry of newspaper and broadcast stories.
Gimmicks aside, Half.com happens to be an excellent place to get fabulous deals on a variety of merchandise.
"Half" is the operative word: Most of the 8 million products sell for half-price, with the site operators acting as a go-between for those with items to sell and those who want to buy. Some random prices: J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter & the Sorcerer's Stone, listed at $16.95, can be bought for 7$; Kid Rock's $18.97 "Devil Without a Cause" CD goes for $3.99, and the $50 PlayStation Madden 2000 Football game costs $20.
Prospective buyers can browse by category or search for a specific item. Sellers must say what shape the item is in - highlighted passages in a book, for instance, or a missing CD cover. Half.com acts as the financial broker and the seller is responsible for mailing the item promptly. Finally, if you're looking for something that's not currently available, put it on a Wish List or a pre-order form and the site will send an e-mail if and when it's offered for sale.
At the other end of the shopping spectrum this holiday season is Neiman Marcus, the high-end department store that this year offers the perfect gifts for people who already have everything. Heading up the store's so-called fantasy gift list on the store's Web site is a 118-foot luxury submarine that sleeps 11 and can run silent and deep at a depth of 1,000 feet. The cruising range will easily get you across the Atlantic. Cost: A mere $20 million.
If subs don't appeal to you, how about buying the little lady a necklace? It features 15 rubies totaling more than 80 carats, plus a 20-carat ruby pendant and 285 diamonds totaling 100 carats. Compared to the sub, these baubles cost a trifling $1.4 million.
Also tempting are an ice house, a 25-by-30-foot igloo "with entertaining accessories" beginning at $225,000; a 3,000-pound yellow "media cocoon" that looks like a concrete mixer and comes equipped with a dozen monitors, surround-sound, DVD, and PlayStation 2 for $7,000; or brightly colored His and Her Japanese kites, $2,000 for the pair. All the gifts are pictured, and a zoom button lets you take a closer look.
If you're looking for something to whet your appetite, there's no better place to visit than Roadfood.com, a mouthwatering site that offers reviews of thousands of restaurants from around the country. Its creators are Jane and Michael Stern, regulars on National Public Radio's The Splendid Table who specialize in down-home cooking - out-of-the-way diners, cafes, taverns, greasy spoons, soda fountains, and roadside stands. The categories range from cajun to caribbean, Portuguese to Hungarian, hamburgers to street-corner chow.
This is an ideal site to check before a cross-country trip. You can search by category, state, or restaurant, and each review contains a photograph of the establishment being scrutinized.
Some random examples: The famous Cafe du Monde in New Orleans, which specializes in delectable powdered-sugar beignets served right out of the fry kettle; Kewpee Lunch, once a nationwide chain that's dwindled to six restaurants, two of them in Lima, O., operating under the whimsical slogan, "Hamburger, pickle on top, makes your heart go flippety-flop"; the Blue Willow Inn, an old Georgian plantation in Social Circle, Ga., that serves an all-you-can-eat buffet loaded with fried chicken and green tomatoes, bacony pork, chicken and dumplings, biscuits, warm fruit cobbler, and much more; and the Yankee Doodle Sandwich Shop in New Haven, Conn., home of the Dandy Doodle Double-Double Cheeseburger. I'll take two, please.
Stories for kids
What a sweet new site for children: GoodnightStories.com lets children read, write, see, finish, color, and even listen to bedtime stories. Among the latter are Dr. Seuss's The Cat in the Hat, Joyce Dunbar's Tell Me Something Happy Before I Go to Sleep, and Martin Waddell's The Happy Hedgehog Band. Kids can join a club, compete with other children in storytelling, and play games. Of course, adults can help out by letting their youngster read them to sleep with one of his own stories.
If you have a Web site to recommend, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.