I live in Australia so I won't comment too much on the stores except to say that I have heard of B&H, so they have an international reputation.
I landed in the digital world with a Nikon Lens, so my first SLR was a Nikon. I bought the D50 and it is a fantastic camera, people cannot believe I am not a long standing professional photographer. I loved this camera so much that I ordered a Nikon D80, the images are superb.
Does this mean I think Canons are rubbish? Absolutely not! Having held the 350D and 400D in my hands I prefer the feel of the Nikon, but that is personal preference. To my mind, I grudgingly admit that the Canon seems to have better sensors, but Nikon seems to have better optics. This too can come down to the specific lenses or camera body you buy.
Either way you won't go wrong at the SLR end of the market, the shots if well taken will be quite presentable. Over 50% of the considerations come down to personal preference.