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Best Of 2004

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Best Of :: Goods & Services

BEST OFF-THE-WALL GIFT SHOP

Looking for some political party favors? Get your hands on the "Axis of Evil II" finger puppet set, packing tiny versions of Bush, Ashcroft, Cheney and Rumsfeld. The first "Axis of Evil" set -- more global, just as terrifying -- partners Dubya with Saddam, Kim Jong-il and Khamenei. Shopping for kids? More inspiring (and less frightening) finger puppets include "The Revolutionaries" -- Che, Gandhi, Mandela and Trotsky -- and "Great Artists" (Monet, Kahlo, van Gogh and Dal’), as well as Composers, Philosophers and Psychologists (Freud, Jung, Anne Freud and the couch). The shop's full-size puppets are equally original: We spotted a scarab beetle, meerkat, lemur, cobra, pteranodon and a plumed phoenix -- plus a pimpin' poodle in a leopard-skin suit, black boots and red shades. In addition to hawking tee shirts, tabletop stages, and puppet paintings by local artist John Yaeger, GAPT houses puppet displays and, for the near future, the Puppeteers of America Bookstore. Titles range from practical -- Stage Fright: Health & Safety in the Theater -- to fanciful -- The Wisdom of Big Bird (and the Dark Genius of Oscar the Grouch): Lessons From a Life in Feathers.

BEST PLACE TO GET BLING BLING

It may look like your typical hole-in-the-mall diamonoid shop from the outside -- and even on the inside, if you only spend a couple minutes browsing the pricey engagement rings and watches in the display boxes. But loiter around the subdued Capri Jewelers for a while, and you'll see a clientele you usually don't expect in a mall jewelry store. "Aw, this is that place!" whispers a young black guy in an Atlanta Falcons jersey, pulling his three male buddies into the store and sitting down, awestruck, in front of a case showing custom-made colored-diamond pendants, rose gold rings and diamond dog tags.

The celebrity photos on the wall tell you immediately you're not at Jared's anymore: Satisfied bling-buyers, posing with the owner and saleswomen, include LL Cool J, Knoc-Turn'al, Ginuwine, Shaquille O'Neal and Junior Spivey, who reportedly paid a handsome fee to have his own likeness reproduced in 3-D on an exquisite white- and black-gold pendant. Here, diamonds aren't just a girl's best friend; Terrell Suggs and Joe Budden are cozying up on the rocks, too.

Readers' Choice: Tiffany's

BEST PLACE TO BUY LOCAL FASHION

These days anyone who can deconstruct a tee shirt and sew it back together feels the need to label himself or herself a "designer." While it's nice to see the local fashion scene grow, it can be frustrating to weed through the plethora of faux designers to find quality. Luckily, Mary Jane at Kontrive, a funky boutique in downtown Tempe, is around to help us on our quest for real fashion. M.J. features an eclectic mix of vintage furniture as well as accessories and clothing, highlighting the best that local fashion has to offer. The shop's buyers hand-pick work by Valley designers, and they've found an exciting mix -- from the expected regulars like Angela Johnson and T-roy to up-and-coming talent like Lauren Orciuolo.

Now that's what we call dressing for success!

BEST PLACE TO MAKE A STINK

Who would have thought that pineapple cilantro would be a best-selling candle scent? Or that some folks would rather light up a chardonnay than sip one?

No matter what end you like to burn the candle on, this is the place for you. Illuminations' line of signature candles includes everything from the traditional (cherry, vanilla, sandalwood) to the obscure (bamboo, lemongrass cilantro, mandarin cassis), and you can get your candle in just about any fashion: votive candles, floating candles, jar candles, pillar candles, tapered candles. You can even get a "Shadowbox Mirror," if you prefer to fix your hair by candlelight.

You glow, girl! (And guy.)

BEST PLACE TO BUY VINTAGE VIDEO GAMES

Sure, it might be cool these days to get your vicarious vid-screen thrills as a gun-toting hit man or car thief, but sometimes old-school gamers long for a simpler time when all you needed was the Konami Code to advance to the next level. So the plentiful stacks of classic titles for sale or trade at Games Plus are like a warp zone to yesteryear, with cartridges ranging from the gaming Stone Age (Atari 2600) up to the more recently outdated systems (Nintendo 64) and everything in between. The latest shrink-wrapped XBox, PS2 and GameCube discs are available, too, along with more new and used accessories than you can shake a SuperScope at. Owner Renny Mitchell and company have been in the biz for more than 27 years, long before any other used game shop pressed start, and it shows. The joystick jockeys behind the counter will even chat with customers about the latest online RPGs or -- more important to watchful parents -- refuse to sell restricted titles to the underage moppets who frequent the store. Thank goodness for the electronic baby sitter, giver of such pearls of wisdom as, "Shoot everything. If it blows up or dies, it was bad."

BEST PLACE TO RENT A MOVIE YOU'VE NEVER HEARD OF

Forget Hollywood Video and Blockbuster. And while you're at it, forget every rinky-dink indie video store in the Valley. The largest, most eclectic collection of videos is at Burton Barr Central Library, where you can rent everything from Elia Kazan's A Face in the Crowd and Robert Bresson's L'Argent to Luis Bu--uel's The Exterminating Angel and the complete PBS series of Brideshead Revisited. Want to watch a collection of silent Fatty Arbuckle shorts? Burton Barr's got it. Lindsay Anderson's O Lucky Man? It's got that, too. Like most library video collections, Burton Barr can boast its share of documentaries and educational videos. If you need a VHS bio of Hermann Goering or a course on how to pick a bottle of wine, it's still the place to hit. But what's surprising is the library's superior collection of foreign and art-house films, as well as classic Hollywood movies. Better than any video rental place in Maricopa County, and the price is right: i.e., it's free, bubba. All you need is a library card and a smile.

Readers' Choice: Movies on Central

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BEST OFF-THE-WALL GIFT SHOP: Great Arizona Puppet Theater

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