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BEST PLACE TO GET YOUR TEDDY BEAR STUFFED Phoenix 2007 - Dolls Bears & Surprises

The first time (and, okay, the second and third) we walked into Dolls Bears & Surprises, we thought we'd stumbled into the toy store time (and organization) had forgotten. To our plebeian eyes, the shop was nothing more than a mishmash of far-too-real looking dolls, particularly babies, crammed onto every available surface, staring at us. Our instinct: run. But our 5-year-old was enthralled, so we stuck it out (much the way we'll now sit through a circus, grinning at the scary clowns) and realized, on subsequent visits, what a treasure trove this little shop is.

It's located in the Strip Mall Time Forgot — probably not for long, given the hipster encroachment from the north (Postino, et al.) and east (The Vig). There's a drugstore a friend refers to as That Scary Drugstore and Secret Post Office (it's true, there's a post office in the back, very old-school) and a coffee shop actually called The Coffee Lady, who got pushed out at 40th and Campbell when La Grande Orange set up shop.

Okay, back to dolls and bears — and surprises. We had come to love this shop even before the aforementioned 5-year-old happened last Christmas to ask the mall Santa for "a bear with a suitcase with clothes from other countries." (Don't ever let your kid see a toy catalogue, unless you intend to earmark and save it.)

We were completely stumped. No amount of Internet research yielded an answer. In a panic, we called Dolls Bears, and — of course — the proprietor, Mark Besler, had the answer. "Yes, that's Muffy Vander Bear," he said. "And that ensemble would run you several hundred dollars; it's from FAO Schwartz." He waited patiently for us to put ourselves back together, then said, simply, "Come in. I'll take care of you."

That he did. He sold us Muffy and several sets of clothing, for well under $100, advising that we find a little suitcase elsewhere. (We scored one at Cost Plus.) Our kindergartener was thrilled, and so were we.

Who knew? Those creepy dolls staring at us have the right to have an attitude. Dolls Bears & Surprises sells high end collectible dolls including Madame Alexander, Effanbee and Goetz, as well as our beloved Muffy. And, it turns out, Mark Besler's not just a salesman, he's an artist. There's a whole page on his Web site showcasing the glass eyes he puts in collectible dolls, and more than once we've watched him repair an antique teddy bear. We hope he's in business for a long time — Muffy is already looking a little the worse for wear.

On a recent visit, we noticed a sign in the window warning that no new repairs will be taken 'til 2008. Hang in there, Muffy.

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