Art, schmart. We were just looking to get our toenails pruned.

So imagine our surprise when we sat back for our 7 p.m. pedicure session at this full-service salon, only to be startled by the sound of live guitar music. We opened our eyes and saw a table with punch and cookies, then noticed the abstract oil paintings on the walls.

We were in the middle of an art opening.

Turns out, Mood Swings plays host to local artists. The art -- for sale, naturally -- hangs on the très chic brick walls, and every two months, on a Thursday evening, Mood Swings hosts an opening, complete with live music by a salon employee.

Cultural enrichment and a foot rub -- what could be better?

Sorry you did it? Tattoos go on more easily than they come off -- but they do come off. And a consortium of community groups in Mesa will help you remove them if you're willing to put up with a little pain and a few hours of community service.

Started by the Mesa Gang Intervention Project, the tattoo-removal program was designed to get rid of gang tattoos as a first step toward getting people out of gangs. But program officials will bend the rules if you can make a good case for it -- and if you're willing to do the volunteer work required of all participants.

Area doctors, the Boys and Girls Club, Mesa General Hospital, Mesa Fire Department and others donate their time and equipment to make the procedure free, quite a savings since a typical tattoo costs $1,200 to remove. The laser removal -- which sounds and feels like rubber bands snapping at your skin -- takes several sessions, can be painful and in some cases leaves scarring.

But it will leave you with a clean slate.

Just because barbers spend on average three hours a year running their fingers through your hair doesn't mean they have to know how much you make or what you paid for your house. Rule of thumb, if your mother doesn't know something, why should your hair stylist?

That's why the silent scissors of Yury Yakobuv are such a godsend. Unlike snooty unisex salon stylists, this masterful mane man isn't interested in who cut your hair last. Show up with gum in your hair and he probably wouldn't bat an eye. He just lets you watch Ricki Lake or The Price Is Right or whatever's on his portable TV while he administers the comb dipped into blue antiseptic "Barbicide," the talcum on the neck, the hot foam shave, the razor around the ears, all the things you go to a barber for except conversation. You could be a regular for years and still never know what former Soviet republic he's from. He'd probably tell you if you asked, but it's more fun seeing how few words you'll need to part with beyond "short back and sides."

That oughta be on his business card -- "More Yakobuv, less yaks."

Finally, someone who understands a woman's deep, biological need for a new pair of shoes.

"A woman can spend three and a half hours upstairs [in women's clothing] and nothing's working, but they know they can come down and buy a new pair of shoes and they're happy," says Betty Di Marco, a sales associate at Dillard's in Paradise Valley Mall. "It's like a fix."

She's the best professional sole sister we've ever seen, and we've seen a lot.

So how does Di Marco do it? After fitting strangers' hoofs for five years at Dillard's and seven at a boutique in Boca Raton, Florida, she can judge your shoe size just by looking. She knows -- even if you don't -- whether you walk on the outside or inside of your foot, or have extra long toes (yuck) or have a pronated (forward-leaning) foot.

Fashionwise, same deal. You want white sandals, low heel but "look at my red toenails" sexy? She can pluck the stockroom clean without even scanning the displays.

Her advice for finding a good shoe salesperson?

If someone lays three boxes at your feet and doesn't open them, take your shoe fetish elsewhere. "That's a big clue. They just don't care," says Di Marco. "Of course, the shoes won't fit; they haven't looked at your feet. That's just a clerk."

We may not know feet like she does, but we've got Di Marco sized up. No clerk, she.

For service, inventory and professionalism, J. Stephens wins this one in a walk.

Small but well-stocked, Stephens carries the usual well-heeled brands. More important, however, it offers that fading American ideal: service.

We know of one fellow who went to buy a pair of new shoes and wound up with free replacements for the year-old but well-walked ones he was wearing. The cordial salesman spied the eroded inside heel of the right hoof, said, "That shouldn't have worn like that," and sent it back to the company. No fuss, all gratis and unrequested.

Al Bundy, eat your heart out.

We couldn't resist a $200 Armani suit at a local clearance shop, even if it was two sizes too big. Finding a tailor willing to fix this fashion find was another matter altogether. But George Nicolopoulos, owner and proprietor of Thomas Family Cleaners and Tailors, was happy to rip apart our new eveningwear and make it fit our frame.

The bill George presented was surprisingly small -- about $30 -- and big helpings of warm chatter from wife Kathy made the experience all the more delightful. So much so that we hauled in a pile of pants that needed letting out and an old soup-stained quilt. All were returned to us good-as-new in a matter of days.

What really makes Albertsons your store?

It's the zeal in which it displays those marginal items that hang off the shelves in the middle or end of an aisle, things like big salad forks or ice cream scoopers that can't sit on a shelf. Whoever is in charge of this unique product placement should be commended, at least by Happy Tooth, for placing Reach toothbrushes right next to the boxes of couscous and dental floss dispensers beside Millstone Golden Oats.

But why is a value pack of balloons hanging near the tomato juice? (Is there some sick fraternity gag we don't know about where you have to feign busting a gut in front of impressionable children?)

If you were to play word association, you'd never come up with some of these mental links in a million years. You say "Kellogg's Corn Pops" and he says, "Aaah, you want Baby Wipes." You say "Nutra Grain Bars" and he says, "Might I suggest a monkey-shaped cereal dish with a straw coming out?"

We can appreciate why cheerleader pompoms hang near the cupcake section, but we don't think we even want to know why there's Ozium Pocket Sized Air Sanitizer Spray over the canned Fish Steak. This just can't be good for sales!

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