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.

Best Store for Subliminal Product Placement

Albertsons

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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