Mountain and road bikers have long competed for attention, products and services at cycle shops. At Landis, salespeople won't choose sides; its philosophy is equality for all, whether you've got mud in your spokes or highway beer bottle shards in your tire.

This cover-both-sports philosophy won't confuse new bikers: Signs and a helpful staff make clear what each item is intended for. Salespeople can tell you exactly why one mountain bike breaks the bank at more than $2,000, while another sets you back only about $300. If you're female, they'll show you a line of bikes built for women. There are even baby-buggy bikes, so you can tote your tyke. Each of Landis' four stores offers bicycle repairs, and out-of-stock items are happily shipped from other locations. So get your bike, helmet, shoes, gloves or inner tube here, but take the feud outside -- on the pavement, or the dirt trail.

We've been in dressing rooms that have sent us screaming out of the store and straight to the nearest Yellow Pages in search of a plastic surgeon. It's curious that the millions of dollars spent by retailers on marketing research has not led them to this simple shopping truth: If you look ugly in the mirror, you won't buy the stuff you're trying on. (Here's our fancy marketing tip: Tone down the operating-room lighting and give people more than six inches between themselves and the mirror. That'll be a million dollars, please.) Neiman Marcus must have highly paid consultants, because its ladies' dressing rooms are like lovely studio apartments, with lighting suitable for a cocktail party. There's plenty of room to stand way, way back and squint your eyes at your reflection, if you're so inclined. If those mirrors don't make you look good, then you know you'll fare far worse under your office's fluorescent lighting. Buy accordingly.

Most dressing rooms leave us wondering why no one has bothered to mention our sagging chin and jaundiced complexion. Neiman Marcus, on the other hand, only sets the mood for some serious designer dud shopping. These dressing rooms are classically appointed and impeccably clean. An upholstered chair takes the place of the carpeted benches found in most other establishments. A mirrored wall allows you to view yourself head-to-toe without budging an inch, and a three-way mirror in the nearby and very private common area allows you to fully assess whatever assets you may have. What's more, Neiman's roomy compartments lock automatically, and an attentive but never bothersome clerk is always on hand to help you find the perfect fit.
How far do you run? How often do you run? What shoes are you using now? Are you flatfooted? Count on questions like these from the salespeople at Runner's Den. Selling you the right pair from the Den's vast selection is serious business to these clerks, most of whom are runners themselves. (One salesman has logged more than 100 marathons and teaches a community college class in marathon training.) These guys know the heartache (or leg-ache) that comes from shoe-related injuries, and don't want you to end up in, um, those shoes. They'll even make you do a test drive with an outdoor jog or a quick spin around the store. So runners, take your mark and lace your shoes.
Sure, we're slaves to fashion -- but not when it comes to our feet. Give us a pair of clogs or some close-toed Birkenstocks and we're delighted, style be damned!

Turns out, you can have both comfort and style. We were waltzing through life, happy in our brown clogs and our gray Birks, until we happened upon the selection at the Shoe Mill. The shop stocks a wide supply of the black, gray and brown basics, but we could take to the runways in leopard-spotted Danskos, flowered Dr. Martens boots, bright blue Simple sandals -- a rainbow of arch support.

The Shoe Mill has the best selection of comfortable shoes we've seen anywhere. The sandal-clad employees practice what they preach and offer knowledgeable assistance besides. We'd bet our bright red, closed-back Danskos on it!

A return policy at a thrift store? It's true. Savers has one and will issue store credit if you've made a fashion boo-boo. This comes in handy if you're costuming a kid's play, costuming a family, or costuming yourself and realized you should have gone to the dressing room after all, to make sure that spangly sweater set actually fit. Speaking of dressing rooms, here they're abundant and clean. Like the ads say, Savers really is "the thrift department store," and a lot of bargains can be had on its "Dollar Tuesdays" and ongoing half-off weekly color tag sales. This chain consistently shatters all "thrift shop" stereotypes: It doesn't reek; screaming kids are drowned out by piped-in "Everything Old Is New Again" Muzak; and -- because the friendly staff is forever restocking -- there's always something new (and old!) to find.
The clothes here aren't just old, they're insane. Wonderfully, utterly insane. Amiable proprietor Louis Merisola is quick to tell you why: His wife, Linda, is a show-biz wardrobe stylist who outfits actors for films and TV commercials. Which explains why you're likely to find more than one hot-pink marabou peignoir on display at this hip downtown boutique. In addition to new-issue, retro-look togs, Spine offers some incredible vintage items, like garish dinner jackets, shocking layered-chiffon capes, and the swankest period sleepwear and smoking jackets you'll find in town. Prices vary, but the time saved seeking a vulgar solid-gold-sequined trench coat or a Busby Berkeleyesque lamé-lapeled tuxedo is worth a couple of extra dimes.
For many crafty folks, bead parties have replaced paint-your-own-pottery as the creative outlet du jour. If you're looking for materials, head to Beads Galore International, Inc.

Tucked into a small industrial park, Beads Galore is easy to miss -- and easy to skip, you might think as you enter the cramped foyer and are asked to hand over your purse to a clerk as a security precaution. But step inside to a mesmerizing beader's paradise, with every color and touch from inexpensive glass to moderate crystal and ceramic to pricey semiprecious garnets, tourmaline and topaz. Beads Galore also has trappings such as trays and clamps to help you bead properly, and jewelers pliers, cutters, wire and clasps to turn your strands into bona fide jewelry. The friendly staff will assist befuddled beginners. Bead happy!

We've been to enough weddings to know that finding the perfect present for a bride and groom can be excruciating, far worse than buying an elusive Christmas gift for the "person who has everything." We've also seen the pained expressions of newlyweds as they unwrap some God-awful gift that they don't need or want. ("Oh, what a lovely set of crocheted doilies!") Crate & Barrel offers a fresh, modern take on household basics like dishes, linens, silverware and kitchen appliances -- cups and saucers fit for a French cafe, or a Japanese-inspired lamp to give the honeymooners a sexy bedroom glow. And couples can register for enough gorgeous matching furniture and accessories to outfit an entire house.
If such names as Knoll, Herman Miller and Thonet weaken your knees, this Scottsdale franchise of the Seattle store offers plenty of swank seats and remakes of classic modern furnishings to swoon on. It's all posh, with prices to match -- chairs can run you anywhere from $350 for a molded, laminated wood-and-steel one by Arne Jacobsen to $2,300 for Eero Saarinen's womb chair. Owner David Cline, a graduate of the design program at ASU, will feed you the tales behind the designs, like the fact that Charles and Ray Eames first began their patented process of molding compound curves in plywood to supply the Army with wooden splints during World War II. In fact, Cline can sell you one of those splints -- but we recommend something cozier, like the Eames lounge chair and ottoman. And Cline makes house calls, to help you decide which kind of design should go where.

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