Great Caesar's ghost! Did All About Books & Comics really win this category again? Hey, does Lois Lane have the hots for Superman?

A contender long before anyone ever heard of Spawn, Sandman or Witchblade, Alan and Marsha Giroux's fortress of funny books continues to be one-stop shopping headquarters for two generations of Valley comic-book geeks. In addition to thousands of comic titles (both new and used), the store stocks scads of related ephemera: sci-fi trading cards, James Bondabilia, monster-movie merchandise and, well, you get the idea.

Hey, what do you want us to do? Draw you a picture?

When the much-loved but cramped Book Gallery moved across the street to its new location last year, it was as if a handsome prince had been released from a familiar frog. And handsome is the perfect word to describe Book Gallery's new space, which looks like a classic library, without the stuffiness. The staffers are laid-back and friendly, and knowledgeable about virtually every volume on their shelves. Chairs and tables are arranged throughout, for the comfy perusal of merchandise ranging from beautifully preserved first editions and ancient signed hardcovers to more modern, but carefully chosen, coffee-table books. Rows of rich wood shelves with glass doors house the rarest and priciest volumes. Luckily, the store stays open late (10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays, noon to 5 p.m. Sundays), but with virtually every item here a gem, there aren't enough hours in a lifetime to fully explore the treasures of this literary museum.
Memorabilia collecting is built on the sunny premise that yesteryear's omnipresent junk is today's rare gem. That premise implies that the junkier the item was in its own time, the more wondrous it is in the sweet glow of nostalgia. The fine people at Pop Culture Classics understand this. Where else are you liable to find an unopened can of Billy Beer, as powerful -- and rare -- a piece of '70s Americana as you can purchase, for $25? The arcana doesn't end there. Whether you're in need of KISS makeup kits, Chewbacca masks, Doctor Who comic books, UNICEF Barbie dolls or Charles Barkley action figures, this is your one-way ticket to trash heaven. Just don't try drinking that Billy Beer.
Toto, I don't think we're in Blockbuster anymore.

Actually, dogs and Kansas farm girls are two of the few fetishes you won't find on the video shelves of Castle, an XXX-rated Oz catering to every carnal whim this side of the sex-crimes ward. Straight, gay, bi, pre-op, post-op, even libidinous midgets -- if it's bigger, longer, harder and uncut, you'll find it here. Shaved Clam Slurp, anyone?

In addition to the gulp-inducing VHS and DVD inventory (several jillion titles, all for sale or rent), Castle's embarrassment of raunches also includes more pre- and post-show entertainment than you can shake a strap-on at. Who needs popcorn when you've got a lapful of edible panties, flavored love gels, and some of the weirdest-shaped rubber doodads outside of a Firestone recall center?

Used to be that this place called itself Castle Boutique; now it's slickly marketing itself as Castle Megastore. If it were up to us, we'd rename the place KYmart.

Best Place To Buy Something For The Person Who Has Everything

Scottsdale Center for the Arts Museum Store

The gift shop at Scottsdale Center for the Arts is so entertaining that shows and exhibits at the center sometimes seem like a distraction from shopping. High-concept designs for traditional household items (ashtrays, flower bowls, trivets) fill one side of the store, while a children's section in the back invites exploration from all ages (check out the wacky marionettes!). Novelty items (a beaded bookmark, a boxing nun hand puppet), jewelry, musical instruments and a vast collection of hard-to-find jazz and world music have kept us here 'til closing time, stocking up on holiday and birthday gifts for our they-own-everything friends. The staff is friendly, and there's something to fit every budget.

So what happened to the extra flared pants that didn't get snatched up in the rush when today's thirty- and fortysomethings were in high school? More than likely, they're on the racks at Plush Living, labeled "new old stock" because they still have the original tags on them. Plush specializes in Disco, Pimp, Hooker and all that is '70s Baaaad, though occasionally some great '50s and '60s threads turn up here, too. We find it hard to concentrate on shopping, because we really like chatting nonstop with Curtis Gannon and Amy Bowling, the shop's hip proprietors. But we tear ourselves away to check out the upstairs for fetchin' furniture, with the emphasis on Brady Bunch Mod and I Love Lucite. Austin Powers fans will be happy here, as will anyone with a hankering for his old high school wardrobe.
We were bereaved when our favorite cassette tape, an irreplaceable treasure, finally snapped. When we found no listings in the Yellow Pages for audiotape repair, we panicked. Our home repair job (which employed an old pencil and some Scotch tape) was a disaster and, just as we were about to cry, someone suggested Tom Brightwell. This one-man wonder, a retiree with a flair for fixing busted audiotapes, is a best-kept secret if we've ever overheard one. Tom's word-of-mouth, home-based business employs secret but sophisticated technology, and his fair-minded pricing includes the repair to your original plus a tidy back-up copy, just in case.

This is the spot for Spot when you can't bear to leave him alone all day or you think he just needs a friend who will sniff his butt. The fact that this daytime-only facility is sparkling clean and odorless is a bonus that greets you at the door. The friendly staff provides a cage-free social opportunity for dogs (the dogs are screened for sociability first), and is serious about the nurturing and loving they dole out. Playrooms have durable tunnels and tug toys, and an outdoor playground includes a "facility" known as Potty Park. Inside, dog-friendly movies are shown in a room with couches, armchairs and beds (not to worry -- if Fido isn't allowed on the bed at home, he's not allowed on the bed at Ruff Life, either). Your pet receives a report card at the end of the day, detailing his behavior. A day (7 a.m. to 6 p.m.) costs $25, a six-hour half day is $17. Discounts are available to frequent visitors.

Best Place To Find An Apartment If You Have A Big Dog

Apartment Experts

Got a golden Lab that ought to wear a drool bucket? A German shepherd that eats couch cushions for fun? Finding an apartment when you have pets, especially dogs, can be taxing. But Tom Mastromatto's company, Apartment Experts, specializes in finding a place in the Valley (as well as in Tucson) that will welcome your precious pooch. He'll even find a home for your hard-to-place breeds such as pit bulls or rottweilers. The apartments pay Mastromatto a commission; the service is free to you and Fido.

Best Way To Feed Your Pet Without Getting Up Off The Recliner

The Pet Pantry

You've just settled onto the couch for a Charlie's Angels weekend marathon when you realize that Rover will be out of food before Farrah Fawcett's 12th swimsuit change. You could get off the couch, get dressed and fight traffic all the way to the local pet-food monolith. Or you could pick up the phone and call the Pet Pantry, wait a couple of days, and open your front door to find high-quality dog food waiting for you in a sturdy white bin. If you're in its delivery area, which includes all of central Phoenix, as well as Paradise Valley, Scottsdale, Cave Creek, Carefree and Fountain Hills, Pet Pantry will bring you canned food, kibble and treats for dogs and cats at prices generally comparable to what you'll find at brick-and-mortar stores. Now if it only delivered beer . . .

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