Best Of :: Shopping & Services
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.
Best Bike Shop
330 West University, Tempe
Best Bookstore -- New Title
Borders Books & Music
several Valley locations
Best Bookstore -- Used
Bookman's Used Books, Music and Software
1056 South Country Club, Mesa
Best Secondhand Store
227 West University, Tempe
730 East Missouri
Best Video Rental Store
several Valley locations
A few years ago, Charles Nolan quietly opened his shop in the basement of the venerable Luhrs Central Building across from Patriots Square downtown. He had a concept -- the hippest men's shop in town, and that was about it. Advertising budget? Hardly. Neon signs? Not in this lifetime. Word of mouth? You betcha. These days, Charles -- who doesn't even have a phone in his downtown haberdashery -- counts several Phoenix Suns as regular customers, and his clientele is growing by the month, eager to buy his primo Italian suits, his slick shirts, his excellent selection of ties. But Charles isn't just a clotheshorse. A major league jazz fan, he collects CDs, then sells them to his customers for a mere 10 bucks apiece. Finding this gem of a store isn't easy. But once you find Charles in Suite M, around the bend from Tony's Barber Shop, you're in for quite a sartorial treat.
The aromatic world that exists behind the plain-looking façades of this local chain stimulates all five senses, and possibly even your sixth. In what's best described as organized chaos, bins of exquisitely scented candles beckon you to dig and sniff and explore. The on-premises craftspeople work endlessly to turn out high-quality candles with new and unusual fragrances to suit every taste. Explore the nooks and crannies for an eclectic selection of candleholders and treasures brought back from the owner's frequent buying trips. And check out the shop's "container fill" program, which allows you to design your own creation for the price of the wax. Plan to shop early during the holidays, as lines have been known to form at the door of these popular gift-buying destinations.
Although lots of ladies only shop for a new swimsuit once a year, foxy Phoenician women consider bikinis a year-round wardrobe staple. This shop on North Scottsdale Road has the most fun, edgiest collection in town, ranging from modern-day Gidget florals to the barest Brazilian string bikinis, from brands like Body Glove and Bebe. It's hard to pick just one style when you have to choose among satiny blue leopard, neon flames or sparkly camouflage prints. The prices are reasonable enough to leave you with cash to buy a Hawaiian-pattern wrap and some sequined flip-flops, too. If you're feeling exhibitionist, you can even find something suitable for prancing around like one of the babes next door at Babes Cabaret -- a lace and rhinestone g-string with a pair of black patent platform stiletto mules, the classic frilly maid's costume or the naughty plaid schoolgirl mini-kilt, complete with matching plaid thong.
Who gets a rush out of visiting a fabric store? At SAS, the answer is anybody looking for the thrill of a good bargain, the delight of an unexpected find or simply to supercharge the creative juices. Stocked to the rafters with discounted merchandise, this labyrinthine shop is like a candy store for aspiring fashion designers. Dig through bolts of satins and silks, twills and tweeds of every hue. Let your mind wander as you consider 50 different types of lace. Then ogle the incredible assortment of trimmings. Boxes of vintage-look buttons, rolls of shiny ribbons and mesh, barrels full of straight-outta-the-'70s embroidered patches, and various zippers and snaps are there to hook you. We dare you to walk out of the store without a single new idea for a project.
This combination isn't likely to inspire a national chain anytime soon, yet it has the appeal of a toy-filled dream. Tucked inside an inconspicuous lab-like brick building, the wooden, glass-fronted cabinets give this place an Old World flavor that leaps from Galileo to This Old House. In one corner, old planes, chisels, saws, augers and plenty more are carefully displayed; in another are the beautifully cast and finished wood and metal planes in which St. James specializes. Across the store are those magical telescopes, including binoculars, for viewing the far away up close. If you want to talk optics, eyepieces, or the best way to see the next eclipse or that wobbling orb Mars, ask for Warren Kutok, Photon's owner, who's been scouring the heavens for more than 50 years.
Good thing for us that Simon Nisanov left his native Uzbekistan in the early '90s and landed here in the Valley -- we'd hate to have to travel to the former Soviet bloc country just to get a shave and a haircut. And we're pretty sure that we couldn't get one we liked as well from anyone other than Simon or one of his colleagues at this unassuming little shop stashed in a small plaza just behind an old IHOP. Simon and fellow ear-lowerers Arsen and Tatyana know their way around scissor and clipper cuts, beard trims, even straight-razor shaves, and the shop comes fully equipped with all the bells and whistles loved by those of us who prefer a good old-fashioned barber shop to any sort of salon. There's a wall rack stuffed with magazines, kitschy, outdoorsy wall art, corny joke plaques, a TV droning out brawling talk shows, and, of course, pictures of square-jawed models displaying coifs that you, too, can sport. So stop in for a trim. Simon and pals are true Legends of the Follicle.
Michelle Lombardi knows hair. She'll quickly assess yours and, in short order, can turn what might be a mop into a functional, optimally attractive 'do. Michelle offers cuts based on what looks best on you, not on her latest whim, and her always-flattering cuts grow out nicely, too. We know people who fly in from L.A. and San Francisco every few months just for one of Michelle's trim jobs (you know she's good if you can't find a better hairdresser in San Francisco). The added bonus? Unlike many of the people in her profession, Michelle is a charming, down-to-earth working mom who won't trouble you with grating gossip or ask you to be her personal therapist while she's snipping your split ends.
To be perfectly honest, we wouldn't say no to any spa, anywhere, any time.
But even in this rarefied category, there are places that stand out. Take your stressed and tired bones to the Phoenician's Centre for Well-Being (we had to shave points off their final score for the affected spelling, but they still win) and stay all day. Not only are the treatments excellent -- we recommend a "therapeutic" massage at $110 for 50 minutes, despite the ominous brochure warning that it's "not recommended for a first-time treatment" -- but the locker rooms are spacious and invite lolling and loitering. To splurge, try the Sanctuary package -- a body treatment (such as a wrap), a massage, a facial and a manicure/pedicure, at 50 minutes each, plus lunch, for $485, all gratuities included. Do not leave before spending, oh, a good half-hour in the "Swiss" shower. And take a nap in the Meditation Atrium. Sure, you could nap at home, but there's something about that tinkling fountain, the tropical foliage, the terry-cloth robe . . .
For such an unnecessary indulgence, a pedicure can be an awfully routine, ho-hum affair, more like a visit to the dentist that must be patiently endured than a delightful way to play hooky. If one is to spend money on such things, one should leave feeling pampered and a bit guilty. Carrie O'Hare clearly understands this. Her pedicures are like spa treatments, and bear little resemblance to the services provided by the many strip-mall nail factories around town. The lucky subject reclines nearly horizontally in a tilting chair, is given a heated neck pillow and bean bag to cover her eyes (or his -- Carrie does men's pedicures, as well). The lights are lowered, and the rest is, well, nap time -- unless you'd like to converse, because Carrie is lovely to chat with. But no small talk is required; just relax and look forward to great-looking, scrubbed, trimmed and paraffin-dipped toes.
Hair knows no shame. It's a wild and unruly creature that answers to no one and grows wherever it likes, without regard to appropriateness. Unwanted body hair has found a formidable (if gracious) foe in Jennifer Ann Tumolo. Jennifer waxes and tweezes anywhere you want, with a gentle hand and a firm technique, leaving behind a meticulously tended patch of smooth skin. With acute attention to detail, she adjusts both wax and waxing methods to accommodate changes in hair thickness and skin temperature. Thanks to her expert knowledge of skin care (facials are actually her specialty), even the most radical amount of hair removal has little effect on your freshly exposed epidermis. With reassuring words and a professional tableside manner, Jennifer makes body waxing a breeze.