Every owner of a lunky old professional Nikon or Canon has at one time dreamed of using his camera as a mace. This dream is the old bravado of old shooters in commune with the simple, perfect steel girth of the old pre-digital bodies.

But while most of us talk the talk, Jess Wells actually clocked a prospective thief with his Nikon FTN during a walk years ago back in New York City. A guy wanted his camera; Wells gave it to him upside the head. Major cred. Great story.

Try to find anything like it while buying a memory card at Best Buy.

Wells works at Lewis Camera Exchange, a store full of a little bit of digital but mostly soulful old F1 lenses and F4 bodies and Ilford paper and dangerous developing chemicals and oodles of institutional knowledge.

Vince Ruggiero started the store back in 1972. Most of his business still comes from ASU and other college students learning the fundamental arts and crafts of photography.

The digital age is hurting them. Five other real camera stores have folded in Arizona in the last five years because of lost revenue to megastores selling digital cameras and their memory cards.

But Ruggiero continues to survive, thanks to a loyal clientele. And clients are loyal because Ruggiero offers reasonable prices and, more important, staffers who know what they're talking about and love to talk about what they know.

Buffalo Exchange
Contrary to popular belief, you don't need a million bucks to look like a million bucks. In fact, if you have some groovy threads that you're willing to part with, you don't actually need any bucks, because Buffalo Exchange gives credit or pays cold hard cash for cool clothes. A steady stream of starving -- but apparently well-dressed -- ASU students keeps the racks at the University Drive location full of the latest in trendy, twentysomething fashion, some of it in mint condition and all of it for a song. How about a DKNY shirt for $15 or Abercrombie jeans for $20? You'll also find vintage stuff, tons of great shoes and purses, plus brand-new knickknacks like colorful tights, lip gloss and novelty books.
A Playboy Bunny stands in the entryway, holding a sign: "Playboy Presents: Bo's Funky Stuff." While she looks just as fetching as a five-foot cardboard cutout can, she's got nothing on the grass-skirted mannequin in the back, who -- with her dark hair and fringy eyelashes -- is a perfect, plastic, posable Catherine Zeta-Jones.

Pop goes the culture weasel at this ever-so-funky haven of '50s decor and soda fountain memorabilia. Nowhere else will you find a funky Mork & Mindy card game, a funky Clash of the Titans metal lunchbox, and funky old posters touting entertainment ranging from Vic Damone on the Pet Milk Show to Whitesnake's "Return of the Snakes" tour. A funky Hamm's sign features the beer's motto, "Born in the Land of Sky Blue Waters," next to a groovy moving picture of said land. Bo's funky animal selection includes a life-size stuffed camel with a moving head, and a ceramic dog with a Hennessy keg protruding from its neck.

Funky '50s fun includes an enormous Bob's Big Boy sign, a huge soda fountain and jukeboxes, one actually containing a song called "Cruisin' With the Fonz." Sure, Fonz was cool, but was he funky?

Last Chance Bargain Shoes & Apparel
Materialist hell on Earth is having good taste without the means to acquire good things. Well, enlightened losers, now you can have your career passions while still wearing Cole Haans. Welcome to Last Chance, the final resting place of all the stuff Nordstrom couldn't sell for what it was almost worth.

If you don't mind the swap-meet frazzle, and you are mindful of watching for flaws, you can make a killing here. It's not uncommon to pay $29 for shoes here that are selling for $130 within a mile of the store. Ten-dollar shirts are $50 anywhere else.

Again, though, being smart is the key. Most every Last Chance aficionado has reveled in a purchase only to find a hidden tear or stain at home.

After all, Last Chance isn't just a name, it's a dire warning. But it's also a challenge.

Hippie Gypsy
Even girlie-girls need a place to buy their pipes, screens, pokers and papers, and some are intimidated by shelves of monster-size bongs, ultra-pierced salespeople, tweaker gear, and other non-girlie things liable to adorn the inside of the typical head shop. If you're more tree-huggin' than skull-wearing, you can literally spend days in this Valley looking for a good selection of "pretty" ways to smoke your herbal tobacco blend amongst the angry-looking wares of most shops. The Hippie Gypsy has pipes shaped like flowers, embedded with glitter, and sporting seashells in their shanks. The salespeople are friendly, and let you browse through the incense accessories, clothing, and Jerry artifacts as long as you like. They have an incredibly diverse selection of hand pipes, water pipes and everything else you need to make the 4:20 meeting in style, but they cater to people who are looking for a bit more "pretty" in their paraphernalia.
Petite Chateau
Cherries happen to be particularly "in" this season -- not as sustenance, but rather as a style element -- and count on Petit Chateau to offer up baby wares adorned with whatever's of the moment, and in the prettiest way possible. This is a great place for moms and baby-gift seekers who need a break from the uniformity of Baby Gap and Babies "R" Us. Each piece of furniture and every baby tee is a treasure, and most likely an heirloom. Pretty baby!
Michael Robertson's latest furniture boutique remains the best place to find great deals on well-worn bibelots. On our most recent visit, we brought home a pair of mahogany-veneer bed tables, a mid-century modern desk lamp, and a Bionic Woman styling head (the spitting image of Lindsay Wagner!), all for less than 50 bucks. A return trip netted us a set of slightly worn vintage gardening tools, an overstuffed deco-era armchair, and a rusty old apothecary that we cleaned up and turned into a quirky spice rack. We've recently developed a sick affection for weird old oil-on-canvas portraits, and there's always at least one waiting for us. And we're not ashamed to admit that we get up extra early for Michael Todd's quarterly truckload sales, during which we elbow our way through a crowd of local designers and antique dealers for some of the best furniture deals in town.
You're nobody, darling, if you don't know Fleur de Lis. It's the florist of choice for the rich and famous in the Valley. An average wedding runs $5,000 with Fleur de Lis flowers. Regular clients are said to spend as much as $525 a week to decorate their mansions. That charity ball designed to funnel funds to cancer? Perhaps $25,000 of the contributions goes to pay the flower bill at the dinner.

Owners John Johnstonbaugh and Sandra Sanchez are on to something. Within the carefully cluttered rooms of a former ranch house, the duo creates daring flower sculptures like a re-creation of the Cirque du Soleil. Their biggest job involved some conspicuous consumers who spent $35,000 just on a New Year's Eve party. "Lavish" and "decadent" are the words du jour here, with the most exotic flowers of the world arriving daily, then sprinting out the door to the melodic ching-ching of the cash register. It's a lucrative game, this petal pushing.

Best Place For Wardrobe Time-Traveling

Spine

These days, the cycle of fashion is so speedy that the amount of time it takes for a piece of clothing to run the full course -- from chic to tacky, then to vintage status -- is barely more than a decade. Not every vintage store owner seems to be aware of that, and some shops' selection is stuck in a certain era. But the people at Spine have their fingers on the pulse of vintage trends, catering to everyone's tastes. A person seeking out 1950s cocktail dresses may not pounce on the same things as someone who favors Dynasty-era pouf dresses. Yet you'll find both at Spine, along with '60s bowling shirts, glam '70s leather jackets and timeless, comfy cords.
It's a guy thing: sitting in an old, hand-crank chair, talking weather and politics with some fellow your dad's age while he trims your hair. For those of us who disdain salons, who want to relive our childhood ear-lowerings, or who just really like the sound and feel of a good, old-fashioned electric razor cut, Sal's Barber Shop is the place to be. It's a follicle-friendly blast from the past, all the way down to the red-and-white-striped barber pole and the big jar full of combs floating in that weird blue stuff. Jersey native Sal Gurrieri has been cutting hair for 50 years, and his shop continues the time-honored traditions of barbery -- among them a talcum-powder brush-down and a waiting area stacked with back issues of Playboy. Even better news: A shave and a haircut -- or a dye job, permanent or beard trim -- will run you only a little more than they did in the good old days.

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