Best Of :: Shopping & Services
Those of you who bemoan the behemoth chain stores conveniently forget the many times Tower Records has saved your ass by having the record you were looking for at the last -- and we mean very last -- minute. Sure, when you're buying CDs for yourself, you can take your sweet time shopping around and getting a used copy of a Nick Cave album at half the list price. But when you're buying your little sister that copy of *NSYNC's first album, the cool, smaller shops won't have it. What if you have to give it to her today? Even last-minute Internet enablers like Amazon.com can't get it to you the same day and, let's face it, that's when the very last minute falls.
Tower's airy new location at the Desert Ridge Marketplace has 14,000 square feet of CDs, cassettes (yes, places still carry them), videos and DVDs, plus an array of current magazines and stereo equipment. If you want to buy a Puccini CD for your dad, or that Raffi CD for your mom that she enjoyed playing more than you did, chances are it's in stock. A recent last-minute inspection to fill holes in the ol' record collection found the store carrying a dozen Hole CDs -- and six by a blues guy with the unfortunate name of Dave Hole. Their prices ranged from $12.99 to $14.99, with imports hovering just below the $20 range, besting the everyday regular price of your mark-up mom-and-pop fave.
Heck, why stop there? Check Tower's Web site to see what they have in stock; you can pretend it's Amazon and special-order a title. So cross yourself, ask your mom-and-pop outlet's forgiveness, clutch that Ziggy Stardust 30th-anniversary set that no one else in town has, and go to bed without any supper.
BEST BOOKSTORE -- NEW TITLES
Borders Books & Music
several Valley locations
BEST BOOKSTORE -- USED TITLES
Bookman's Used Books, Music and Software
1056 South Country Club Drive, Mesa
BEST SECONDHAND SHOP
227 West University, Tempe
730 East Missouri
BEST BIKE SHOP
330 West University, Tempe
BEST MOVIE THEATER
several Valley locations
BEST PLACE TO RENT A SUPERHERO COSTUME
Bert Easley's Fun Shop
509 West McDowell
Boojum is long known as a premier nursery for beautiful, exotic plants. Named after a tall, spiny tree known only to the Sonoran Desert and Baja, the gardening shop is evolving into a romantic escape for get-togethers. After 18 years, the family that owns the spot is transforming the five-acre property into lush gardens for special events. We love the mini Mexican village, resplendent with artifacts, fountains and greenery. We love the greenhouse, lush like a tropical island. We can't wait to see what's coming soon: a lake, an English garden and a Zen garden. We love knowing that once, Boojum was surrounded by raw desert, and now, as civilization grows, it will still proudly carry forth our Southwestern spirit, rich with indigenous plants and local charm. Boojum, you're beautiful.
If you're a book freak and you have some time left over after tucking into that brown-bag lunch, it's hard to find a brainier downtown work break than the Book Island. Nestled neatly at the foot of the Luhrs Building, the Island is a triple treat for any nerd with some spare time to kill. Not only is it a decently stocked secondhand book shop, but it's laced with some especially unique antique volumes. And to make the trifecta complete, if you look hard enough, you can sometimes find some jaw-dropping bargains.
Looking for a copy of Robert Payne's Life and Death of Lenin? Probably not, but they have it. Interested in an original edition of O. Henry's Roads of Destiny from 1922? It can be yours for eight bucks. And while most libraries may be complete without the first edition of Charles Knight's William Shakspere [sic]: A Biography -- circa 1880 -- it must be said that the Book Island not only has it, but it has it for a mere $25. Also keep your eyes open for its small stash of Little Leather Library books from the 1920s; tiny leather-bound classics, like Man Without a Country and Courtship of Miles Standish, each about the size of a cigarette pack, go for $10 apiece. Just the right size for you to devour during your next sack lunch.
If you like lowriders but the family car isn't ready for the change, how about just starting with a model? That way, you can get as elaborate as you like, as you customize your plastic dream, and not worry about how the family's going to get around in the meantime. Homies Hobbies is the perfect place for fulfilling your mini lowrider dreams.
When you're ready to work on a more human scale, Homies Hobbies can also help you build a lowrider bike. Custom seats, frames, springs, whitewall tires embossed with the word "lowrider" and a ton of chrome can be found here to help you make or customize your own low-to-the-ground bike.
And if playing with Barbie and Ken is becoming too boring for the kids, then Homies is still the way to go. It has a huge selection of the addictive and collectible "Homies" dolls. From Smiley to El Flaco, the complete collection of little homies is available, as well as the stickers, key chains and doll houses -- but we'd rather call them mini-cribs. And forget Barbie's Corvette -- you can lowride your Homie in your own customized minicoach!
In the bastion of beauty and newness that is far north Scottsdale, it's only fitting that the neighborhood's shiniest new resort, perched in the foothills of Pinnacle Peak, showcases the Valley's most stunning views.
Though it's unquestionably classy, this Four Seasons isn't your typical Scottsdale resort. Rather than rooted in glitz, its grandeur rises from nature. The patio adjacent to the Lobby Lounge and the elegant Acacia restaurant presents a postcard-perfect view of the High Sonoran Desert, which -- wonder of wonders -- still looks like a desert. The resort's construction emphasized efforts to preserve the land's natural beauty. (Natural beauty? In Scottsdale?) Even the few surrounding developments are earth-toned and modest, designed to complement the terrain.
Beyond the resort's lawn, the entire Valley stretches in the distance, framed by mountain ranges rising like fortress walls. On the right, the sun sinks behind Pinnacle Peak, painting the sky over the facing mountains. Order a fuchsia prickly pear margarita and watch the sky take on its color. Sit a bit longer and see that, in Scottsdale, even the stars show off.
Our friend parked at a high school football game in Mesa, then returned to his car to find his Jaguar stripped of its hubcaps. It seemed too easy that we might find the wayward caps at Hub-Cap City, itself a Mesa establishment. The grungy looking store is an endless array of gleaming chrome Frisbees, and the owner, after being pressed, nervously laughed that we didn't want to know where he got his inventory (he was kidding, really; a lot of his merchandise comes from manufacturer closeouts). No merchandise, he said, is accepted from high school students.
No Jags available today; turns out they're more precious than gold. But floor to ceiling is every other option, and priced at much, much less than a dealer. Crime doesn't pay, but when it happens, it's nice to know we can solve it for a few dollars less.
A recent newcomer to downtown, Red is the furniture boutique to satisfy your demanding inner Barbarella or George Jetson. It offers a swingin' assortment of mid-century modern chairs and couches, sleek lamps and streamlined tables, and you'll recognize a lot of the still-stylish classics, from Eames to Nelson. Conveniently located right next door to beloved vintage shop Spine, it rounds out a one-stop shopping experience for all of your retro needs.
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.
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?
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.