Many makeup junkies gladly made the pilgrimage to the Las Vegas Sephora until the European beauty chain finally set up shop at Scottsdale Fashion Square earlier this year. With a sleek, spotless black-and-white interior, no-pressure staff and aisle after aisle of high-end products, Sephora is laid out like the proverbial candy store. Best of all, the items aren't locked inside glass display cases -- everything is out for perusal, ready to be tucked into handy shopping baskets. Testers are available for everything, from Cargo lip gloss to Stila blush to bold eyeliners from Sephora's own complete line of cosmetics, and plenty of cotton balls, disposable applicators, alcohol and makeup remover are on hand for shoppers' adventurous beauty experiments.
Local bibliophiles have an almost cultlike affection for Changing Hands, and rightly so. From the carefully arranged tables of new books on display to employees' thoughtful comment tags for favorite titles, it's obvious that this place genuinely celebrates reading. It celebrates the authors, too, hosting top names such as Anthony Bourdain and Garrison Keillor, while also showcasing local and young writers. With the Wildflower Bread Company adjoining it, there's hardly any reason to leave the store; visitors can fuel up on frittatas and pastries, then participate in a book group, take in a lecture or workshop, or simply head back to the stacks for blissful browsing.

Readers' Choice for Best Bookstore -- New Titles: Borders Books & Music

We went looking for kitchen cupboard door handles and came up wanting. Finally, a contractor pal sent us to Clyde, an off-the-beaten-path treasure trove we'd always thought was only open to tradespeople. In fact, Clyde has been selling knobs and toilets and sinks and a hundred other household fixtures to do-it-yourselfers since 1967. Its gallery of things to screw onto drawers and cupboards and doors left us gaping: Literally hundreds of shiny tugs and knobs and hinges beamed out at us from carefully organized wall mounts, categorized by rooms where they might belong and tidily numbered for quick ordering ease.

Crystal octagonal knobs? Pewter library pulls? Hand-painted ceramic handles shaped like wee soccer balls? Our decision was made easier by knob-savvy staffers who can recite knob styles and dole out warm advice about what to buy. The friendly, knowledgeable staff treated us as if we were old friends who'd dropped in with good news. We had: We found our thrill with Clyde, and can't wait to return.

We're so happy when it rains in the Valley -- those few and far between wet days make us feel like we're getting a taste of Seattle. And we get absolutely excited when we get fog. That usually only happens once or twice a year, but when it does, it transports us to sultry San Francisco. Not that we don't love our own Arizona sun; we do, but sometimes it's nice to feel another cosmopolitan ambiance.

So imagine our delight when we discovered that we can have our very own fog, on demand, any time of year our damp little hearts desire. Thanks to the folks at Arizona Fog Wizards, all it takes is a high-pressure pump and motor module connected with high-pressure, 1,500 psi hoses, stainless steel tubing with aircraft welded stand-offs, and high-pressure mist nozzles (don't ask, just leave it to the pros). The fog created through the misting system lowers the air temperature 20 to 30 degrees, which is great. What we really like, though, is the look -- billowy mist, moody, Casablanca-style haze, vapory lace dancing through the air and clouds licking the ground.

Most people have fog "installed" to add drama to their pool, spa, waterfall or fountain. We're too poor to go whole hog like that, so imagine our joy to find that there's also a "mist rose." It's a small system designed to look like a flower that puffs spurts of fog wherever we set it down. Next time we have a party, we're going to see how they work in the house, maybe set in front of a strobe light or something.

Hey, it sure beats dry ice.

Tucked away in midtown Phoenix, Red is a ruby for those looking for retro style. This is a small furniture boutique that has an eclectic selection of rare finds including Eames, Wakefield, Miller and Knoll. You will certainly find that exquisite piece of 20th-century furniture that you've been looking for. This jewel also offers on-site reupholstering with a wide range of fabrics from contemporary to modern, as well as restorations. It's the perfect place to glam up your pad or to get that piece that you remember from childhood.

BEST PLACE TO RENT A MOVIE YOU'VE NEVER HEARD OF

Movies on Central

You're looking for Wild on the Beach. Or Desperate Living. Or that little French film that you can never remember the name of -- the one about the girl who only eats empty cereal boxes. You won't find any of these delightfully obscure titles at local chain rental stores, with their stacks of just-released-to-DVD feature films and wall of dreadful mass-appeal movies. This funky shop has all those and more, and it's the "more" that keeps us coming back weekend after weekend. We love the store's wall of John Waters films -- it's the only shop in town that carries the filthy filmmaker's entire output -- and the room full of cult movies (when's the last time you saw The Boy in the Plastic Bubble? Or The World of Henry Orient? Or anything starring Mothra?). The chatty, knowledgeable staff never wags a finger at us for our late returns. Maybe they understand that once we get our hands on these delightful, hard-to-find films, we hate to let them go.

Readers' Choice for Best Video Rental Store: Blockbuster Video

Sometimes we think our pet has a better life than we do. We knew for sure we were getting a little nutso when we decided that our crazy schedule was putting too much stress on the pooch, so we hired a doggy concierge to keep him entertained. Golden Paw meets all our canine concerns when we're too busy, with services including pet sitting with overnight stays (GP is a member of Pet Sitters International, "Professional Pet Sitting Excellence Through Education").

Okay, providing that kind of care is probably normal. But Golden Paw also coordinates pet field trips to parks "for health and socialization," shopping for pet groceries, pet spa treatments and massages, health care and "stylists" from the Valley's "top" vets and pet groomers, personal shopping at pet boutiques, pet travel arrangements, pet videos and, of course, pet birthday party planning.

It's no surprise that this service focuses on the high-dollar areas of Paradise Valley, Gainey Ranch, north Scottsdale, the Biltmore and Arcadia. It is surprising that to contract their attentions, we and our pet have to undergo an interview. Hey, if it really is a dog's life, we want to be our dog.

Whether you're a real vaquero or just want to look like one, De Leon in Guadalupe can outfit you from head to toe, and there's no item more important than the perfect pair of boots. De Leon has a whole wall of boots in different skins, colors, and degrees of embroidery. De Leon also provides plastic shopping bags so there's no need to tug your shiny red armadillo-skinned boots over your socks; just slip your foot into the bag, then into the boot. Once you've picked the right boots, De Leon also has a mountain of cowboy hats in different shapes and sizes, goat foot key chains, machetes, holsters, whips, milagros, and great big shiny belt buckles, including one as big as a pancake with a large marijuana leaf and "Sinaloa" in crusty gold letters ($29).

M & Co. Papery is proof that the art of correspondence has not been lost in the computer age.

Sure, e-mail is quick and cheap, but hard to adorn with just the right illustration, and impossible to emboss. This small shop is packed with cards, notes and paper for any occasion, from barbecue to baby shower, and party accouterment from birthday candles to cocktail napkins. You can fill out your own invitations, or custom-order them from a huge selection. Every piece of merchandise seems hand-chosen, with wit and whimsy. Even a tiny enclosure card is a piece of art, edged with glitter and a drawing of a perfect bride.

Beware: We walked out with way more than we planned to. And with a lot of plans, suddenly. We'll be throwing a garden party sometime soon (couldn't resist the invites) and now have dozens of people to thank with just the right card.

Thanks to you, M & Co.!

And the cheese stands alone. The locally owned Root Seller Gallery is the lone queso in this instance, and the only gay bookstore left in the Valley. An active participant in the gay community, Root Seller has been the place to find books by gay authors for the past year and a half. Venture upstairs and you will find books on erotica, how to acclimate your child to your gay relationship, and bios on gay icons like Princess Di, Lucy, and James Dean. There is also a wide variety of magazines, gay art and cards to choose from. Root Seller Gallery has "everything under the rainbow."

Best Of Phoenix®

Best Of