Best Of :: Shopping & Services
Department store racks have been overflowing with Asian-inspired clothes lately -- Mandarin collars, delicate, exotic prints and intricate ornamentation. But it's so much more satisfying to get the goods straight from the source. Short of a trip to China, Oriental Factory Direct is the Valley's best spot to seek out authentic Chinese apparel, at a fraction of the cost of designer interpretations. Get glam à la Suzie Wong with a classic, form-fitting satin cheongsam (the traditional sheath dress with a high collar and side slits), or swaddle yourself in a boxy Mao jacket, then accessorize with flat Mary Jane-style slippers and a colorful embroidered bag.
Our car was a beauty in its day, a 1960 Cadillac. But it had been so long since we'd been able to find parts to take care of it, it had fallen into a quiet, dusty sleep of disrepair. Then, we found Arizona Vintage Parts, and our pretty car knew it had gone to heaven. The place is hard to locate, down a dirt road with virtually no address, but it's got pretty much everything a vintage auto connoisseur could ever need. Some customers come from other countries just to find that perfect chrome accent, or engine part. The specialty is Cads, from 1930 to 1985. But there's a treasure trove for all makes and models of antique cars, with parts like water pumps, fuel pumps, brake parts, U-joints, bearings, seals, ignitions, front end, gaskets, fenders, panels, hubcaps, bumpers, floorboards, radios, antennas, seat belts, steering pumps and so much more. Another big bonus: Everything is rust-free.
Baby, we can drive our car!
Bottom line: Size matters to miniature collectors, and the small-minded love this shop. At Auntie Em's, we can hold the whole world in our hands -- and decorate it. Doll houses feature furniture and every imaginable accessory, from place settings and appliances to minuscule trees and farm implements, even the teeniest cat food box. And those with big ambitions can pick up the wood, tools, paint and glue necessary to create their own trinkets. Need a little guidance? Peruse the racks of how-to books, videos and crafty magazines.
And for once, go ahead and bring the boys, for also on the premises: Smilin' Jack's Pedal Cars. (We appreciate the noncommittal slogan: "If it's got a pedal or wheel, we may have it.")
Rich Ihle is known as the snake or reptile man. He has a large collection of scaly friends, with names like Freckles, Miss Piggy, Junior, Mrs. Square, T-Bo and Theresa. Freckles is a leopard gecko from India. Miss Piggy is a western hognose snake. Theresa is a tiger-phase reticulated python, the longest snake in the world, growing to 30 feet. Ihle is very interesting. He enjoys educating people of all ages about these often misunderstood animals, and showing his live creatures for schools, libraries, malls, scout and church organizations, youth groups, fairs, and other special events. The animals that he uses in his programs are captive reared and extremely tame, making them perfect for school classroom hands-on presentations (including preschool), birthday and company parties, even as stars in commercials and movies. As Ihle says, the critters actually enjoy the attention as much as we enjoy the show. What a ssssscintillating ssssservice.
Thanks to the superb selection at this cool new shop, our garden now looks like an advertisement for antique dealer Michael Robertson's latest business venture. We dropped in to buy a couple of vintage earthenware pots, and left with a truckload of outdoor decor we couldn't live without. Our garden's gorgeous with Garden Party finds: a stupendous Virgin Mary fountain; a just-weathered-enough Adirondack lounger; and a crate full of like-new gardening tools that double as ornamentation. We plan to go back for another tour of the extra-cool "Shabby Chic White Room," where last trip we snagged an ecru crackle-glazed "Pissing Boy" statue and a marvelous milk glass flower bowl. Fans of campy Catholic art will want to check out the roomful of Jesus junk, and anyone else with a patch of planted soil will surely score something from this marvelous hoard.
Looking for glamour? Looking to shine? Are you a performer? A star? A man who dresses in women's clothing? Well, then . . . Boom Boom LaRue's is the place for you. Located within the shabby chic space of Vintage Interiors, sequined gowns are packed on the racks. Each piece of costume jewelry is hand-picked so there are no duplicates (this ensures that no fashion faux pas occur onstage). Boas, tiaras and wigs (oh my!).
But the true treasures are those elusive size 12 and up stilettos and go-go boots. So all you men who have an upcoming command performance at Pookies, stop in and freshen up your look and avoid looking drag -- we mean, drab.
If it came out of Africa, chances are this place sells it. With walls of several rooms plastered with artworks -- copper reliefs, paintings, masks, woodcarvings -- Gold Coast is almost more museum than store. Imported from 26 African countries, loot ranges from CDs and sculpture to clothing and musical instruments (the bebo balafon xylophone is handcrafted from wood, gourds and leather). While dolls, drums and jigsaw puzzles provide a playful touch, photos of the artists -- many of them pictured in dreary working conditions -- accompany some of the artworks, putting a human face on creations from half a world away. And by offering one-of-a-kind decorations -- wicker furniture, hand-woven baskets, blankets and bean bags -- Gold Coast frees Arizonans from that ubiquitous kokopelli creature.
It's easy for locals to lose sight of just how good the bargain shopping is in the Valley, but shopaholics who visit or move here from fashion meccas like Los Angeles or New York are stunned at the amazing markdowns to be found in this area. Other outlets win out on ultra-cheap prices, but without a doubt Last Call has the best, most eye-popping selection of true designer merchandise. Where else can you score outfits by Anna Sui, Michael Kors or Prada for about a third of the regular price? Most important, you don't need to do a lot of digging to find such labels. The shoe department is inspirational as well, chock-full of Kate Spade flats and Gucci stilettos. When the store holds a clearance sale, the price cuts are even steeper, giving people with beer budgets the chance to really indulge their champagne tastes.
Readers' Choice for Best Secondhand Store: Buffalo Exchange
One day last summer we found ourselves lunching on stale pretzels dipped in months-old raspberry preserves because it was too hot out to drive to the market. This year, we're eating right and staying in, because we're hooked on Bashas' home delivery service. We'll never again have to risk UV burns just to bag some groceries, because Bashas' operators will take orders large and small (there's no minimum purchase) via fax or phone from 8 a.m. 'til 8 p.m. during the week, and from 9 a.m. 'til 4 p.m. on weekends. When we're feeling really organized, we place our order via the air-conditioned comfort of the grocery chain's Web site, which offers online shopping 24/7, and any of these options will allow us to use both our Club Card and cents-off coupons for swell savings. They'll even fill and deliver prescriptions, too. The $10 delivery charge (same-day deliveries are slightly higher) is worth every penny. We may never leave home again.
There it was! The first edition we'd been looking for to complete our collection, its dust jacket hardly worn at all and showing almost none of its 33 years. We found this literary treasure at Bookman's, where the prices are always rock bottom.
Sure, other stores cater to the hard-core bibliophile in search of rare first editions (and willing to pay dear prices), but for casual book collectors like us -- and for book lovers in search of no more than a good read -- nothing satisfies like this supermarket of recycled treasures in Mesa.
From the outside, the place resembles a big retail joint, anchoring a strip mall along Country Club Drive. Bookman's is huge, and, even better, the store stays open much later than others -- until 10 p.m. every day of the week.
Naturally, you'll find row after row of hardcovers and paperbacks in all the usual varieties. But Bookman's also has a large selection of magazine back issues (particularly Arizona Highways going way back), used video games, CDs, videotapes and DVDs. Best of all, Bookman's has such a healthy volume of trade-in, you're almost guaranteed to find new items every time you visit.
Readers' Choice: Bookman's Used Books, Music & Software
You've gotta love an entertainer who provides a résumé for his "trusty mount," Steel. Here's an excerpt: "Everyone loves Steel. He has been known to go up and down stairs and ride in elevators. He has even done the national anthem on ice for the Phoenix Coyotes hockey team. His ultra-soft coat and gentle personality make him a delightful and welcome visitor." The pretty white horse is just half the act, though, rearing and twirling on command as Gary Sprague croons our favorite songs from Gene Autry and Roy Rogers. Since 1987, Sprague and Steel have been entertaining locals and visitors at area restaurants, and on weekends in Old Town Scottsdale. It's just too fun -- Sprague twirls his six-shooters, plays guitar, and dances with Steel. So we were beyond gleeful to find that we could hire the duo for private performances, too, with Western music, humorous cowboy poetry, funny tall tales and educational presentations. And because Steel (and Sprague, too, we guess) is so well-behaved, we can even have them perform indoors. This is truly the West at its best.
Tuff Stuff leather is one of the few remaining original custom leather stores in the country. Offering custom chaps, vests, jocks and more for 20 years, Tuff Stuff fabricates much of its inventory on the premises. Craftsmen make a sleek and affordable line of leather floggers, which helps maintain the store's philosophy of making bondage available to everyone. For less than $100, customers can purchase a complete starter restraint package, perfect for individuals and couples curious about the lifestyle but not yet ready to invest in an $1,800 leather body bag. Owner Bob De Jardine also emphasizes that, apart from the cock and ball toys, nearly all Tuff Stuff's items can be used by men or women. De Jardine carries a full line of harnesses, cock rings, art, whips, hoods and blindfolds, as well as racks of more traditional leather vests and pants for more formal occasions.