Whether you're a novice with the needles or a veritable machine, Arizona Knitting and Needlepoint has what you need to knit. This charming, tiny yellow house is literally packed to the rafters with a selection of unusual, high-quality yarn, and the prices are fair. The staffers aren't snooty, and they maintain a helpful attitude even when confronted by rank amateurs. If they don't have a particular size and style of needle, they'll cheerfully order it, and they're happy to offer aesthetic advice on your project. (Here, unlike at some other knitting places in the Valley, you might actually feel inclined to take it.) Call first, because the shop closes for a few weeks in the summer.

See, we knew these folks were smart.

This place is like Michaels on acid -- and we mean that as a compliment. Settled in a warehouse just north of I-17 (beware of hard-to-navigate Grand Avenue nearby), Diane Ribbons started as a wholesaler to mom-and-pop craft shops. When those caved under the weight of Michaels, Diane (and we're told there really is a Diane) opened her doors to the masses. And are we glad. This dim, cavernous building houses aisle after aisle of beat-up brown boxes holding sometimes scary but always affordable treasures. Take, for example, the row of boxes of doll heads, all different shapes, sizes and expressions. Or the row of boxes of doll hands. Cree-pee. We got all excited over enormous, multihued pipe cleaners and dozens of kinds of ribbons. You name the craft, the materials for it are in this warehouse. The only bad part of the visit came when we couldn't figure out which way was out, and started to hyperventilate -- just a little -- wondering if we'd be trapped forever with all those doll parts. Luckily, it turned out we were standing right by the exit to the cashier. "First time here?" she asked cheerily, recognizing our frenzied expression.

Yes, we told her. But not our last.

This is not your childhood Hobby Hut. Instead, Beads Galore is for the grown-ups, those of us serious about copying those expensive designs we see in the Sundance and Anthropologie catalogues. Okay, so we're not there yet, but we might be with a little help from our friends at Beads Galore; some days, it feels like there's a one-to-one ratio of staffer to beader.

The walls of this small, multi-room haven are lined with every shape, size and color imaginable, including an impressive collection of semi-precious stones, our personal favorites. You'll also find all the clasps, wire and other tools you need to dress your neck (or arms, or ankles) in style.

BEST PLACE TO OVERSTAY YOUR 19-MINUTE PARKING LIMIT

La Grande Orange

The signs out front ask that visitors park for no longer than 19 minutes, but we gladly risk trouble each time we visit this epicenter of cool. That's because it takes us nearly that long to decide among La Grande Orange's array of salads, sandwiches, sushi and pizzas. Waiting for one of the six precious indoor tables at this upscale delicatessen/grocery can take up more time, but we don't mind -- we spend it choosing among an array of tarts and cakes, baked just a few doors down at Tammie Coe's pastry shop.

Fill your stomach and your grocery bag at La Grande Orange, and then -- if no one's busted you for breaking the 19-minute rule -- take a stroll around the complex that began with Postino, one of the city's most popular wine bars. Make sure you visit Petit Chateau, a trendy mom's dream of a baby shop, and take a peek inside Paper Joy, for invites and note cards. If you're really feeling bold, cross Campbell Avenue and check out Anna Sophia, a boutique offering everything from sparkly jewelry to oversize sparklers.

Trust us, it's worth the dirty looks you'll get when you skulk back to the car.

The Arnold Pickle and Olive Company opened its doors in 1905, when Van Buren Street was a dirt road. The Arnold family began delivering pickles, sandwiches and other products to Phoenix merchants by horse and buggy at first, and remained in business until 10 years ago when the Arnolds' grandson Phil Blair and his wife Judy found themselves with a warehouse full of empty white cypress and redwood vats. Judy wanted to put a fence around the house and asked her husband if she could use some of the wood from the vats. The fence was erected and Judy began making planters and patio furniture. Once she began designing furniture, she was having too much fun to stop, and a new business was born. The showroom, which still bears the distinct odor of pickles, is filled with rustic coffee tables, armoires, desks, lounge chairs, and other original creations designed by Judy Blair that are true pieces of Phoenix history.

Roll out the barrel!

Our hundred-dollar sofa looks like a million bucks, thanks to this treasure trove of high-end upholstery and curtain fabrics, tagged at below-bargain prices. Before we discovered Interior Fabric, we thought "mill outlet" and "fine fabrics" were mutually exclusive. Then we wandered the wide aisles of this textile paradise, fingering top-dollar damasks and finally affordable watered silks -- most at right around $10 a yard. As if scoring great deals on really quality fabric wasn't enough, there's the fun of asking the handsome help to cut samples for us.

We're planning to reupholster every piece of furniture in our home, just so we can keep heading back to this swell pile of well-organized, high-quality yard goods.

The most post-bang bang for your buck? Pregnancy tests at the dollar store. The 99-Cents Only Store, to be exact.

We used to think ourselves too good for single-price emporiums, but this enclave of "primarily name-brand consumable general merchandise" has opened our eyes to a whole new world of retail -- what with its bright lighting, clean aisles, and ever-changing variety of sausage and seafood. Even shoppers wary of perishables have to be impressed by 99-cent cans of albacore Chicken of the Sea. And come the holidays, office Secret Santas have a wealth of cheap gifts to choose from: Star Wars Episode I Intergalactic Body Wash, Kato Kaelin's unauthorized autobiography on audiocassette, and Hulk Hogan's hard-to-find album Hunkmania!

Should someone ever market taste, however, this place likely won't carry it.

The first time we walked into this central Phoenix bargain mecca, we were torn between the wall of pink plastic Hello Kitty goods and the table stacked with tastefully glazed Japanese pottery. But then it dawned on us that we can fill our basket with both, with cash to spare. This is no ordinary dollar store -- indeed, most items are actually marked $1.29. But we were struck more by the unusual merchandise than by the odd pricing. The majority of the stuff at Banzai is Japanese. So along with the typical household items you'd expect, there are also colorful, cartoony stationery and pen sets, beauty accessories like body scrubbing towels and eyelash curlers, and kitchen items galore, from sushi rice paddles to ginger graters.

Hello Kitty!

Bullet wounds, severed heads and pet puke come in all shapes and sizes at Easley's Costumes, a department store of disguises and surprises. Easley's carries so many odd accouterments, it's amazing it got them all in such a deceptively small building. Here you will find chicken feet, clown supplies, crowns and tiaras, theatrical makeup, and eight varieties of fake poop -- not to mention enough costumes and wigs to dress a small army of trick-or-treaters.

Or a large army. The place even sells plus-size costumes.

We don't know a ficus from a philodendron, but we do know that we can't visit this groovy garden center without leaving a good portion of our paycheck behind. Situated in and around a restored Craftsman bungalow in downtown Phoenix's historic Roosevelt District, Tara's Garden isn't just a heap of horticulture; it's a series of artfully crafted outdoor garden settings. Wonder how those date palms will look with your Adirondacks? Tara isn't selling hers off a shelf; she's got them "planted" around some patio furniture, so you can see how they'll look once you get them home. Not sure what to do with the succulents you just bought? Visit Tara's water garden for some tropical planting ideas. Inside, the house is bursting with ways to display your indoor plants, and with great gift ideas, dispensed by friendly, informative Tara herself. Who needs a green thumb when there's a cool old house grown over with leafy life? We rely on Tara's Garden to tell us what (and how, and where) to plant.

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