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.

Alleviate the empty nest syndrome at The Flight of Phoenix, the pet project of Dale and Steve Madonick. Since 1996, the Flight folks have sought "to provide the finest in understanding and care for tropical birds." Services range from boarding and grooming to behavior modification, while the shop's finest feathered friends include macaws, caiques and parrots aplenty. A quick breakdown: Amazon parrots are "the world's best talking parrots and the best pet birds," cockatoos rank as "the most physically affectionate parrots," and African grays "the most intelligent conversationalist" . . .

The question isn't "Do they talk?" The question is "What do they talk about?" Even for non-bird lovers, the store's Web site is both educational (where else would we have learned that the hyacinth macaw is "the most bird money can buy"?) and entertaining (photos of birds lounging on La-Z-Boys).

We stopped into this just-opened, ultra-hip shop in search of shabby chic furnishings, and found stacks of it, some of which we whisked away to our own shabby home. What we didn't count on was meeting the artist-in-residence, an English bull terrier named Tarquin who peddles his paintings between naps in one corner of the store. Each of Tarquin's paw-painted pieces is a vivid, multi-hued op-art masterpiece in red and blue and yellow acrylic. Proceeds from the sale of each canine composition go to Maricopa County Animal Control, and each work comes gilt-framed and ready to hang.

Trot on over to Bullies, where you can meet the artist, buy one of his paintings, and maybe score a cool end table as well.

BEST PLACE TO BUY A GIFT FOR SOMEONE FROM RUSSIA, WITH LOVE

Russian Market

Times are tough in Russia these days, especially with newly self-anointed czar Vladimir considering a surname change from Putin to Lenin. So if you're friends with a Russki, a pick-me-up is in order. Matryoshka dolls are especially delightful, especially the comical versions available at Russian Market, with droll renditions of cowboy-hat-wearing Dubya or the more traditional babushka-clad female figure. If they're not down with tchotchkes, share a bottle of Russian Merlot (or any of the other 34 wines stocked by the grocer) along with some caviar.

Next, pick out a Russian greeting card from two doors down at European Gifts, drop a C-note for a porcelain tea set direct from the motherland, followed by a haircut at Eduard's Barber Shop and dinner at Restaurant Samarkand (both across the street). Despite the Eastern-bloc feel to this area, avoid asking anyone about his or her background, or you'll risk getting the evil eye and being accused of trying to dig up some kind of Mafia connection. Others might simply riff on the stereotype. "We're all in the Mafia; Russians are everywhere here," quips one heavily accented twentysomething as he cuts hair at Eduard's. "We're thinking of changing the name of this area to 19th Avenue and Russia."

Who knew? Phoenix has its own Little Russia.

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