Best Of :: Shopping & Services
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.
It may look like your typical hole-in-the-mall diamonoid shop from the outside -- and even on the inside, if you only spend a couple minutes browsing the pricey engagement rings and watches in the display boxes. But loiter around the subdued Capri Jewelers for a while, and you'll see a clientele you usually don't expect in a mall jewelry store. "Aw, this is that place!" whispers a young black guy in an Atlanta Falcons jersey, pulling his three male buddies into the store and sitting down, awestruck, in front of a case showing custom-made colored-diamond pendants, rose gold rings and diamond dog tags.
The celebrity photos on the wall tell you immediately you're not at Jared's anymore: Satisfied bling-buyers, posing with the owner and saleswomen, include LL Cool J, Knoc-Turn'al, Ginuwine, Shaquille O'Neal and Junior Spivey, who reportedly paid a handsome fee to have his own likeness reproduced in 3-D on an exquisite white- and black-gold pendant. Here, diamonds aren't just a girl's best friend; Terrell Suggs and Joe Budden are cozying up on the rocks, too.
Readers' Choice: Tiffany's
These days anyone who can deconstruct a tee shirt and sew it back together feels the need to label himself or herself a "designer." While it's nice to see the local fashion scene grow, it can be frustrating to weed through the plethora of faux designers to find quality. Luckily, Mary Jane at Kontrive, a funky boutique in downtown Tempe, is around to help us on our quest for real fashion. M.J. features an eclectic mix of vintage furniture as well as accessories and clothing, highlighting the best that local fashion has to offer. The shop's buyers hand-pick work by Valley designers, and they've found an exciting mix -- from the expected regulars like Angela Johnson and T-roy to up-and-coming talent like Lauren Orciuolo.
Now that's what we call dressing for success!
Who would have thought that pineapple cilantro would be a best-selling candle scent? Or that some folks would rather light up a chardonnay than sip one?
No matter what end you like to burn the candle on, this is the place for you. Illuminations' line of signature candles includes everything from the traditional (cherry, vanilla, sandalwood) to the obscure (bamboo, lemongrass cilantro, mandarin cassis), and you can get your candle in just about any fashion: votive candles, floating candles, jar candles, pillar candles, tapered candles. You can even get a "Shadowbox Mirror," if you prefer to fix your hair by candlelight.
You glow, girl! (And guy.)
Sure, it might be cool these days to get your vicarious vid-screen thrills as a gun-toting hit man or car thief, but sometimes old-school gamers long for a simpler time when all you needed was the Konami Code to advance to the next level. So the plentiful stacks of classic titles for sale or trade at Games Plus are like a warp zone to yesteryear, with cartridges ranging from the gaming Stone Age (Atari 2600) up to the more recently outdated systems (Nintendo 64) and everything in between. The latest shrink-wrapped XBox, PS2 and GameCube discs are available, too, along with more new and used accessories than you can shake a SuperScope at. Owner Renny Mitchell and company have been in the biz for more than 27 years, long before any other used game shop pressed start, and it shows. The joystick jockeys behind the counter will even chat with customers about the latest online RPGs or -- more important to watchful parents -- refuse to sell restricted titles to the underage moppets who frequent the store. Thank goodness for the electronic baby sitter, giver of such pearls of wisdom as, "Shoot everything. If it blows up or dies, it was bad."
Forget Hollywood Video and Blockbuster. And while you're at it, forget every rinky-dink indie video store in the Valley. The largest, most eclectic collection of videos is at Burton Barr Central Library, where you can rent everything from Elia Kazan's A Face in the Crowd and Robert Bresson's L'Argent to Luis Bu--uel's The Exterminating Angel and the complete PBS series of Brideshead Revisited. Want to watch a collection of silent Fatty Arbuckle shorts? Burton Barr's got it. Lindsay Anderson's O Lucky Man? It's got that, too. Like most library video collections, Burton Barr can boast its share of documentaries and educational videos. If you need a VHS bio of Hermann Goering or a course on how to pick a bottle of wine, it's still the place to hit. But what's surprising is the library's superior collection of foreign and art-house films, as well as classic Hollywood movies. Better than any video rental place in Maricopa County, and the price is right: i.e., it's free, bubba. All you need is a library card and a smile.
Readers' Choice: Movies on Central
Is it just us, or does the cable channel American Movie Classics just suck these days? Not for nothing, but when tuning in to that particular cable station, it's nice to see some, you know, classics -- like maybe Citizen Kane or even On the Waterfront. Sixteen Candles or When Harry Met Sally . . . are all well and good, but save them for TNT. And it's a sure bet that Jaws: The Revenge or Airport '77 didn't make the AFI's "100 Years, 100 Movies" list.
Since we're tossing down our remotes anyway, we'll step off the soapbox and cruise down to Scottsdale Video to peruse its selection of more than 1,000 classic flicks stacked floor-to-ceiling on five separate wire-framed shelves. The rest of the store's sections, housing its more than 40,000 other titles up for rental, is hard to top as well, but for the moment content comes with some classic counter-programming.
How about inventing your own double feature, like perhaps Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story and Charlie Chan in Rio? What about the drive-in-worthy pairing of Dr. Phibes Rises Again followed by the juvie-delinquent classic Teenage Bad Girl (topped off with a six-pack of Schlitz and some heavy petting, of course)? Your house is the repertory house tonight, yo.
Sometimes we need our tear-jerkers and melodramas interspersed with a few singing and dancing numbers, and after watching Chicago for the thousandth time, the Cell Block Tango gets a little stale. That's why we say hooray for Bollywood. We're not purists, mind you, and we're ashamed to admit we got into the genre after seeing Heather Graham's execrable The Guru and following it up with the indie import Monsoon Wedding. So to bone up, we browsed the library of more than a thousand flicks available for rent in different languages (including Hindi, Telugu, Malayalam and Tamil) at this enormous ethnic shop, where almost an entire room is devoted to rentals, with large white bookshelves filled with VHS tapes against one wall and racks of DVDs against another. They've got all the latest titles -- such as the romantic Dil Ne Jise Apna Kaha and the high-jinks-filled terrorist action-comedy Main Hoon Na -- as well as CDs of filmi, or the pop-music-laced soundtracks.
Make it a Bollywood night.
The sign outside each of Castle Megastore's six locations in the Valley proudly declares, "Knights and Damsels Welcome." And unlike some adult shops in the Valley that are hardly hospitable to the fairer sex and where anyone should be rightly afraid of touching the merchandise without a pair of industrial-strength rubber gloves, Castle prides itself on catering to men and women, whether they be gay, straight or bi. Maybe that's why it's not unusual to see ladies browsing Castle's encyclopedic selection of DVD titles, with all possible permutations of human sexuality represented -- everything from Ten Little Piggies, for those foot fetishists out there, to Specs Appeal, featuring hot chicks in glasses. Castle also has timeless classics such as When the Boys Are Away, the Girls Will Play, Maid to Be Laid, Sorority Strap On and Pizza Boy: He Delivers.
In addition to DVDs, Castle sells most anything related to bumpin' uglies, including a vast collection of magazines, lingerie, oils and lubricants, collars and leashes, ball gags and cock rings, and nearly every kind of dildo known to man. It even peddles gag gifts like the "Wind Up Strokin' Santa," and "Your Very Own Blow Up Love Lamb." The staff is super friendly and respectful, and the stores are clean, despite the warehouse atmosphere. Don't go there lookin' for love, but hey, with a compilation of Jenna Jameson's best sex scenes in hand, love can wait, baby.
Any red-blooded single young man who spends more than a semester in or near Tempe knows that there's plentiful eye candy to be found as you're strolling the aisles of the Broadway Safeway, the closest grocery store to the campus of Arizona State University. Short of the bar scene or wandering the campus itself, this place is your best bet for scoping those cute yellow gym shorts that say "Go Devils!" on the butt. Keep your camera phones on the down-low, though, as this Safeway's been a meet market for so long it's likely the ladies know you're looking.
And speaking of the ladies, you gals should know that we often see a significant hunk of the Tempe Fire Department roaming the aisles at this Safeway as well.
In just two years, partners in life and crime Amy Young and Doug Grant have transformed their corner of Grand Avenue into the metaphysical hub for all things eccentric, esoteric and erotic. Marry the X-Files to the Juxtapoz aesthetic and add in a liberal dose of the Suicide Girls and Octave Mirbeau's Torture Garden, and you've got a gallery/shop where you can peep the latest from erotic photographers Carlos Batts, Dave Naz, and Steve Diet Goedde, buy a Taschen-Japan compendium of '50s pinup art or a lecherous colored-pencil drawing by John John Jesse, and catch a group show featuring such "ladies of lowbrow" as artists Isabel Samaras, Nicole Steen, and Rebecca Seven. Of course, disseminating erotica is but a small part of what Perihelion does. It also sells bizarre books from the likes of John Gilmore, Aleister Crowley, Adam Parfrey and others, as well as refrigerator magnets lampooning the bully-boy greed of Jerry Colangelo. At Perihelion, literati, artists and voyeurs happily co-exist within the confines of this first-rate odditorium.
We love to shop, but we love it even more when someone shops for us -- combing the world for just the right items, then gathering them together in one sweet spot for our perusal. That's what happens at a good boutique, and that's what happens at Toila. The owners of this tiny shop on Third Street have filled their space with home and personal accessories we'd like to make our own. Among our favorites: wide-brimmed San Diego hats (Oprah likes them, too); precious but affordable chandeliers; and an exclusive line of baby clothing called Chop Suey. Each item is chosen as carefully as we shop ourselves, and we have to admit that the owners' taste is, perhaps, just a little bit better than our own. That happens at a good boutique, too.