BEST COLLECTIBLE BOOKSTORE 2005 | The Antiquarian Shop | Shopping & Services | Phoenix
With the passing of George Chamberlain in January, Arizona lost its dean of booksellers. The erudite Mr. Chamberlain held court in the same location for 40 years, and now his daughter Ann Chamberlain Maroe has relocated from Oregon and her own bookshop to continue her father's legacy. There are many Valley bookshops where one can pick up a copy of any current best seller or last year's Stephen King novel, but the Antiquarian Shop is a real bookstore for dead-serious bibliophiles. Here you'll find George Washington's autograph and a copy of Cicero's Cato Major printed by Benjamin Franklin in 1773. The shop also handles the work of the modern masters with first editions of all the greats, including Hemingway and Steinbeck. Many rare-book stores specialize in specific areas like history or the sciences, but the Antiquarian Shop offers the best it can find in all fields with an emphasis on condition. If it's $2.98 cover prices you're seeking, then head to the bargain tables at Borders; but if you want to hold history in your hands, this is the place to go more than once upon a time.
Here in the Valley, the comic book landscape seems to be dominated by ginormous Atomic-powered retail establishments that are "All About Books and Comics." These titans of the sequential art set draw teenagers and other socially maladjusted hooligans from Tempe to Tolleson into their establishments with the latest multi-paneled, four-color adventures from a cadre of superheroes, or exclusive signing sessions with big-name artists like Marvel editor-in-chief Joe Quesada. Meanwhile, Moryha and Mike Banks -- owners of Samurai Comics -- have survived and thrived in the shadow of these comic colossi over the past three years. Operating their smallish shop out of a cramped strip mall a few doors down from Gay Denny's, the couple has developed a cultlike group of regulars who've graced their shop looking for the newest from major publishers like DC, as well as harder-to-find titles like Johnny the Homicidal Maniac and Eightball. The Bankses often book well-attended appearances by such obscure small-press artists as James Kochalka (author of the zany sketch diary American Elf) and Craig Thompson (who's penned such graphic novels as Blankets).

Business has been so good, Moryha and Mike are in the process of opening a new location at 107th Avenue and Indian School Road. Looks like the underdogs sometimes win out in the end after all.

When you get right down to it, you have to be pretty cheap these days to want to actually rent the video or DVD rather than buy it. After you rent the damn thing and bring it back late, it'll cost you about the same amount of scratch it would have if you'd bought it new from the beginning. (This considering what we now know about Blockbuster's wack-assed "no late fees" policy.) And anyway, Hollywood Video, Blockbuster, and even the mom-and-pops all stock pretty much the same old crap. Wanna see The Ring Two or xXx: State of the Union starring Ice Cube? Those other guys have got 'em by the score. But if you're interested in the collected shorts of Fatty Arbuckle, or Fritz Lang's Dr. Mabuse, the Gambler, or anything the least bit obscure, Burton Barr's first-floor video shelves, stocked with hundreds of classic and foreign films, are for you. Your inner cheapskate will be satisfied as well, 'cause "rentals" are free, so long as you have your library card handy.
Sometimes, the whole mall scene in the Valley gets depressing, with the search for originality. Let's face it: That platter you got at Pottery Barn might be super-cute, but it's sitting on the Crate & Barrel dining room table of several thousand other super-cute shoppers. That's why we love Haus. When the owners moved from the street to the mall last year, we were deeply suspicious. But a recent trip thrilled us -- Haus is better than ever, Jonathan Adler's designs firmly in place, and even if you don't have any cash, a Haus call is worth it for a look-see. Our favorite addition is Hot Haus, a budding floral operation run out of one corner of the store. Now you can find something to stick in that Jonathan Adler vase.
Sure, flowers are pretty, but they wilt. Wouldn't you rather have a little nosh? For a long time, we ignored the offerings of the Brownie Connection, turned off by the boring packaging. But now we must admit we've learned, you can't judge a brownie by its cover. When a friend finally shoved one (okay, several) of these under our noses, we gobbled the cream cheese, nut and cookie varieties, as well as the plain brownie, then raced for the milk, mumbling our approval through a sugary haze.

Unlike flowers, old brownies never die. At least, not for three months. Just make sure you wrap them tightly and store them in the freezer.

Greta the Weimaraner greets you at the door of the store that bears her name, and she'll follow you around as you browse through a fab collection of dog and cat gear you won't find at PETsMART. There are gift sets of pink and blue baby items for girl puppies and boy puppies, gift baskets of pet bath items, pink velvet dog dresses, Hawaiian-print dog shirts, several lines of premium dog foods, toys, collars, bowls, cat houses, pet carriers that look like designer handbags, and animal-themed art on the walls. Greta's is the place to buy a gift when you and your dog-child get invited to a canine birthday party or puppy shower. It's not the place to bring anyone who thinks there's something wrong with a dog napping on the sofa while wearing a leather collar with his/her name spelled out in rhinestone letters.
Our pick for the most spectacular tree found in the Valley is the jacaranda, with its spectacular summer show of vivid lilac-blue trumpet-shaped flowers. Many Valley nurseries carry them, but the best selection of jacarandas and all other varieties is at Moon Valley Nurseries. Palms, citrus and desert favorites like paloverde are here by the thousands -- visiting a Moon Valley location is like hiking through a national forest. Owner/founder Les Blake started it all by selling Christmas trees 10 years ago and now is said to own more than a million trees. For those of you who can kill almost anything in nature, the nursery says even you should be able to grow a mesquite or Ficus nitida tree. Even more fun than selecting your trees is watching the Moon Valley crews plant them -- we're convinced these guys could dig to the center of the Earth within five minutes.
Granted, it's tough to top Desert Botanical Garden's annual spring and fall plant sales for snagging rare cactuses and euphorbia, but where do you find 'em the other 50 weeks of the year? We go to Desert Gardens Nursery, on Cave Creek Road just north of the 101. This blooming oasis, lovingly tended by a helpful and personable man named Chris Brecht, carries the sort of scarce succulents that are usually available only to wholesalers and landscape architects. In addition to healthy specimens of Sonoran staples like saguaros, totem poles, and Mexican fence posts, Desert Gardens stocks harder-to-find stuff like cardons (the Mexican cousin of the saguaro), the fat and sassy nasty boy named Trichocereus terscheckii (a.k.a. the Argentine saguaro), Joshua trees, Mexican White Thorns, Argentine Toothpicks, and Aloe vanbelini (which resembles something out of an H.R. Giger nightmare). On a recent visit, we also marveled at an eight-foot-tall Blue Monstrosus, humongous agaves and aloes such as Kalanchoe beharensis, and one of the largest barrel cactuses we've seen in our entire cactus-loving lives. And if Chris doesn't have something on hand -- like, say, a Hildewintera aureispina or a Queen of the Night -- he can probably get you one.
We admit it: We live in a house overflowing with rococo kitsch, the sort of stuff you'd find in a brothel that had been decorated by Charles Nelson Reilly. Velveteen draperies; gilded urn lamps; claw-foot everything. And until recently, we thought we had the edge on cool home furnishings, because we shop weekly at The Garden Party, a mini-museum of great furniture, wall art, and gewgaws from several recent eras. That is, until we spotted the visual-merchandising manager from a giant chain of department stores at The Garden Party the other day, pawing through this hip shop's 11 big dealer booths in search of stuff for his stores. If this guy knows about our fave shop, we must be onto something. We just hope we get there before he does, because missing out might mean not owning, for example, the giant plaster cherub we brought home from a recent Garden Party visit. Our flawless 1930s sofa, covered in rich burgundy suede, set us back a whopping $200, and the 1950s salon hairdryer we bought for our sister (who put it in place of her ratty old Barcalounger) cost half as much. Garden Party's several dealers offer a cross section of stuff from all eras of cool, from inexpensive Bakelite jewelry to Melmac dishware; higher-end furnishings to shabby chic fixer-uppers. We go often, especially now that we know that those in the know (read: display queens) are in on our best secret. You can be, too.
Your garden needs one of David Bruce's birdhouses. Bruce makes each of his avian abodes by hand, in a shop in the back of his central Phoenix store, from old wood, doorknobs, pieces of tin, and whatever else he scavenges from abandoned buildings and alleys. Some are made in the manner of English cottages, others like Spanish mission churches, and still others sport the minimal lines of mid-century modern ranch houses. Birds seldom get to occupy these dwellings, though. These houses are objets d'art, too nice to mess up with wren poop. Bruce also makes garden furniture, and dog and cat houses. He says he has customers who have dozens of his birdhouses in their gardens and homes, and they still come into his shop to buy more. "For some people, these birdhouses are like Lay's potato chips," he says. "They can't buy just one."

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