The Shoe Mill
There was a time, we must admit, when we wanted to wear clogs but didn't, afraid someone might think we were a lesbian. We got over that as soon as we slipped a toe into a black leather Dansko.

These days, it's so hip to be gay we wouldn't mind being mistaken for bi-, but now all the lesbians seem to be wearing Manolo Blahniks.

They don't know what they're missing.

The Shoe Mill was then and is now the best place in the Valley to buy clogs. You can find everything from Naot to Josef Seibel, clogs covered in faux pony, flowers, plaid wool. Red Mary Janes. Our favorite is the Dansko Professional -- classic clog style with a closed back. Sure, the white ones look like something only a nurse would wear. But you should see our black patent leather Professionals. Nothing professional about them, we promise.

Now, if only the Shoe Mill started carrying Manolos . . .

BEST CLOTHING RETAILER WITH A CONSCIENCE

Objects

We're not ready to canonize Objects owner Tina Liston just yet. But we're hard-pressed to find a clothing retailer with as big a heart. Since opening last year at the Biltmore, Objects -- which sells hard-to-find designer clothing, and harder-to-find home furnishings from around the world -- has held in-store art shows and charity benefits for tsunami relief (raising more than $3,000) and ALS research, and has a silent auction in the works to raise money for Habitat for Humanity. (As of press time, she was still plotting her Katrina relief efforts.) All the while, Liston and her cohorts are scouring the globe -- from Africa to Peru, and southeast Asia to Costa Rica -- in search of handmade goods like textiles, pillows, ceramics and artifacts, and (get this!) actually paying fair prices before bringing them back stateside. "I'm just happy to be able to filter some of the income from my business in a philanthropic way," Liston says. "But what I'm most pleased with is how much our customers appreciate it." And we do!
Last Chance Bargain Shoes & Apparel
This Best of Phoenix is brought to you by a metrosexual man in Mephisto shoes, Bugachi shirt and Indigo Palms jeans. Suggested retail: $590. Last Chance price: $59. That's a 90 percent discount, just about average for this clearinghouse dive for leftovers, returns and misfit dolls from the nation's Nordstrom department stores.

Yes, it is a dive, something akin to a Tuscaloosa swap meet on hillbilly heroin. But take heart, because beyond the grabby bitches, both male and female, there is still a majority of civilized bargain shoppers. The Last Chance experience can be fun if accepted as camp, or slumming, or even whoring for the greater good. And dangit, for a Mr. Metrosexy, looking this good for $59 may be the greatest good there is.

Here on the Corner
For years, we've waited for someone to open a cute boutique near Arizona State University, a place where it's just as much fun to browse as to buy, and where even a cash-strapped coed can find a stylish little something to spruce up that outfit from Old Navy.

And then we stumbled into Here on the Corner. We love the fact that this little space just north of campus is packed with the work of local designers, but our favorite part is that you can find super-cute accessories for $10 and under. There's a huge selection of trendy sunglasses, all priced at $10. Many bracelets and rings are just $5. Some things are a little pricier, but obviously worth it: You can find a hand-embroidered pair of jeans, something that might cost several hundreds of dollars at a ritzy joint in north Scottsdale, for under $100. The friendly staff didn't mind when we picked through just about everything in the shop, finally landing on a $5 toe ring.

Now we can only hope for more cute boutiques. Last time we looked, there was space for rent across the street from Here on the Corner, in the new ASU Foundation building. Any takers?

Artafax
Looking for the ideal housewares gift for your too-cool-for-school pal? Head over to Artafax in the Kierland Commons shopping plaza for everything from cool place settings to knickknacks that will knock your smock off. What moved us about the store for Gucci hipsters on a recent visit was the inordinate number of far-out clocks on its walls, many by Dutch designer Hank Stallinga and British designer Deborah Jedwab. One cylindrical timepiece has a stationary 12 at the top with a swinging 6 at the bottom. A silver, rectangular clock that we particularly liked has a swinging rabbit's-foot chain at the bottom. There was a compass-like one with 14 gears showing. Another has mirrors at 1, 4, 6, 9 and 11. There was one in the shape of an exploding atom. The prices for these sculptures that tell time ranged from $80 to $250, cheap (if you ask us) for functional art that you'll dig for a long time. Of course, there's the standard cuckoo clock, too, but you will want to go très chic at the stylish Artafax -- or you may as well buy your wall watch at Wal-Mart.
Tiffany & Co.
If there'd been any way to buy one of those light-blue Tiffany boxes on the black market, we could've saved a mint by snagging the box and heading over to the discount jewelry mart for a cheapo trinket. Alas, you've gotta pay to collect a Tiffany box.

Sometimes, there's no substitute. Yep, we did something so wrong, we were forced to go all the way up the ladder to the Jeweler of Jewelers for a make-up gift. Okay, okay, we admit it, damn it all; what you think we did doesn't even compare to the offense in question. We had no damn choice. Anything short of Tiffany's, and we'd have been up the canal without a bobble.

So, tail between legs, we headed to the Scottsdale branch of the jeweler to the rich and famous. Once inside, we had one question: "How much do I have to spend to get one of them blue boxes?" A nice lady behind the counter looked sympathetic, as her haughty colleagues glared at us with that "Well, if you have to ask . . ." look. The Queen of Compassion pointed to her own earrings, which resembled Tahitian pearls but were really stainless-steel jobbies for a mere $65. "Of course, we have items like money clips for less, but that won't do, will it?" she said, clicking her tongue three times. No, it wouldn't!

To put those tight-assed colleagues of hers in their place, we blurted: "What's the most expensive item in the store?" It was a $250,000 diamond engagement ring. We settled for something on the low end of in-between -- a $486 crystal heart on a platinum chain -- and got the hell out of there!

Fortunately, the locks on the doors hadn't been changed by the time we got home with our little blue box.

Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts
We think this classy museum emporium is just about the best place to buy anything, but it's unparalleled in the area of greeting cards, thanks to the exquisite eye of Janice Bartczak, the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts' Director of Retail Operations (a fancy-schmancy name for head buyer). No Hallmark here. Rather, Bartczak stocks The Store with an assortment of single and boxed cards by makers such as KOCO NY; Peaceable Kingdom Press of Berkeley, California; Galison of New York; Knock Knock of Venice, California; Borealis Press of Surry, Maine; and Designfold of New York. And in the event that you dislike the cards on hand -- highly doubtful -- The Store also sells a DIY card-making kit. Even we jaded media types aren't immune to The Store's charms; on a recent visit, we succumbed to the allure of a set of Opera Notes cards by Galison featuring to-die-for illustrations by artist John Martinez.
Borders Books & Music
It's kind of sad to admit that we really researched this, but indeed, we did -- that's how hooked we are on magazines. The god of glossies still hasn't answered our prayer for an independent, can't-miss newsstand downtown, so for now, we schlep to the crown jewel of Mill Avenue's chain-store lineup for our fix. Quite simply, there are just more racks here, period, which means that every category is robust. More news and fashion, more sports, music, and queer-friendly titles, plus a cheeky selection of indie and foreign mags with amusing names like Artichoke, Swindle, Theme, and Anthem. The more, the merrier. Because as any true magazine junkie knows, it's all about quality and quantity.
Changing Hands Bookstore
The kind folks at Changing Hands are so helpful. They publish a monthly newsletter, complete with a full listing of the events held at the store, which include costumed storytelling for kids, grown-up authors like Scott Simon and Hillary Clinton, and a variety of writing classes. Ask a staff member for a book, and it's in your hands before you realize she's left and returned. Need a card, or a gift? They've got it, along with irresistible store tee shirts that read "Fictional Character" and "Will Work for Books."

So we weren't surprised when, on a recent trip to the store, an employee helpfully suggested that we rename the Best of Phoenix award for Best Bookstore to "The Changing Hands Best Bookstore Award," recognizing that CH has certainly won its share of BOPs over the years.

Good idea, we said, as we struggled to the cash register with our stack of new and used books. But usually, when you do that, the award is given to someone else. Why would we give Changing Hands the Changing Hands Award? Leave the "Best of" business to us. We'll leave the book business to Changing Hands. And the "Best of" for Best Bookstore. Again.

The Antiquarian Shop
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.

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