BEST PLACE TO "RENT" A MOVIE YOU'VE NEVER HEARD OF 2005 | Burton Barr Central Library | Shopping & Services | Phoenix
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."
Need a pair of great tits? They're birds, pervert, and just one of dozens of varieties we found at Pratt's, a family-owned and operated business that started as a feed store back in 1936 but is now, as the staff tee shirts say, "the Unofficial Glendale Zoo." As the outskirts of town have shifted, so has Pratt's marketing emphasis. Instead of feed, Pratt's now specializes in birds, poultry, exotic reptiles, and small mammals. The pleasant employees solve problems ("My tortoise is constipated!"), sex finches, and catch piglets for kids to pet. There are horse troughs chirping with fuzzy goslings, ducklings, and four-for-eight-bucks bantam chicks. Pratt's also carries veterinary medication, offers a Saturday vet clinic, and stocks food and supplies for any vertebrate imaginable.

Pratt's newest acquisition: PetSpa. You know those machines outside Bashas' where you fill water jugs for a quarter a gallon? Well, for $14.95, you can stick your pooch in a similar contraption, this one with 36 shower heads and three cycles -- very Astro Jetson.

There are a couple of small signs just inside the front door of Auntie Em's that read, in both English and Spanish, "Parents: Please watch your children. Expensive toys." The placards don't lie, Mom, as this downtown Glendale curio shop is crammed with a plethora of pricey playthings dating back to the 1940s -- things that've been placed in glass cases to keep them away from Junior's greasy paws. In addition to the antique pedal cabs and miniature accessories also in stock at the store, this costly collection of classics runs the gamut from the more recently retro action figures (Transformers, Voltron, Star Wars) to the days long before you were bugging Daddy-o to buy some gaudy tie-in product seen in a recent cartoon. There are also quaint throwbacks ranging from cast-iron cops on Harley-Davidsons to 1960s-era Hot Wheels, as well as original Aurora models of movie monsters dating back to when Ike was in office. Play it again, Em!

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