The name JC Penney doesn't usually conjure visions of shabby-chic treasures and super-cute baby clothes, but we make an exception for the shell of the former department store, at the intersection of Main Street and Robson in historic downtown Mesa. The original brickwork remains, but the rest of this building has been transformed into a two-story, high-end boutique mall housing Domestic Bliss, Baby Bliss and Bella Fine downstairs, and Green B clothing boutique upstairs. High ceilings and hardwood floors are the backdrop, and onstage, vintage meets new fashion. Domestic Bliss offers fine linens, bedroom accessories and custom design with an emphasis on shabby-chic flair. Find a white cottage play area for the kids as you shop for baby couture and high-dollar accessories such as nursery chandeliers in Baby Bliss. Bella Fine offers Tuscany-inspired home accessories and specializes in oversize mirrors, wall clocks, and custom floral designs. Upstairs, pass through Green B's pink and pressed glass antique door to indulge your inner diva with some serious bling. Embellished tee shirts, crystal studded belts, purses and slippers dot the dark green and black backdrop reminiscent of a Paris boutique. Be prepared to drop some of your own green: We found fabulous hand-stitched tee shirts for (gulp) $137. But just think the eye candy is free.
Frances
We thought we had original taste, until we walked into Frances. Then the mixed emotions started. On one hand, we were delighted to see vintage cowboy boots alongside oilcloth, rhinestoned belt buckles next to the cutest lines of greeting cards we'd seen in a long time. On the other hand, we had to realize that not only is our taste unoriginal, it's not nearly as good as the taste of the owner, Georganne Bryant, who named this adorable shop after her grandmother and filled it with the most imaginative, whimsical, must-have stuff in town. There's a vintage section with carefully chosen dresses, purses and tees. A baby section, with only the best for the newest. Orchid-scented candles, polka-dotted flip-flops, jewelry, garden supplies. We're in love. We've always wanted to open our own boutique, but now there's no reason. Thank you, Frances!
The Purple Lizard
We were bummed when The Gap on Mill Avenue went belly up, but it always makes us even sadder to see a small, independent business go under. That's why we're so happy to report that after many years in business, Purple Lizard is still going strong, tucked into a small, packed space at the intersection of 15th Avenue and Thomas Road. We almost always run into someone we know at Marguerite's cozy shop, stocked with Flax, CP Shades, Dansko and other favorite, often hard-to-find brands, as well as original jewelry that puts any schlocky arts festival to shame. Our favorite is the line with bright blue and pink beads and other items strung and knotted with orange thread, adorned with clasps the artist commissions in New Mexico. Every item in the shop is a treasure, treated as such with great care as it's wrapped and presented, either as a gift or just for you.
We've gotten to the point where we dread hearing the word "birthday." And "Christmas"? Don't get us started. In our overstocked, overstimulated, overdone world, the "perfect gift" just doesn't exist anymore particularly when you're trying to buy for the type who thinks the word "shop" is the worst kind of four-letter word. That's why we're so happy we found Sportsman's, particularly the gift bar, where we can make one stop and pick up something for every outdoorsman on the list from a GPS to a flashlight to binoculars, Sportsman's stocks a wide variety of camping toys. Does your loved one prefer the outdoors from afar? Buy a cute woodsy frame and put a picture of yourself in it, sitting by the campfire and cross another name off your list.

BEST PLACE TO BUY A GIFT FOR AN INDOORSY TYPE

Lush

We love Lush so much, we gave this creative bath and body store a Best of Phoenix last year, even before the first Valley location opened. In the past year, we haven't been disappointed! In fact, we've gone back several times, to stock up on charcoal face soap, lemony flutter cuticle butter, and our favorite, bubbling bath bars with a unique smell we can't get enough of. We love that Lush puts out cookies and lemonade on a Sunday afternoon, and always labels its products with a cute drawing of the person who actually made the item. Best of all, we love buying Lush products as gifts it mitigates our guilt, because we have to admit that the prices are a little steep. But really, what price can you put on the head of your child, we think to ourselves, as we buy our daughter's teacher the "Happy Gift" a box filled with six Lush products, scented with orange, jasmine, ginger and rose, for $45? And what the heck, we'll buy ourselves a "Desperate Housewife," too (including a Two Timing Tart bath bomb and Smitten Hand Cream, $22.50). We deserve it.
We may not have to deal with dashing through the snow during the winter holidays, but there are the usual retail disappointments when it comes to the aisles of monotonous Santa-themed gifts. Ditch the rabid shoppers fighting for cheesy fat-guy merch and stroll into this bright and bold contemporary gift shop created by the masters of campy pop-type home furnishings over at the year-round staple, Haus. Holiday Haus carries non-traditional, non-Santa-type holiday items such as a winter survival kit that comes with hand wipes, mistletoe mints, earplugs and a shot glass. Adult gifts include Knock Knock sex flash cards, retro Jonathan Adler ceramic accessories, and holiday cards handmade with felt materials by local biz Laboratory5. The fun selection of kids' toys ranges from cards and games to cosmo pop dolls and old books. The high on style and low on clich shop is open from November through January.
MADE Art Boutique
It doesn't matter if we're picking up a gift for a friend, or just a pick-me-up for ourselves we'll take any excuse to pore over the shelves of goodies at MADE. Ever since this minuscule shopping space expanded a few months ago, there's been even more to tempt us: pretty jewelry, yummy-smelling soaps, exquisite woodwork, and cute ceramics all made by local artists, hence the store's name plus a cheeky variety of books and greeting cards. But what really make this shop a perfect fit on Roosevelt Row are its art exhibitions, featuring functional pieces by local artists focusing on different themes, such as handmade clocks, birdhouses, or planters. It's an incredibly affordable way to support local talent. There is one catch, though: Savvy shoppers and art collectors inevitably snatch these right up at the show's opening reception. So if the idea of buying an artist-made objet sounds irresistible, sign up for the store's newsletter to stay in the loop on upcoming shows and events. You wouldn't want to miss a good theme party, now, would you?
Borders Books & Music
Yet again we would have loved to give this category to a wonderful indie bookseller, but that would imply that Phoenix actually has one with a decent magazine rack. And since hell hasn't frozen over yet in the desert, Borders on Mill is still our top pick. Whether you're looking for gardening tips or interviews with world leaders, you'll find what you need somewhere among the store's six aisles of glossy publications. There's Glamour, Cosmopolitan, Maxim or Mental Floss if you actually want to exercise your noggin. Trekkies can blend in with normal folks while perusing the latest Starlog, and with so many titles crammed on the shelves, no one will notice if you grab a copy of Teen People. The best part is that Borders never seems to mind customers sitting down with a latte and thumbing through a periodical, even if you decide not to buy.
Changing Hands Bookstore
We've said it before, and we'll say it again: Changing Hands offers the best in book shopping, hands down. That's partly because it has such an amazing selection of new and used books. (Last time we were there, we bought the latest Augusten Burroughs at a discount and a 100-year-old sex manual for two bucks where else could we have scored both of these titles in one place?) But it's also because the people who work there unlike most of the chain stores around town clearly love books as much as we do. Want proof? Look no further than the helpful "employee pick" notes the clerks tuck into books, or the smiley and well-informed assistance they offer to book nerds like us. Not to mention the nice balance of famous and up-and-coming authors who read from their books at Changing Hands none of this "only best-selling authors" nonsense at our favorite bookshop (although you'll find your share of those, as well). If you don't find us browsing the stacks here, look for us next door at the adjoining Wildflower Bread Company, where we love to make a pit stop. And hey, one more thing: We hate cheesy chains as much as the next guy, but we wouldn't mind seeing another Changing Hands maybe in downtown Phoenix?
All About Books and Comics
Are your "Spidey senses" tingling? Okay, you didn't need superpowers to guess that AABC would be our pick. After 25 years of serving comic book junkies, this eight-time Best of Phoenix winner is still hailed as a geek's wet dream. The shelves are stuffed with more than a million back issues, from golden age originals like The Avengers and Green Lantern to the modern cult classic Sandman. While waiting for the next installment of Witchblade, you can stock up for your party, which, in this case, means a couple of 20-sided dice, some Magic: The Gathering cards and a plastic model of the buxom Lady Death to keep you company. Forget Internet dating this is the best place for a true geek-to-geek hookup. "Where did you meet Mommy?" "Our eyes met over a rare copy of Uncanny X-Men #247, son, and I knew she was the one for me." With any luck, their kind will multiply like Tribbles, producing an endless supply of customers for AABC.

Best Of Phoenix®

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