Our 5-year-old is obsessed with Calico Critters. If you've never heard of them, skip this category, and consider yourself lucky. These little pieces of fur-covered plastic are the bane of our current existence, and they're damn hard to find, which is why we're so lucky to have Kidstop, which stocks them in several varieties from the Calico Critters Marmalade Bears to the Calico Critters Pigglywink Pig Family, complete with their homes and furniture. Sure, those learning-centric toy stores are all good and you can find plenty of that stuff at Kidstop but the reality of child rearing is that sometimes, you need a Groovy Girl or an Ork Waghar (we have girls, so honestly, we don't know what that is, but Kidstop has it and it looks scary and totally not the type of thing one of those creepy parenting magazines would tell you to buy your child) to really make the kid's day. And who are we fooling? Isn't that what parenthood and, certainly, grandparenthood is all about?
Walking through the door of Bears & More is like taking a trip back in time to an era long before Nintendo and Bratz dolls. Hundreds of lovable teddies perch on the shelves, each one with its own distinct personality. And we're not talking blue-light specials here. These are high-quality mohair collectibles from industry names including Canterbury, Steiff, and Cooperstown. You can even customize your teddy without having to visit one of those mall shops where they cram the bear's ass with stuffing and staple it shut. Just choose a cuddly plush toy and spruce it up with a pink parlor dress or a fireman's uniform from the wide selection of outfits. The shop provides instructions on how to hand-make your own basic teddy if you're handy with a needle and thread although we'll just leave that one to the pros.
There are three categories that baby gifts fall into: essential, practical, and just plain cute. Crismon's Baby Boutique has it all. For new mothers, there are comfy gliders to rock you and your infant to sleep. Grandparents-to-be will want to check out the store's huge furniture inventory, from shaker-style pine changing tables to a black mission crib with smart green plaid linens. Mom will love the practicality of baby furniture as a gift, and the new Nana and Pop can subtly influence the room's decor. For the bundle of joy, there are pastel layettes, a nice selection of onesies for comfort, and christening outfits that haven't changed in more than a century. Yup, those long white wedding dresses or knickers and frilly button-up tops are still chic for baby's first big day. We think the best gift at Crismon's is the toddler-size rocker. As soon as baby's old enough to hold her head up or crawl, she'll love the custom-painted, cute-as-a-button chair personalized with her picture.
If dressing for success gets you ahead in this world, then kids outfitted at Petite Chteau are destined to be doctors, lawyers, and maybe even president. The shop carries True Religion jeans, Lucky Brand, and tons of Juicy Couture. Sure, not everyone is willing to pay $40 for a layette, but this is the kind of place you go to splurge, not to pinch pennies. We can't get enough of Chteau's boys' line. It can be difficult to find trendy boys' duds that aren't preppy, so check out Italian designer Rare's edgy, modern tees and pants, which hover in the $40-to-$60 range. Screen-printed tees and layettes with clever sayings are really hot this year, and Petite Chteau is right on top of that trend. Our favorite is the "Does This Diaper Make My Butt Look Big?" onesie by Haute Stuff. Who knows what's on baby's brain before she can communicate, but if it's anything like her Mommy, that question is already on her mind.
We want the kids to look cute, but all those buttons and bows and tulle and don't even get us started on the challenges of Juicy Couture can get in the way of play. That's why we love the "piggy brand" at This Little Piggy Wears Cotton. Indeed, our little piggies wear it whenever we can get our hands on it (hint: this place has great sales), and our favorites include the piggy logo, splashed all over a cotton dress or tee (they've even expanded to adult boxers and PJs). This season we are also coveting the bright blue apple print and the yellow with roses. There's even a toile specially designed to celebrate Santa Barbara, This Little Piggy's original home turf. We'd love to see a Biltmore toile. 'Til then, we're happy to dress the little ones in the rooster print.


Once Upon a Child

A lot of moms scoff at the idea of buying used children's wear, picturing moth-eaten sweaters and stained onesies. Don't feel bad; we did too. That is, until we found this gem of a kids' shop hidden in a Chandler strip mall. The store is packed with rows of neatly hung apparel, from cute-as-a-button pink dresses to overalls for rambunctious toddlers. Everything smells fresh a hard thing to find in a resale store and all of the toys have been cleaned and repackaged in plastic for safety. You can find designer duds for a fraction of the price here if you look. There's a huge selection from Baby Gap, and you can occasionally find a Baby Phat tee or an Apple Bottoms onesie hidden on the rack. Our special tip? Sometimes the best picks are hanging in the storefront window. Pink Easter dresses with white fur muffs. Winnie-the-Pooh embroidered coveralls. Kids grow up too fast, but Once Upon a Child will help keep them in cute clothes as long as they're still little.


Other Mothers

Okay, admit it you love to get a slamming deal on your kid's clothes just as much as you love them looking cute, but you don't have the time to scour through piles of semi-gross used clothes at the Goodwill or hit the garage sale scene every Saturday at 6 a.m. Never fear: Other Mothers is one of the largest spots in the Valley to sleuth out the chichi-est of kiddy clothes for the least amount of scratch. The real perk is the trade-in you know you have bags of old clothes you'll never use again and Other Mothers pays better than most stores we checked out, giving you credit to burn. Go for the "get 10 outfits for 10 bucks" challenge (we made that up, but we tried it with success!) or buy a killer stroller for $30. Prices are generally 50 to 80 percent less than their retail price. With a rotating selection, and new product in almost daily, it pays to check in early and often to score those killer Guess Kids pants for $3. Other Mothers also resells a wide selection of women's clothing, baby furniture, and toys at prices equally dirt cheap everything but men's clothes. Don't worry; tell your man to stay home and put away the money you'll save for that 60-inch HDTV he's been dreaming of. Score!
Last Chance Bargain Shoes & Apparel
This category was created and has been sustained for Last Chance by a certain New Times writer so thoroughly addicted to the store that he now has 13 barely different pairs of top-shelf Italian ankle boots. This writer wonders, as does his wife, if Last Chance itself has made this man gay. No, no, on further thought, this is simply an asexual get-rich-quick obsession like gold fever. The shopper here is prospecting, digging through the ripped Pure Stuff short-staple cotton shirt that should cost a buck to find the perfect 100 percent cashmere Clan Douglas sweater for 98.2 percent off. For the persistent and studied, there is gold in them thar hills. For the green, more often fools' gold and frustration.
The best thing about resale clothing is that you can get a Marc Jacobs blouse for less than $100 and True Religion jeans for about $150 less than full retail price. The worst thing about resale clothing is that the blouse you just dropped $85 on isn't exactly your size, and those jeans are two inches too long. Don't even get us started on the hell of vintage clothing. We love it, but our closet's packed full of "project pieces" that we never got around to working on that dress that would look adorable if only it was shorter; that vintage tee that we were totally going to turn into a hot tank two summers ago. Which is why we're in love with Sunset Clothing Xchange for inviting tailor Karen Mealey to set up shop in its break room. Mealey has years of experience she's one of those I-used-to-make-outfits-for-my-Barbies kind of people. We're convinced she can do anything, from fixing a zipper, to hemming our pants (keeping the original seam!), to creating a jacket out of toilet seat covers. Really, she has one. And it looks great. We were already delighted with Sunset for supplying us with designer clothes we have to dig for hours at other resale shops to find. The fact that we don't have to pay full retail prices, and can have our clothes tailored exactly to our bodies all in one stop, is the reason Sunset makes us swoon.
With the asphalt melting under our soles in the triple-digit summer, shoes start to seem less like a fashion statement and more like a necessary evil. Those cool-looking Chucks and Docs give us sweaty toes and stinky feet, but walking around barefoot just isn't an option. Fortunately, there are flip-flops, and for the fashionistas who won't settle for some boring brown sandals, there are funky flip-flops at Go Kat Go. Whether you want to stand on some skeleton feet all summer long, or walk on some wicked-looking tiki heads, there's a pretty pair waiting on the racks here, from colorful polka-dot designs to classic black-and-white checkers. And you won't break the bank trying not to burn your feet, either there's not a pair on the shelves that costs more than 20 bucks. They'll even look good in winter, we promise.

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