BEST USE OF A PRICKLY PEAR NOT INVOLVING ALCOHOL

Prickly Pear

All year long, we keep a folder full of ideas for Best of Phoenix awards menus, newspaper clippings, notes scribbled on cocktail napkins. This year, that folder also contains a bar of soap. Yes, it makes the folder a little bulky, but we've found it's not enough to keep a bar of Wild Women Soaps prickly pear on the bathroom counter we like to keep it by the computer, and sniff it often. It smells that good. If you want your own bar to keep by the computer (and maybe one for the sink, too), you can buy it at the gift shop at the Desert Botanical Garden, or shop online.
From giant pythons to tiny lizards, Arizona Reptile Center has everything you need to transform your living room into a world-class reptilian display. The friendly and knowledgeable staffers are quick to answer questions, whether you're an expert herpetologist or a novice who's a bit terrified about feeding a dead rat to your pet boa. The store has quietly developed a rabid and devoted cadre of customers who rave about the joint on the Web. "I never want to leave when I go there," says one snake snuggler. "This is absolutely one of the best, cleanest, and friendliest places I've ever been to regarding snakes or lizards," raves another.
It's the national chain with the huge purple-and-green logo. Accept no substitutes! Unlike most other soi-disant "dollar" stores, everything here is 99 cents unless it's two, three, or four for 99 cents. Six big ounces of posh Yardley shower gel. Brilliant blue, red, or green cotton tea towels embroidered with adorable vegetables. Everything for the table: candles, vases, melamine superhero plates, classy Indonesian barware. A gamut of groceries, from fresh produce to snacks of the world to rarities like instant espresso powder. Live plants, pots and soil. (Experience indicates an 80 percent survival rate for 99 Only's flora, and that's hard to beat.) Scarves and ponchos and scrunchies, oh my! Fill a stocking or a basket. Fill a gift bag (the bags are two for 99 cents). And never buy Halloween candy in a "regular" store again, not when name-brand snack-size bars are 10 for wait for it 99 cents.
We weren't sure there was any better place than several of our favorite local dollar stores to buy religious accouterments, until we wandered into The Autom Company on Seventh Street one recent afternoon. We'll never get back the two hours we spent browsing there, but that's more than okay, since we now own a Saint Benedict Home Protection Kit ("For those looking for protection from the forces of darkness and temptation"), an Adoration of the Magi Tea Light Holder (because, hey, where else are you going to put your tea lights?), and a luminous Infant of Prague nightlight that we like to think is keeping St. Lucifer at bay. Prayer Card collectors and fans of plastic glow-in-the-dark rosaries will, as we did, need a good chunk of time to spend in this amazing shop that stocks everything you need to be a good Catholic.
Smokin' Lingerie
Looking for a "hooker-tight" black vinyl mini-skirt? Need a leather bustier with lots of zippers? Can't find a place that sells quality latex body paint? Stop in at Smokin' Lingerie, and you'll find every kinky thing you need for the next fetish ball or flash bash. At 12,000 square feet, Smokin' Lingerie has room for a massive selection of sexual stimulants, and the inventory includes everything from neon g-strings and knee-high boots to studded leather face masks and rubber dresses. The racks contain a fair amount of teddies and vinyl wear in larger sizes, too, so there are plenty of sexy getups for the more voluptuous gals. Patrons can also peruse the porn selection, which contains thousands of titles on both DVD and VHS. If you're feeling really adventurous, you can try out the bondage swing, located near the dressing rooms.
Melrose Liquors
Phoenix has more than its share of drive-through liquor stores, but Melrose Liquors stands out for a couple of reasons: one, the building is situated between two popular lesbian nightclubs, zGirl Club (formerly Misty's) and E-Lounge; and two, the building is triangular and painted hot pink, fitting for a building situated on a strip of Seventh Avenue that's full of gay-owned/friendly businesses but happy to serve all. The selection inside the store is huge and prices are reasonable, making it a perfect stop for take-home nightcaps after a night of club hopping. Best of all, this drive-through liquor store isn't located in a strip mall it stands alone in a big vacant lot, so there's plenty of room to maneuver around late-night traffic once you've grabbed your 40-ounce and cigarettes from the window clerk.
It's All Goodz
That little clay or clear glass "tobacco pipe" might hit in a pinch, but pull it out at a party, and people will look at you cross-eyed for all the wrong reasons. If you really want to impress your fellow smokers, hook yourself up with a custom pipe from It's All Goodz. The shop presses and blows its own glass pipes in a room right there in the store, and patrons can watch the pipesmiths in action through huge windows. The shop's craftsmen can make anything you want whether it's a pink pipe with a bowl shaped like a vagina, or a huge steamroller pipe made out of chameleon glass that changes colors as you smoke it. And if you can't decide whether you want a green and gold paisley pipe with ornate spiders and cobwebs down the sides or a pipe shaped like one of those Grateful Dead dancing bears, you can always pick one of the ready-made originals off the shelves. In addition to its own creations, the shop carries a huge selection of the highest quality tobacco pipes, water pipes, and hookahs, in addition to other accouterments like ashtrays, pipe bags, and lighters. Very impressive!
Panorama Wigs
The once and always champion among wig shops is fast becoming a Phoenix institution, especially among the follicularly challenged. Panorama only appears to be displaying all 3,000 of the wigs it stocks, because they're everywhere: auburn falls and bright blond switches and shiny Dynel Afros. Guys who aren't interested in dressing like girls will find a fabulous selection of men's toupees here, and gals who want to hide their long brown tresses under a cute strawberry blond pixie will benefit from the presence of one of Panorama's in-house stylists, who'll teach you wig tricks while you wait. All this fake hair is affordable, from cheapie clip-on extensions for $15 to more elaborate, triple-digit numbers that will fuel any hair fantasy you may have. We'll quit teasing and let you get down to Panorama, where a wig is waiting for you.
Some people get ready for an earthquake or a tornado by stocking up on the essentials for survival extra food, batteries, and plenty of water. Serious death-metalers, on the other hand, spend their time preparing for Judgment Day by stocking up on the essentials of hardcore metal that rare Dying Fetus Purification Through Violence picture disc, the latest Cock and Ball Torture album, and plenty of cheap beer. You're not going to find this kind of hardcore metal by popping your brooding head into Tower Records, which is why Metal Devastation is the hardcore headquarters for all things apocalyptic, devilish and nasty. The self-proclaimed "most Satanic brutal store," Metal Devastation also has plenty of goodies like the latest issues of underground mags like Terrorizer and an extreme DVD selection that includes all four Traces of Death (think Faces of Death on crack) and all three Shocking Menus. Yummy. The beer you'll have to get someplace else.
Stinkweeds
If you're looking for the latest Britney Spears or Kelly Clarkson tracks, look elsewhere. On the other hand, if you need indie ska, punk, reggae or anything alternative, Stinkweeds is the place to go. Owner Kimber Lanning personally trains the staff, and the turnover rate is low, so you can bet that the folks behind the counter will have the answers you need. Like The Clash? Employees recommend former front man Joe Strummer's latest disc. Looking for a rare Rolling Stones album? The cashier thumbs past a Stones placard in the large vinyl section, which features new releases and an ample selection of used originals. The store's focus is on vintage and catalogue-only music, but Lanning is also on top of the hottest fledgling bands plying CDs like Beirut's debut album Gulag Orkestar before the group hits big. Unfortunately, the Tempe Stinkweeds closed earlier this year so Lanning could devote more time to the independent business booster Arizona Chain Reaction, one of her other passions, but the Phoenix hub is still rockin' strong.

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