Lonnie's Inc.
So, we were looking for some "stuff" to make some "art," but we knew exactly nada about jewelry-making. Just for the heck of it, we waded into the Phoenix branch of this family-owned and operated store and tried to look pathetic.

It worked! A very friendly and knowledgeable lady sidled up to us, grilled us about what we had in mind, and then took over, telling us exactly what we could do for as little as $100. Sure enough, we walked out with all kinds of cool, mixed-media materials, and were even able to use them. The store also offers gift boxes, traveling cases and a variety of silver and gold chains, fairly priced. But what delighted us most was the service, which was worth its weight in gold.

The Paper Studio
Every child is an artist — at least to Mom, who lovingly taped our rudimentary crayon drawings on the fridge. But when they grow up, only a few become real artists, while the rest of us never improve beyond stick figures. Artist Cindy Iverson just doesn't believe that. She and her husband Gary opened a bright, modern paper store stocked full of scrapbooking and craft supplies that'll make anyone look like a pro. Shelves and racks brim with Japanese paper, hand-soldered jewelry trays, stickers, knobs, and decorative papers sporting patterns from country checks to preening cats.

The staff is happy to help you determine the sturdiest paper for origami or locate the perfect antiqued keyhole knob for your family album. See what's possible with paper in the shop's small art gallery or do-it-yourself at classes on bookbinding, paper-making or letterpress. Maybe you won't come out a master artist, but at least you'll go home with something fridge-worthy.

Scrap Happy Sisters
It began innocently enough. We wanted to commemorate our husband's 1978 bar mitzvah with a scrapbook of mementoes we'd recently found (the invitation; the snapshots of him reading from the Torah; the commemorative blue denim yarmulke handed out to each guest), and ended up with a full-fledged hobby inspired by our new favorite store.

Scrap Happy Sisters is more than just a great place to buy the coolest scrapbooking supplies (although it's certainly that, too); it's a way of life, one involving pretty paper both hand- and machine-made; miles of swell stickers and trim; boxfuls of memory-enhancing page templates, and row upon row of beautifully bound books to paste them into. We met several kindred spirits on our first visit there — people who know the importance of finding the perfect photo corner, who warned us against using anything but the most acid-free paper for mounting old playbills, who didn't laugh when we asked for those little wax envelopes for pressing flowers in.

We're looking forward to attending one of Scrap Happy's one-hour digital scrapbooking classes, and we're counting the days 'til the next "Late, Late Nighter," the store's Friday-night bash where scrapbookers hang until the wee hours (some of the parties go 'til 2 a.m., and everything in the store is 15 percent off!), nibbling complimentary snacks and comparing glue sticks. Frankly, we're glad to have become Scrap Happy.

Frenzy Stamper
If you're hot for grommet tools and ink pads, or if hearing names like Our Lady of Rubber, Staampotique Originals and Stampington & Co. gets you excited, you're definitely a Frenzy Stamper. This tiny shop is packed with stamps in every conceivable pattern and size, as well as enough glitter and ink to fill every sheet of fancy paper in the place. We have no idea what a grommet tool is — and, frankly, no desire to learn — and we still managed to fill our arms with various hues of hot pink stamp pads, teeny paper flowers and several shades of glitter. We don't know what we'll do with any of it (probably hoard it, like we do all our other unused craft supplies), but it's good to know that Frenzy Stamper has plenty of classes to instruct us in the ways of the stamp world, if ever we're so inclined.
Yes, we know that most of you still work 9-to-5-type jobs, punching in, punching out (and wanting to punch the supervisor about half the time!). Lucky us, we don't. That's not to say, though, that this journalism stuff takes anything less than, say, 60 hours (okay, boss, so it's only 50) in an average week. Some of us still tromp down to the office every weekday and stare endlessly at our computers with the intensity of Talmudic scholars.

Others prefer an off-the-beaten-path locale where we can get a little work done in our own weird way. In this case, we mean setting up shop (and laptop) in a corner of a popular north Phoenix restaurant that's one part coffee shop, one part health cafe — observing the world of pretty people in spandex, business types in suits, young mothers with their little ones, and the occasional big-time athlete hanging out.

The friendly folks who work the spacious room at Soma don't give a hoot if you take up space for hours on end, sipping on an iced tea as you "craft" another masterpiece at the keyboard (or just try to get the damn thing done). In fact, Soma's staffers embrace the restaurant's regulars, both figuratively and (if you're lucky) literally. And here's another thing we've seen for ourselves: We'd bet as many deals of all kinds get brokered at this eatery as anywhere around.

Dutch Bros. Coffee
We know, we know. The coffee thing is over-priced, over-hyped and over-caffeinated. Who really needs four shots of espresso a day? Um, we do. Which is why we were curious, on a recent Saturday morning, about a big sign in front of a tiny drive-thru just off the Arizona State University campus. The sign read, "FREE COFFEE."

We burned rubber, getting in line. And it was there we learned all about Dutch Bros. Coffee, a chain of coffee shops based in the Pacific Northwest. Sound familiar? Not quite — these folks are from Oregon (well, they're actually Dutch, but they started the company in a tiny town called Grants Pass, Oregon) and they own almost a hundred shops, rather than almost a gazillion. The coffee was cheaper than the other guy's (even on a day when you have to pay) and tasted great, with specialty flavors like Almond Joy and Milky Way. We even loved the cute cups, decorated with a windmill and a bunch of tulips.

The D.B.'s motto is "All roads lead to Dutch Bros." Not quite — at least, not yet, here in Arizona. But if you're in Tempe, we recommend you stop by; syrups and whipped cream are always free, and even the tall, er, we mean small drink comes with an automatic double shot. Truth be told, it's more of a drive-thru than a house, but such is the way of our coffee culture these days.

A Shot of Java
Lisa Dowd's diminutive espresso parlor isn't so much a coffee house as it is a coffee cottage, snugly located inside a cozy building behind Pizza Old Roma in downtown Glendale. But while it may not be as roomy as your corner Starbucks, A Shot of Java offers a far tastier cup of joe, served up by counter help that are (gasp) actually friendly, which is surprising since the owner is a former New Yorker. She and her bevy of baristas will also gladly provide you with such caffeinated potions as their signature Cocamochanut Frappe, as well as ice-cold bottles of Jones Soda, crunchy biscotti, decadent sweet rolls, and even chocolate-covered coffee beans (in case you weren't awake enough). Once your peepers have been pried open by high-octane concoctions, fill them with some of the board games and books available, or perhaps crack open your laptop and surf the Web via free Wi-Fi. Dowd also brings in local musicians to perform every week, including New Orleans-style jazz group The Hurricajuns and piano balladeer Jonathan Standifird. We guess size doesn't matter after all.

BEST NEIGHBORHOOD COFFEE HOUSE, NORTH PHOENIX

Unlimited Coffee

Unlimited Coffee
At 7 in the freaking morning, we want comfort. We want breakfast. The last thing we want is to walk into a new place and meet new people, so first impressions are even more impressive than usual. Within our first five minutes in this cozy cafe, the barista helped us choose a chocolate-chip scone that he swore was "sex on a plate," reassured us about the kitten we'd dropped off to get spayed, upsized our mango smoothie because he'd made too much, became our new BFF, and gave the next customer the rest of the excess smoothie as a sample. They make their own gelato here, and it's named after a cat.

They have a piano. Each employee has a business card with e-mail and a phone number. Yeah, they make coffee, too, and you'll appreciate that after you've basically moved in. Apparently, "unlimited" means there's nothing they can't do.

BEST NEIGHBORHOOD COFFEE HOUSE, CENTRAL PHOENIX

Willow House

Willow House has been around so long, it arrived before the coffee chains. The good folks of Phoenix continue to support the charming ol' green-roofed home with red trim originally constructed in the early 1900s. On any given eve, the joint is crowded with folks surfing the 'Net on complimentary Wi-Fi, enjoying acoustic singer/songwriter performances during open mic Mondays, or taking in Djentrification's sweet eclectic spins on Wednesday nights. Grub on veggie- and vegan-friendly eats and choose from a variety of coffee drinks and more than 10 David Rio organic teas. It's the kind of place that you remember stumbling upon on one of your bare-bones backpacking trips overseas, since the joint is filled with fliers for local shows, outdoor tables for prime people watching, a little bit of hippie grit, and inner-city charm.

BEST NEIGHBORHOOD COFFEE HOUSE, DOWNTOWN PHOENIX

Royal Coffee Bar

Royal Coffee Bar
With the real deal of a downtown Phoenix seemingly on the horizon, we've been longing (cups in hand) for a friendly java joint. Gloriously, we recently happened onto one just south of Sheriff Joe's empty old jail down on Jackson Street, and have found ourselves returning again and again. Royal is a small operation — a half-dozen chairs, a few cozy, black leather couches, and a couple of tables inside (there's also outdoor seating) on the ground floor of a newly opened apartment complex that seems populated with folks who don't plan on staying there long. An eclectic music mix plays all day. There's free Wi-Fi, certainly another plus. Adorned with colorful, abstract paintings and other locally made art, Royal is a welcoming place, mostly because of co-owner (with her brother) Gwen McNeil, a sassy, smart lady with a long memory for the off-the-wall requests of her many regulars. Gwen wears her feelings on her rolled-up sleeves, and the very idea of having to make a decaffeinated beverage with fat-free milk and a shot of sugar-free vanilla for the odd customer inevitably comes with an extended roll of her large, DeGrazia-like eyes and sad shake of the head. But even those results of her labors are delicious.

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