BEST PLACE TO CONTAIN YOURSELF 2007 | Western Plastics | Shopping & Services | Phoenix
Since 1968, this family-owned business has been turning out all shapes and sizes of plastic and glass containers for crafty types as well as big businesses. Need some eight-ounce jars for the salt scrubs you've perfected? They've got that. How about cobalt glass bottles for your super-secret perfume blend? They've got that. Large food-safe containers for your million-dollar-idea barbecue sauce? Yup, they've got that, too. Tucked in an industrial area of Phoenix, the showroom is open to the public. Mix and match bottles and tops for the perfect combination to show off your creative genius. If you're extra crafty, they'll even label your bottles for you. Best of all, you don't have to order by the truckload. Bring cash, though. Just because they make plastic doesn't mean they take it.
Pardon the pun, but animals of all shapes and sizes are just dying to get into Frank Jimenez's taxidermy shop. Whether it's recently departed desert fauna like javelinas, wildcats, and mountain goats; or such inanimate African animals as rhinos, giraffes, or zebras; the tanned and treated pelts of all of these recently deceased beasts have been skillfully stuffed and mounted with an eye toward quality by the 49-year-old and his five-member crew of taxidermists, which includes his 23-year-old son, Frank Jr.

This north Phoenix skin-schlepping emporium, which has operated at various Valley locations since the late '40s, has also transformed many a member of the family Ursidae into lifelike trophies over the years, including grizzlies, brown bears, and Kodiaks.

One example of their artistry was a particularly fearsome-looking Arizona black bear that became a terrifying hunter's trophy placed on a makeshift rock setting. It's so lifelike we're a little scared it could come back alive at any moment and take a swipe at us like some psychotic version of Gentle Ben.

The first time (and, okay, the second and third) we walked into Dolls Bears & Surprises, we thought we'd stumbled into the toy store time (and organization) had forgotten. To our plebeian eyes, the shop was nothing more than a mishmash of far-too-real looking dolls, particularly babies, crammed onto every available surface, staring at us. Our instinct: run. But our 5-year-old was enthralled, so we stuck it out (much the way we'll now sit through a circus, grinning at the scary clowns) and realized, on subsequent visits, what a treasure trove this little shop is.

It's located in the Strip Mall Time Forgot — probably not for long, given the hipster encroachment from the north (Postino, et al.) and east (The Vig). There's a drugstore a friend refers to as That Scary Drugstore and Secret Post Office (it's true, there's a post office in the back, very old-school) and a coffee shop actually called The Coffee Lady, who got pushed out at 40th and Campbell when La Grande Orange set up shop.

Okay, back to dolls and bears — and surprises. We had come to love this shop even before the aforementioned 5-year-old happened last Christmas to ask the mall Santa for "a bear with a suitcase with clothes from other countries." (Don't ever let your kid see a toy catalogue, unless you intend to earmark and save it.)

We were completely stumped. No amount of Internet research yielded an answer. In a panic, we called Dolls Bears, and — of course — the proprietor, Mark Besler, had the answer. "Yes, that's Muffy Vander Bear," he said. "And that ensemble would run you several hundred dollars; it's from FAO Schwartz." He waited patiently for us to put ourselves back together, then said, simply, "Come in. I'll take care of you."

That he did. He sold us Muffy and several sets of clothing, for well under $100, advising that we find a little suitcase elsewhere. (We scored one at Cost Plus.) Our kindergartener was thrilled, and so were we.

Who knew? Those creepy dolls staring at us have the right to have an attitude. Dolls Bears & Surprises sells high end collectible dolls including Madame Alexander, Effanbee and Goetz, as well as our beloved Muffy. And, it turns out, Mark Besler's not just a salesman, he's an artist. There's a whole page on his Web site showcasing the glass eyes he puts in collectible dolls, and more than once we've watched him repair an antique teddy bear. We hope he's in business for a long time — Muffy is already looking a little the worse for wear.

On a recent visit, we noticed a sign in the window warning that no new repairs will be taken 'til 2008. Hang in there, Muffy.

Everyone deserves to have their own trophy room. You know, a swank little space to display one's awards, spoils of victory, and other mementos of personal glory. It's kind of a staple of comic book heroes, as both Batman and the Justice League of America each have their own hidey holes. So it's kinda fitting that Valley comic book impresario and toymaker Todd McFarlane has built a personal palace of plunder devoted to himself adjacent to his company's warehouse and corporate offices in Tempe. Serving as a combination showroom and retail store for his company's various lines of detailed action figures — featuring characters from myriad TV shows and movies like The Simpsons, Aliens, and Lost — the 15,000-square-foot joint is also a "Temple of Todd," with countless souvenirs of his success.

In between numerous prototypes and double-sized display models of his company's toys hang different awards he's received from Wizard magazine and the Comic Buyer's Guide, as well as clippings from Variety about himself. McFarlane is also a fan of both rock and jocks, so photos of the Spawn creator with folks like Yankees slugger Jason Giambi and Kiss are mixed with sports memorabilia and signed guitars. McFarlane just opened a second store over in the Westgate City Center in Glendale, and while it'll be more of a retail-type deal, we're hoping he'll be showing off more of his personal goodies.

The Dark Carnival calls you, young Juggalo, so you'd best show proper devotion to Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope (a.k.a. the wickedly infamous horror-core rap duo Insane Clown Posse) by getting outfitted in style. Before you don your evil-clown makeup and head off to the annual "Gathering of the Juggalos," head for the Monstar Shop, a West Valley boutique specializing in the band's merch. All six of ICP's major albums (or "Joker's Cards") are available for purchase, as are their T-shirts, thongs, hoodies, stickers, DVDs, and posters. ICP's homies and fellow Psychopathic Records labelmates, like Twiztid and Boondox, also have schwag for sale, alongside T's for other ghetto-fab artists like Snoop Dogg. You're gonna frighten your parents, for sure, but you'll impress your fellow Juggalos.
Red Hot Robot opened its doors earlier this year, and with that, the northwest corner of Camelback Road and Central Avenue officially reached critical mass. Alongside Stinkweeds (music), Frances (fashion) and Halo (piercing), a toy store for big boys (and some girls) was the perfect thing to round out the edgy corner. Our favorite part? Along with toys designed by nationally-recognized collectible toy designing guys like Gary Baseman and Joe Ledbetter, there's a strong emphasis on celebrating the local guy, which is why you'll see the work of Mike Maas and Roy Wasson Valle (two New Times faves) on display, too. Let the collecting begin!
The trouble started with Cabbage Patch Dolls. By the time Tickle Me Elmo and Furbies came around, parents were getting in bloody fist fights to snag the last ridiculous piece of fluff that will record every embarrassing moment — from cursing at the mailman to sneaking a quickie after bedtime — so your kid can play it back to your mother-in-law. That's why Kidstop was a shoo-in for this category. The bright, kid-friendly boutique specializes in edutainment toys including miniature archaeology dig kits, microscopes and a perfume shop where girls can blend their own scents.

There's also a huge selection of outdoor toys like cool pirate-themed kites and a sit-on skateboard for ages 3-16. The best part? Kidstop's "toy specialists" are brimming with toy-buying advice for parents and grandparents, rather than pointing them towards Aisle 5's video games with a blank look like the pizza-faced teens do at the big box toy stores.

Buying a baby gift is simple: Just make sure you get something the mom would never buy herself. Like a onesie (with matching hat) emblazoned with the message: I AM BOOB MAN.

Too obvious? Oh, okay, party-pooper (hey, that's not a bad idea for a onesie message, either!), check out the wide variety of super-soft, super-luxurious (read: super-pricey; but hey, baby's worth it) chenille blankets (our favorite brand is Little Giraffe), or a set of custom burp cloths in trendy chocolate brown. A few years ago, our favorite baby gift to give was a set of multi-hued socks, all decked out to look like little Mary Janes. We still love 'em, but we noticed Petite Chateau sells the next big thing, a set designed to look like itty-bitty tennies. Almost as cute as baby herself!



Okay, so your favorite late-night party girl sidekick got herself knocked up, and she's not ready to go all Earth-mama yet. Don't worry, we're not headed for a discussion about, um, a shmashmortion or anything. (Apologies to readers who haven't yet seen Knocked Up.)

We're just saying, it's cool to stay yourself — yeah, you may have to give up the Marlboro Lights and the G&Ts, but there's no reason to relinquish your style to Captain Kangaroo. If a rocking horse won't knock her socks off, try the version offered at Garage: a pink and purple motorcycle. From the vintage-looking Bomb Pop T to the rhinestoned pacifiers to the candy-filled kaleidoscopes, every item in the shop is creative and irresistible and just a little edgy, with clothing lines including Diaper Dude, Space Baby, Nolita Pocket, and Marc Jacobs' line, "Little Marc." We loved the service, too.

When we admired some tiny socks, and asked if they made them for our kindergartener, owner Katie Wilson said she didn't carry them, but then insisted on calling another kiddy boutique to see if they did. We were in love.

This little boutique has clothes and gifts so stylish, you'll be wishing they made them in your size — and maybe you'll even consider popping a kid out yourself, just for the schwag.

Birthday parties are one of the little joys of childhood, and one of the big pains in the butt of parenthood. The pressure to find just the right gift — one that little Lily will ooh and ahh over in front of all her friends — is tough. We've all been there — watching little Logan open the remote control speedster, only to announce loudly, "Mom, look, this is just like the one I have at home!"

Avoid the birthday blues with Learning Express. Yes, it's a big national chain, which is exactly why we're recommending it. Do you really want to drive across town to buy your fifth birthday gift of the month, or would you rather shop at one of Learning Express' four convenient Valley locations?

We're never disappointed here: The selection includes Groovy Girls dolls, Klutz art books and those elusive Webkins. Per the name, there are plenty of science experiments and other IQ-building projects, but we've found plenty of guilty pleasures, like a cute pink poodle in a purse and those charms you poke through the holes in the kids' Crocs.

You'll still have to deal with the post-party sugar rush, but at least with Learning Express, the gift is in the bag.

Best Of Phoenix®

Best Of