Alcuin Books
First printings of novels penned by the late, great Kurt Vonnegut and Samuel Beckett are just some of the treasures you'll find inside the clean and inviting Alcuin Books. Friendly and knowledgeable bookworm Richard Murian and other welcoming staff members are more than willing to intellectually dish about their inventory and general history topics like the rise and fall of France's Bonaparte dynasty.

Other choice collectibles include a Frank Sinatra photo signed by Ol' Blue Eyes himself during "a bleak time in his career" and a pristine dust jacket from the Photoplay film mag spotlighting Lillian Gish. There are plenty of affordable first printings and rarities available, so plop down in a comfy chair and thumb through some rare and unusual tomes.

There are good (read: marketable) authors and bad (read: unpublishable) authors. Scottsdale-based Agreka mines the middle ground, specializing in "niche" authors — scribes with specialized tales to tell but not too many people to tell them to. Take polygamy. The Agreka bigwigs must be either jack Mormons or full-blown excommunicates because about half of the house's inventory casts a dim view on Polygs and Creekers. A few of the titles you'll find are Murder of a Prophet: The Dark Side of Utah Polygamy; A Teenager's Tears: When Parents Convert to Polygamy; Polygamy's Rape of Rachael Strong; Colorado City Polygamists: An Inside Look for the Outsider; Polygamy Under Attack: From Tom Green to Brian David Mitchell; and The Correlation of Muslim Doctrine & Latter-Day Saint Doctrine.

Whew! That ought to keep us busy for a couple of months. Agreka also offers a varied line of non-polygamy fare, and it's a good bet you won't find these titles at your neighborhood Borders, either: Sleeping With Angels: A Veterinarian's Sacred Bond of Animal Companionship; Liberalitis: A Thinking Disorder Destroying America; The Blood Axe: A Story of Viking Kings; Help! There's a Tigress in the House: When a Husband Retires & Other Diversions; and Art Puzzles by Number: From Easy to Mind Bending.

Being a dork isn't easy. The looks of pity while standing in line for nine hours to see Star Wars: Episode III. The snickers and snide comments just for dressing up as hunky Final Fantasy hero Cloud. So what if it wasn't Halloween? At Samurai Comics in Phoenix, you're not alone. Magic: the Gathering is a lifestyle, not just a card game, and movie-accurate stormtrooper costumes are chic. It's a geek's wet dream, especially considering the buxom babes populating the covers of Lady Death, Kabuki and teenybopper rags like Bomb Queen III that line the walls. But parents needn't be concerned. Owners Moryha and Mike Banks also stock tons of classic Superman, Spidey and X-Men back issues from the time before Rogue's double D's and Storm's cleavage-bearing wetsuit.
Panorama Wigs
There are wig shops and there are wig shops, and then there's Panorama Wigs, where faux follicles await those of us in need of a new mop up on top. Bad hair days vamoose for good after a quick trip to the city's oldest, wisest wig salon, where more than 3,000 hairdos, from flips to feathered falls, wait patiently atop Styrofoam heads. Budget styles (Did somebody say "Pixie"?) can be had for as little as $25, and while more hyper hairdos (ask to see the infamous "rainbow Cher wig"!) are pricier, they're still a bargain considering all the stares they'll earn you at your next soiree. Run, don't walk, to Panorama, where admission is free: You don't have toupée!
It's All Goodz
This unassuming little shop, tucked in a tiny strip mall behind an Exxon Mobil gas station, is still the best one-stop stoner shop in town. The coolest thing about It's All Goodz is the shop's custom-blown glass pipes and bongs, which are made on-site in a room with windowed walls where spectators can check out the craft. Some of the pieces themselves are like detailed works of art; the display case in the center of the store houses some of the higher-end pieces, which stand well over two feet tall each and feature the forms of everything from dolphins to mushrooms to naked women. And unlike many other head shops, where you have to hunt for a stylish, padded bag that'll fit your piece, It's All Goodz seems to have a fitting bag for every pipe they sell. The store also carries the usual assortment of rolling papers, posters, funky ash trays, and jewelry, and the prices are right (not too expensive, but not so cheap that you have to wonder if you're buying a piece of crap). The employees are always laid-back and friendly, never pushy or snobby, which makes shopping for kicks at It's All Goodz a no-pressure, no-stress experience.
After recovering from a broken neck in 2000, former aerospace worker Richard Vietor opened this little gem on Scottsdale Road just south of Thomas Road. Now, we can hardly drive Scottsdale's main drag without pulling in to slam one of his tasty, caffeinated treats.

The building is small and quaint and, we confess, we've never been inside. But we've driven through dozens of times, and thus have been able to focus on the quality of the coffee rather than the interior decorating. And that quality is superb. We never grow tired of our regular order — a medium cappuccino with about three-quarters of a packet of Sugar in the Raw. Vietor seems to really care that he or his worker gets the right amount of sugar — no more, no less — into our cup. That's good service.

BevMo!
Now, why didn't we think of opening a huge store that sells nothing but alcohol and everything you need (from caviar to snack on, to sugars to rim your glass) to go with it? Duh. How could you go wrong? The BevMo!people have gone terribly right, which must be why their stores are popping up around the country quicker than mortgage foreclosures (or maybe that's why so many people are drinking so much?). Anyhow, we fell in love as soon as we entered BevMo!— the place is super-shiny-clean and the staff is knowledgeable and friendly. And not just interested in turning a profit! We asked for a particular Russian vodka that comes in a fancy hand-painted bottle, and they had it. But the clerk tried to sell us a different vodka instead — he said it was better, and it certainly was cheaper! Apparently it's rare, and BevMo!had just received a shipment. We passed (our friend wanted the collectible bottle) but promised we'd be back for the other kind — and no, we won't give you the brand name. We want it all to ourselves. But we bet the BevMo!folks will know just what you're talking about, when you ask.
Sportsman's Fine Wines & Spirits
It's funny to think that the Valley's best wine purveyor started in the '50s as a neighborhood liquor store, the kind of place where folks stopped to pick up a six-pack, and maybe a fishing license.

Sportsman's, you've come a long way, baby! Of course, the place has long since gone upscale, and in recent years, its empire has expanded to three more locations. Boasting the state's biggest selection of bottles — with an astounding variety of vintages from both the world's most established Old World wine producers, as well as up-and-comers like New Zealand, Israel, and South Africa — Sportsman's can hook you up with whatever you're looking for. And don't worry if you have no clue what you're looking for — the salespeople here are more than happy to share their insights, make recommendations, and guide you to the perfect bottle. Take a seat at the bar for some tastings, and they'll be happy to get you tipsy, too.

Time was, convenience stores were good for a cold six-pack, some Gatorade, and maybe a bag of chips for the road. But as far as grabbing a decent bottle of wine this side of Ripple to take home for dinner, forget it.

That's changed — at least at this unexpected little find on the border of Phoenix and Scottsdale. Whoever "Pam" (of wine rack fame) is, she offers a small, but impressive selection of white and red vinos ranging from about $8 to $30, and you can't miss seeing them when you walk into the store. We recently found a nice Pinot Noir from Napa Valley for an eminently reasonable $15 that Miles — the memorable Paul Giamatti character from Sideways — would have adored. The store also sells wine "accessories," such as corkscrews, glasses, bottle plugs, and other extras. Next thing you know, this joint will be offering sushi along with the pork rinds.

Pump-N-Munch
When we're heading over to the West Valley to catch a Cardinals game or shop at Arrowhead Towne Center, one of our preferred pit stops to reload on carbs and refuel the car is this former Exxon Food Mart that's become an independent petrol depot, staffed by super-friendly cashiers and stocked with a full selection of salty and sugary snacks.

Plus, there's the name of this gas-and-grub joint: It makes us chuckle every time we drop by to, err . . . pump and munch (heh). Our gutter brains go into overdrive with all manner of double-entendre as our inner 13-year-old gets in a good giggle or two. It's almost as fun as visiting Rapid In-and-Out Gas in downtown Phoenix (snicker).

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