BEST TOY STORE FOR BIG KIDS 2007 | Red Hot Robot | Shopping & Services | Phoenix
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.



So your BFF's the big 4-0? Get over to Frances, ASAP. We've said it before and we'll say it again — this is the shop we'd open if we could open a shop, only the owner has way better taste. So we're content to browse the super-cute tables, packed with body products, garden supplies, jewelry, and a mix of new and vintage clothes. Make sure you check out the back room, but don't take that butterfly-covered coat we've been eyeing, or any of the vintage cowboy boots. We love Frances so much, we've had to put ourselves on a budget, which is why a girlfriend's birthday is the perfect opportunity to shop. No joke — we were at a friend's 40th not long ago, and at least half the packages on the gift table bore the telltale Frances label. Guess there are some benefits to getting old...


University Square

In recent years, developers by the dozen have sunk serious sums into Mill Avenue and downtown Tempe with the hope that ASU kids and other hipsters will spend their hours and (more importantly) their dollars at its ultra-corporate chain stores, restaurants, and nightspots.

Too bad for them that the gnarliest place around these parts ain't even on Mill Avenue at all, but rather an unpretentious strip mall at Ash Avenue and University Drive.

This countercultural complex of cool boasts an array of independently owned alt-friendly business offering satisfaction for all your senses. Pick up the latest issues of X-Men and Spider-Man at Ash Avenue Comics & Books, followed by a search through the bins of Eastside Records for used vinyl, or a hunt for secondhand chic at the Buffalo Exchange. If you're hungry, Otto's Pizza has plenty of fresh slices and subs for noshing, and El Pollo Supremo serves up inexpensive dishes of delicious mesquite charbroiled chicken and sirloin strips with warm corn tortillas. Wet Paint Art Supply has plenty of pigment for artistic types, while the Headquarters has all your... er, tobacco-smoking supplies, HTC has a piercing studio on the premises, and Cowtown Skateboard features equipment fit for tricking.

To quote Wet Paint owner Jesika Jordan, "Fuck Mill Avenue, Ash Avenue's where it's at." Word.

Smack in the center of the first floor at our biggest library sits a stunning collection of foreign and American classic films in both DVD and VHS format that rivals that of any retail store we've ever frequented. Literally hundreds of movies are available to anyone with a library card, the time (they have to be returned within a week), and the curiosity to watch them. The masters — Federico Fellini, Ingmar Bergman, Luis Buñuel, Akira Kurosawa, Jean Renoir, Jean-Luc Godard, and (we can't resist) Charlie Chaplin — are awaiting you. If you don't know who these fellas are, you're missing out.

Unless you forget to return your items on time, the price is right. So forget the old Chevy Chase flick or Animal House for the umpteenth time, and give La Dolce Vita or The Rules of the Game a gander, courtesy of one of our greatest institutions, the public library.

Kimber Lanning continues to run our favorite CD shop in Phoenix. No, you probably won't find Barry Manilow's greatest hits in this small outpost of indie music. That's what Borders is for. Or even, dare we breathe it, Stinkweeds is where you go if you want to stretch your taste, and Lanning and her staff are up to the task, offering an edgy selection of rock, pop, hip-hop, freak folk, and more (check out the listening stations to hear what's hot). The latest by The New Pornographers? Now that, we bet they have. It's probably playing in the store right now.
Our music collection is taking over our home ever since we discovered Bookmans. The mammoth store is just as cozy as our favorite ma-and-pa bookshops, thanks to friendly, little reading-and-relaxing nooks scattered all over the store, but we find ourselves lately heading straight for the colossal CD department, where gently used music of every stripe can be found, sampled, and (much to the chagrin of our groaning CD shelves at home) purchased.

Prices range from $3 to $10 on most single discs from a full range of musical styles. We snagged a CD reissue of Dean Martin's Christmas with Dino, the new Skinny Puppy, and a collection of Sesame Street songs covered by rock singers, all for less than $20. Listening stations make for no-risk shopping, and free Wi-Fi access means that, while we're scouting out that B-52's box set, we won't have to miss a single incoming e-mail.

We usually sneak over to the DVD and special-purchase collectible music sections while we're at Bookmans, because they, too, are overflowing with amazing finds at incredible prices. Probably, we should take advantage of Bookmans' generous trade-in policy by swapping some of our less-favorite CDs, but with prices like these, we'd just as soon hand over a handful of dimes for a lot of cool music.

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