Pets Inc.

The 20-gallon fish tank we bought for our children three years ago is a regular Garden of Eden, where lots of going forth and multiplying goes on, and death is a stranger. We owe it all to Pets Inc. Things weren't always this good. We were worried when we set up the tank — we knew anything that doesn't bark or meow when it's hungry had a low probability of survival. Sure enough, two die-offs occurred in the first year — including a major one while we were on vacation that left all but two fish floating on the surface.

With the help of the friendly staff at Pets Inc., we soon had a lively tank full of fish again. The staff hooked us up with a better pump system than we'd been using, and they also imparted the key knowledge that we should change the charcoal filter now and then. We selected a bunch of mollies, a pencilfish, a big suckerfish, and some others whose names are hard to recall. And we got new decorations for the tank, including a scale model of the Roman Coliseum and lots of faux sea ferns. We found the prices at Pets Inc. to be very reasonable — the fish and stuff cost less than a nice seafood dinner for two, that's for sure. Amazingly, we haven't had to buy fish in two years because the mollies are so randy.

Even one of the pre-die-off fish, Spot, is still wiggling his tail. When we're ready to move up to a bigger tank, or maybe try our hand at saltwater fish, or find replacements for the Third Great Extinction that is yet to come, we see no reason to go elsewhere.

Pets Inc. remodeled last year and added more shelf space, more products, and an above-ground pond to show off its new line of pond plants, koi and turtles. The large store also specializes in reptiles, and has an impressive menagerie of lizards, snakes, and tarantulas. Even if you don't buy anything, Pets Inc. is great for looky-loos who just want to treat their kids to a free mini-zoo experience.

Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World

If you can't find the fake lure to fit your specifications at this off-the-grid outdoors emporium, it doesn't exist. The selection is mind-boggling, monstrous, even excessive, if that's possible in this big-box age. However, not everyone is a sucker for the Bass, which started life in 1971 with eight feet of shelf space in a backwoods Missouri bait shop and has mushroomed into a chain boasting more than 40 big-box "Walleye-Marts." (Outgunned) competitors are naturally disdainful and true sportsfolks won't set foot in the joint, but weekend warriors can't get enough of the 200,000-square-foot retailer/tourist destination.

On the fence? Want the worm of your dreams but not sure you want to pay the social toll? Here's a hilariously appropriate yelp.com post we found from one similarly conflicted Phoenix woman:

"Talk about retail meets theme park meets playground meets the wild outdoors! When you first walk in, you aren't sure what your eyes should settle upon. The flashy boats? The four-wheelers? The huge fish tank? The gun room? The arcade games? From slingshots to dog collars, we looked it all over. We even spotted a camo bikini. Absurd. [Despite] being in sheer bewilderment of the enormity of this place, I had fun. I hate to admit it, but it's true. From admiring the wood furniture to snapping a camera pic of a bull's testicles, I had fun! I even managed to find some flip-flops I convinced myself I needed. Now that's powerful marketing!"

Indeed.

Bonnie's Barkery

Thanks to the popularity of "green" these days, you're probably already buying organic food for yourself. But what about your very best friend? Sarah Dixon started this popular Cave Creek-area pet supply shop a few years ago because she was frustrated by the lack of additive-free, free-range, organic pet foods for her Pomeranian, Bonnie. Now Bonnie — along with a bunch of other lucky North Valley pups — enjoys food that's free of toxins and tastes great, too. Bonnie's Barkery also offers toxin-free toys and bedding.

Hey, if it's important enough to buy it for yourself, you probably ought to be doing it for your dog, too.

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