We've used this mom-and-pop shop just off the McDowell exit of the 51 for years — and never once experienced a bad attitude, a missed deadline, or even a typo. And we know we're not alone in appreciating Award Mart's charms: Just about every time we're in there, we run into a cop or a politically connected attorney picking up a plaque or trophy. They clearly enjoy the place's friendly vibe and professional work just as much as we do.

Wedding Accessory Superstore

Shopping for a wedding is the worst. Especially if the wedding isn't yours. Sure, shopping for your dress is kind of fun — getting to feel like a princess and having tons of attention lavished upon you always is — but the rest just sucks. You can burn a lot of gas driving from shop to shop looking for what you need, or you can just get it all at the Wedding Accessory Superstore. We were skeptical at first, too. The name sounds a little Wal-Mart-y. But this place is great. You bridesmaids will love it because of the surprisingly good selection of hip, re-wearable and affordable dresses. You'll love it because you can buy everything but the flowers and the cake here. For your dress, you might want to look elsewhere, but for all those other random little things you just have to have to tie the knot, this is your spot.

Sweet Basil Gourmetware & Cooking School

We went for a 14-inch pizza pan and ended up hauling home a giant bagful of other stuff and signing up for a cooking class, as well. Once you've been to Sweet Basil, you'll understand why. There's too much temptation in this shop, which is clearly run by people who love hanging out in the kitchen as much as we do. We've looked around, so we know that there are few (if any) other places in these parts where one can find a good pair of pizza shears and a decent-size Parmesan cheese shaker. We love Sweet Basil's unique selection of serving pieces, cookbooks, paper goods, cookware, linens, barware, and gadgets. And don't get us started on this swanky shop's gourmet food and coffees; we'll never shut up. Suffice it to say we can't stop eating their grilled vegetable sauce, which we discovered when we took Sweet Basil's pizza-making class, one of a dozen or so different on-site cooking tutorials the shop offers for a mere 50 bucks apiece. We can't decide which to sign up for next, "Creative Chicken" or "Foods of Chile." While we decide, we'll continue to cruise the aisles of this, the best cook's corner in town.

Phoenix Knife House

It's no wonder people call Phoenix Knife House the barbershop for chefs. This inconspicuous little shop is not only a treasure trove for folks who need serious gear for the kitchen, it's a place for chefs to hang out and talk knives, food, and life with owner Eytan Zias, himself a former chef whose résumé includes stints at Kai, Circa 1900, and Fiamma, as well as New York culinary hot spots like Aureole, La Côte Basque, and Craft.

As the shop's name implies, Zias is serious about knives, carrying 12 different lines of high-end cutlery, mostly Japanese. In fact, he claims to be the only person in the U.S. to carry prestigious Sugimoto cutlery, whose roots are in swordmaking. You can have Zias hand-sharpen your blades, or he'll give you a free sharpening lesson so you can do it yourself at home. Along with knife rolls and sharpening stones, Phoenix Knife House is also the place to stock up on chef jackets, houndstooth pants, and clogs, books on culinary topics, and an assortment of utensils, from spatulas to rolling pins. Yep, there really is everything but the kitchen sink.

ABC Cake Decorating Supplies

We've always loved ABC Baking, but recently we took our favorite 7-year-old there, and experienced the place anew. The kid was awestruck by the rows of old cardboard boxes of treasure in the form of plastic cupcake toppers — bearing everything from the brand-new Kung Fu Panda to old-school bowling pins/balls. We bought a pile of the latter, along with a bag of Yummiland doll rings (if you have to ask, consider yourself lucky), plates, napkins, the makings of icing and a pile of pink bakery boxes (you can never have too many). We can't wait to go back — and neither can the 7-year-old.

Arizona Art Supply

Oh, sure. You can get paintbrushes at any art supply store. But how about airbrushes? Or grease pencils imported from Latvia? Or one of those clever, little wooden guys with all the movable joints?

There are art-supply stores, and then there's Arizona Art Supply, where the help treats you like a favorite houseguest and you can buy stuff you didn't know existed, like a handmade pine easel that collapses into a tiny box for easy transport. We wanted to make a lampshade but didn't know where to start, so we headed over to Arizona Art Supply and, after conferring with the friendly staff, came away with handmade paper from London, a pair of pinking shears, and a lot of suggestions about where to start. We also couldn't resist a calligraphy set, a sale-priced packet of oil paints, and a canvas. We know that once we're ready to tackle the art world — or the vagaries of hand-lettering — all we need do is drop back by our favorite art-supply house for a little friendly instruction.

Just Blazed City Art Supply & Gallery

Graffiti artists of the Valley, we feel your pain, yo. Sucka politicians are constantly trying to put the smackdown on your creative efforts with their anti-graffiti programs and by handing out some pretty wack penalties if you're caught doing your thing (including up to $150,000 in fines and more than three years in the clink). Luckily, the hustlas behind Just Blazed are on your side, as their McDowell Road shop is a hyped-up haven for taggers such as yourself. They've got glass display cases filled with more than 300 different colors of spray paint, including such brands as Belton Molotow and Montana, as well as a hundred different kinds of permanent paint pens available. The owners will also let you test out your designs on the cinder-block fence of the joint's courtyard or on the walls of several closet-size booths, far from the prying eyes of John Q. Law. If you need some additional inspiration, they also sell CDs from local hip-hop artists like MC Bener One and Willy Northpole.

Scrapbooks Etc.

If you're talking about photos, not pants, when you say "cropping" and you've got more punches than Muhammad Ali, you'll be in your element at Scrapbooks, Etc. The store offers a huge selection of lignin-free archival papers printed with everything from teddy bears to wizards to footballs. There's a die-cut lab for punching cute shapes, a wall of ribbons, and dozens of accessory racks on which you can find the daisy-shaped silver brads you need to complete little Suzie's baby album. Customers get 20 percent off on their birthday and a coupon for 10 percent off after every $100 in purchases. Scrapbooks Etc. also hosts some kooky classes we adore, like coffee-filter bookmaking and a beginner's luck class that's the perfect place to meet another soccer mom and become BSFs — best scrapbooking friends — forever.

The Paper Studio

Oh, we love The Paper Studio. We love The Paper Studio so much that we're genuinely afraid to go inside — with our wallet in tow, at least. It's hard to browse with so much temptation — from handcrafted paper to scrapbook supplies to stamps and pre-made cards and glitter and, oh, we could write a book about the great stuff here. And with the helpful tutelage of the artist/owners and classes offered on site, we literally could make one.

Beads Galore

Beads Galore is the REI of Valley bead shops, which is fitting, because it's just around the corner from the outdoor mega-store's East Valley outpost. BG is stocked wall to wall with everything a beader (beginning or advanced) could want, from basic supplies like wire and clasps to pearls in every color of the rainbow. A small selection of semi-precious gems may tempt you, but your dollar will go further in the bins of Czech glass beads, where you can feel free to dig for just exactly the right color, shape and size. Or grab strands of everything from crystals to trade beads to polymer clay. Your only limit is your own imagination.

Best Of Phoenix®

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