Best Collectible Bookstore 2009 | Book Gallery | Shopping & Services | Phoenix

Our holy grail since the early '80s was a copy — we'd have even settled for a dirty, torn, library discard copy — of Cornelia Otis Skinner's Dithers and Jitters. We despaired of ever finding this mid-century essay collection, but that's because we'd forgotten, somehow and however briefly, about the Book Gallery. We happen to have mentioned our long-held (and, okay, slightly peculiar) desire to one of the clerks one afternoon, and he quickly scribbled our name and number onto a piece of scrap paper. "Yeah, right," we thought to ourselves as we left with our usual stack of collectible reads (in this case a pair of first-edition Cherry Ames novels and a Dell Mapback of one of Maysie Greig's better titles). No more than a month later, and after scouring eBay for years and pining away for decades before that, we had in our hands this cherished tome, which, when we read it, turned out to be not so very entertaining. But we don't care, because it renewed our faith in Phoenix's best collectible book shop, where the service is unusually helpful and where the rarest books in town can be found. (And if they can't be found, someone who works there will get 'em!)

When you're looking for a new copy of Lolita in Tehran or the latest Stephen King thriller, there are a dozen big-box bookstores waiting to suck up your hard-earned cash. But if you don't mind a good treasure hunt for your new-release book, Thrifty Joe's is the place to go. This used bookstore is less picked-over than the competition and is jam-packed with cheap golden oldies, like the Black Beauty sequel we'd been coveting since we were 10 years old. Newer fiction titles are harder to find. Thrifty Joe's buys books daily, though, so if you paw through the countertop stacks of new arrivals, you just might score a slightly dog-eared copy of that James Patterson novel. Amid the maze of small cubbies, there's also an extensive selection of self-help books and romance novels, an entire bookshelf dedicated to Star Wars and Star Trek, and rare treasures like VHS tapes and vinyl, from Coltrane to Zappa, averaging about $4 to $5 a pop.

It pains us to give this award to a chain store, but we are here to serve you, dear reader, and the truth is that there's no greater magazine selection in town than at the Biltmore Borders. We could lose ourselves for hours (and we have) in this store's magazine rack — testament that the publishing industry may be dying, but it ain't dead yet. Borders covers the basics from fashion to sports to current affairs magazines, and piles on the extras — we counted half a dozen mags devoted to pregnant moms, and a whole section to knitting. Read 'em while they last.

We stood at a magazine rack the other night, holding a $25 (we kid you not) design magazine in our sweaty hands, and had one thought: "Do they have this used at Bookmans?" If you've never been to the magazine section at one of the Bookmans locations in town, we suggest you drop this issue and head over. Bring your pocket change, because that's all you'll need to get yourself a pile of reading material. Sure, you might want to make sure you have the latest Time or Newsweek, but tell the truth: How far behind are you in your New Yorker reading? Cancel that subscription and scout the racks at Bookmans — we'll all but guarantee you'll find several months' worth of back issues, sold to the store by some other shlub who realized he'll never catch up on his own reading. A copy of Martha Stewart Living or Oprah's O will run you several dollars retail, but for a fraction of that, the girls can come home with you. Yeah, they may be a little long in the tooth, but we bet you won't notice the difference — have you ever noticed how repetitive magazines are getting, anyhow? Hey, no nasty comments about Best of Phoenix!

If a picture is worth 1,000 words, a graphic novel must be worth a billion. That's why when we want more than 24 pages of comic action, we head to Samurai Comics. If you're the sort of troubled soul who prefers gritty, graphic novels like 30 Days of Night, Samurai's got you covered. Do you prefer a 50-plus volume manga series like Naruto or Fruits Basket? This store's got enough manga to make you sneeze speed lines. Just use your hand, okay? Nobody wants a copy of Berzerk with your bodily fluids all over the pages.

We're not sure there's a reason to leave the corner of Ash and University. There, you have access to great coffee, pizza, piercings, Casey Moore's, and one incredible comic shop: Ash Ave. Comics. If single issues or superheroes are your thing, look no further. Ash Ave. has enough plastic-sleeved action comics to justify your overflowing collection as a "financial investment." If you're looking for something in particular, talk to Ash Ave. and it'll order it for you faster than you can ask whether the Flash is faster than Superman.

Paying hundreds of dollars for a vinyl figurine may seem like madness. We prefer to think of it as dedication. You never have to grow up as long as Red Hot Robot is around to surprise your inner child with wacky plastic toys, zonked-out artwork, and dozens of books full of vector art. Grab a Munny and permanent marker to create your own toy or purchase a limited-edition John McCain figurine complete with warhawk arsenal. Either way, it's a good investment for the bare and lifeless corner of your cubicle. Just don't open the boxes your treasures come in: Violating the collector's value would be madness!

PVC dress. Check. Riding crop. Check. Gas mask. What?? If you've been trolling the 'Net to find good bondage wear or, God forbid, slumming it at Hot Topic, you clearly haven't visited Fetish Falls. What started as an at-home craft shop for making the colorful "Cyberlox" clip-on pigtails cosplayers and raver chicks are so fond of has transformed into a one-stop brick-and-mortar shop where you can stock up on bondage gear — from collars and leashes to gorgeous black-and-white-striped Victorian bustle skirts by Hilary's Vanity (for the more discerning dominatrix). Though the shop's staff may curiously inquire as to where you'll be headed dressed head to toe in latex or as a little girl with pink tights and frilly skirt, they won't pass judgment or snicker under their breath. And if anyone does give you the stink-eye, just tell him that the gas mask is for those "high-pollution advisory" days.

Though most of Unique On Central's merchandise caters to the gay and lesbian community (rainbow jewelry, spandex swimwear, gay erotica), the store's greeting card selection is a hoot for heterosexuals and homosexuals alike. Owner Doug Klinge says that people constantly come in and giggle over the silly greeting cards. There are several racks and stands containing things like birthday cards with a photo of a woman stuffing her face with cake, while another woman tells her, "You shall not purge until you eat it all!" and graduation cards featuring wrinkled, stern-looking nuns warning recent grads not to party too much, lest they get the ruler. And if you need a cheeky gift to go with your smarmy card, Unique On Central also offers a variety of gag gifts (literal gags and otherwise).

Ah, the Magnet Lady. First, Mona sets up shop in a corner of a wedding reception, a bar mitzvah, a quinceañera, or whatever special event you may host. Then, she asks passersby to pose for a photo or three, with whomever they like. Now comes the good part. Before you say your goodbyes, just drop by Mona's booth and pick up the black-and-white photograph she took of you and yours. The photo isn't just a photo, but now, cleverly, a magnet for guests to stick on their refrigerators, filing cabinet or wherever as keepsakes. The woman oozes enthusiasm for her self-created gig, which has been a big hit at the three or four events where we've seen her work. And don't worry — she doesn't seem to do too many close-ups.

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