"I spent the first nine months of my life in a Ziploc bag and have been clawing my way to freedom ever since."

That's her life, in a nutshell, according to Vyle Raven-Greyv, the eccentric owner of the weirdest shop in the Valley, Curiouser & Curiouser.

"I can't say more because it would ruin my mystique," Vyle maintains. (Everyone calls her Vyle.)

All you really need to know is that Vyle is a woman who collects everything. Everything. Here's just a sampling: She has five hearses (which she actually drives), a large collection of military vehicles (some of which sit outside her store on Seventh Avenue and Missouri and serve as her "Open" and "Closed" signs), two I.G.huahuas (a breed of dog she says she invented herself, a cross between Italian Greyhound and Chihuahua), and a 4,000-square-foot house that she says is so full of stuff and reptiles that she can't walk through it anymore. And that doesn't even include anything that's lost in the amazing mass of "curioddities and obscuriosities" that you can find inside her store.

When you walk in, you're greeted by an Egyptian coffin, a mummy listening to headphones, and a skeleton sitting with his head under an old '50s-style salon hairdryer. There are shoes, jewelry, records, B-movies, bear traps, jukeboxes, crosses, Buddhas, couches, an entire room full of vintage clothes, another full of dolls, more bags than you can count, a row of sunglasses hanging on a line, a sophisticated collection of old candy, lamps, statues of anything from dogs to zombie soldiers, army helmets, feather boas, witch hats, a lawn jockey, glassware, an African mask, an alien mask, dog collars, kites, a rocking horse, an old cigarette dispenser . . . and a wood-carved rendering of the Last Supper. Whew! There's much, much more, but we've run out of breath.

"I spent most of my life finding things," Vyle says. "Clearly, I don't need anything else."

Vyle refuses to share her age, and she compares herself to Michael Jackson (she says she has a Peter Pan complex and refuses to date anyone over the age of 19; let's just say she's probably old enough to have been Jacko's mother), but we think she's beyond compare — a one-of-a-kind, an original, a total mystery. This is a woman who is and/or has been, she says, a military historian, an artist, a graphic designer, a multimedia pioneer, an event manager, a public relations specialist, a ferocious patriot, and a number of other occupations we can't fit into coherent phrases.

So, what does it all mean — all the stuff, all the identities? "They're souvenirs of having lived," she says. And, even if the rest is a mystery, the fact that Vyle Raven-Greyv has lived is most certainly true.

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Hoodlums New & Used Music

Out here in the West, the genes of independent spirit course through our dehydrated bloodlines. Our cuckoo-crazy relatives were so desperate for independence that they settled an inconvenient home on our spiky, dry land. Why? Because they wanted to go renegade and live by their own rules.

We see that spirit at work at Hoodlums Music and Movies. The 11-year-old independent business has lived on, despite powerhouse music meccas like Best Buy or Borders trying to edge them out. It even survived relocation after a 2007 fire at its former home in the Memorial Union at ASU.

With its indie status, Hoodlums can do whatever it wants, free and clear of red tape and corporate trickle-down processes that gum up good ideas.

A couple of doors down from Changing Hands Bookstore, we've certainly seen our fair share of good ideas come out of that little shop. In the past year, Hoodlums has amped things up by broadening their cultural repertoire with a range of events and bringing in new patrons who don't have to be music snobs to enjoy the place.

In early 2009, Hoodlums rotated a handful of visual art shows, always paired with a spectacular opening event with live music (of course!). Now its latest endeavor, a group documentary screening, is gaining momentum.

Community Movie Night fires up once a month and invites folks to take in controversial films like Michael Moore's Sicko, a documentary about the business of making profit off the sick. Or Wetback: The Undocumented Documentary, whose title alone is enough to stir things up.

The nights are frequently moderated by ASU professors and film critics (depending on the movie) and offer ample time to discuss. Plus, because it can, Hoodlums gives coupons for discounts at their own store, Baskin-Robbins, Changing Hands Bookstore, Wildflower Bread Company, and Mac's Grill and Bar just for showing up.

See? Hoodlums gets to do what it wants. And we're a better city for it.

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Smeeks
Ted Roundy

The first time we walked into Smeeks, we weren't sure whether to clap our hands in glee — or cry. We really did tear up a little, after months of hearing about Georganne Bryant's dream to open a candy/novelty shop in the same complex as her wildly successful boutique, Frances. This place is a dream come true.

For us, too. Yes, absolutely, there are retail gems in this town, but let's be honest. They are few and far between. We're frankly sick of going to places like Portland and Los Angeles and lusting after their one-of-a-kind indie businesses.

Now we have this to say to the rest of the world: Eat your heart out, because we've got the candy. Smeeks was Bryant's childhood nickname, and kids are the main targets of this sweet little blue-and-red shop — but we've seen adults drop a good chunk of change, too, on everything from Abba Zabbas to crepe paper nut cups. And it's not just about candy and party goods. From sparklers shaped like numbers, hearts and stars to Japanese stickers to a wide assortment of dart guns, you can find something for anyone with a sense of humor, even if he doesn't have a sweet tooth. Smeeks got us nostalgic for the places of our Phoenix youth — Farrell's, Jutenhoops, Circus in Tempe. As you'd expect, Bryant's spit-shined it all into gleaming, gorgeous submission and presented it to the city on a silver platter — with free gumballs for everyone.

As she's fond of saying herself, we're just glad Bryant likes all that goofy, dumb stuff that we like, too.

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Bunky Boutique

This year's most stylish Phoenix wedding took place not here but in lower Manhattan, just off the West Side Highway in an industrial building that houses artists and low-income residents. The groom, Jim Malloy, is a native Phoenician; his new bride, Rachel Richards, hails from the wilds of Montana but now calls downtown Phoenix home.

Two years ago, Richards opened Bunky Boutique, a hip but welcoming hole-in-the-wall that customers entered from an alley just south of Roosevelt Row, between Fifth and Sixth streets, and the store became another popular stop on the downtown beat, along with places like MADE and eye lounge and Tammie Coe. Richards and Malloy, a driver for UPS by day, were as much a draw as their atypical, indie clothing and accessories: She's friendly and petite, with porcelain skin, cornflower blue eyes and improbably red hair, and he's lanky, outgoing and nerdily hip (or the other way around — we're never quite sure). Together, they're the Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers of Phoenix style, making it look easy as they nurtured Bunky and then transitioned from back alley to the first floor of a gracious brick-and-wood house next to The Roosevelt Tavern.

And then there was their wedding this spring: Richards simply gorgeous in a strapless white gown, Malloy unexpectedly elegant in a classic tux, and the city of New York as their magical backdrop. Their wedding photos look like stills from the feel-good movie of the year, and we've got our fingers crossed that these two characters will live happily ever after, in love, in style, and in Phoenix.

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Garage

Katie Wilson rocks the kidswear hard in her sparkly boutique — complete with a candy bar that would make Dylan Lauren green with envy. You can embrace your kid's inner Elvis or Harley rider with a black leather coat and all the trimmings, go girly with the fullest tutus in town, or just monkey around with Paul Frank's latest. No matter the look, you can trust Wilson to have the best taste in town — and we're not just talking about her Pop Rocks. We'd let her shop for little Annabelle any day.

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Last Chance Bargain Shoes & Apparel

As shoppers here love to remind the rest of the world, "You only get one Last Chance — and it's in Phoenix."

Yes, there's Nordstrom Rack, the discount arm of the pricey chain department store. That's not what we're talking about here. Last Chance gets the stuff that doesn't sell at The Rack, as well as items from other Nordstroms far and wide, thanks to the company's liberal return policy. And if you dig — and dig you must; that Hobo wallet and those Prada loafers aren't going to jump up and grab you — you can find the deals of a lifetime. Last time we were there, we scored a pair of children's Lelli Kelly sequined tennis shoes for $12. Retail: almost $70. We know because the price tag was still on the bottom of the shoe.

Be sure to show up at 10 a.m., when the store opens — get there a few minutes early to hear the longtime manager give her speech about how you're not supposed to push, shove, or resell items. (It's pretty obvious, if you hang around Last Chance long enough, that all three go on regularly.) As the gates go up, grab a basket and adjust your body armor. These shoppers really do take their bargains seriously.

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