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Some people call it "The Flintstones Bank." Others call it "that strange VNB over on 44th Street." But whatever you call it, you gotta love this flagstone-studded Chase bank branch, which the city is trying to get listed as an historic landmark. Built in 1968, the unique structure and its park-like surroundings are situated in a high-profile, high-dollar location. One of a series of the now-defunct Valley National Bank's commissioned structures, the 44th Street and Camelback Road branch is a rare, artistic, architectural wonder: an oddly shaped bank that has rocks in the walls and that looks to be held up by a garden of concrete mushrooms. It's more than just a quirky building; it's a part of the legacy of Walter Bimson, the late chairman of the board at Valley National Bank, who in the late 1950s became convinced he could help the then-small city of Phoenix grow if he populated it with interesting bank buildings.

Bimson built other gorgeous VNB branches, and his building streak led the professional journal Arizona Architecture to dub him "a leader in the use of architectural sculpture" in 1960. But none was so gorgeous as the Frank Henry-designed bank on East Camelback. Surrounded by giant concrete "mushrooms," its crescent-shaped main building frames a northwesterly view of Camelback Mountain and is studded with the same rough-hewn rocks that highlight its stunning, curved interior. It's a Modernist building that somehow transcends Modernist style with towering interior aluminum structures that hold the "floating" ceiling aloft and that match the scalloped concrete columns outside the building. A pair of John Waddell sculptures — Despina Seated and Martha, both from 1967 — beckon to us whenever we drive by, and they and the rest of this gorgeous landmark's ultra-cool, park-like setting make us want to transfer all our bank accounts here, just so we'll have an excuse to drop by from time to time and drink all this mid-century beauty in.

Best of Phoenix 2009 In Photos

Farming in Phoenix is surely a labor of love. From the inescapable heat to the lack of rain, the deck is stacked against anyone who might dare to coax food or flowers from our desert soil. Maya Dailey does just that. From her 1.5-acre Maya's Farm at The Farm at South Mountain, Maya's hard work has turned her well-tended rows into some of the most beautiful, sustainable, and enviable produce in town.

Farming is backbreaking work, and at Maya's Farm everything is cut by hand and grown without the use of chemicals and pesticides. The diminutive Maya, a garden sprite if ever there was one, makes it look easy. From digging her irrigation system to hand-turning the soil, there isn't a square inch of land on her farm that hasn't been worked by her. It shows, too, because her produce is sought after at Phoenix and Scottsdale farmers markets, as well as several restaurants in town.

It's not just the produce, either. Maya's flowers, with their beautiful colors and names like Zulu Prince, make heady bouquets. And we adore her tall sunflowers, whose blooms bob up and down like happy, smiling faces.

You'd have to be tenacious, daring, and perhaps a little bit crazy to think about starting a farm in Phoenix. So many family farms are disappearing, and with them seems to go most of our rainy season. And when fewer and fewer people cook at home, or even know where a carrot comes from, affixing the title "farmer" in front of your name might seem like a losing prospect. With the spirit of the pioneers who came before them, a love for the land, and a belief that basil is beautiful, Maya Dailey has turned dirt into soil, and doubt into dinner. She's tenacious, and daring, and maybe even a little bit crazy. That's all part of being a farmer in Phoenix, Arizona.

Best of Phoenix 2009 In Photos

New Times

She came to Phoenix meaning to paint, but Beatrice Moore, long considered the godmother of the downtown Phoenix arts community, instead wound up in charge. When she discovered there wasn't a local artists coalition, she formed one. That group, known as ArtLink, went on to create and host Art Detour, an annual tour of artist studios and galleries that's been growing by leaps and bounds over the past 20 years. In the early '90s, Moore added to that growth herself by starting a movement to rescue a dozen or so doomed historic buildings. Like everything else she undertakes, the rescue mission had an arty purpose: Moore and partner Tony Zahn have restored the buildings, most of them on dilapidated Grand Avenue, then turned them over to artists to use as galleries and live-work spaces. (Some not without controversy, but that's a story for another day.) Moore's Stop and Look Gallery is among the best known; she's also responsible for saving the historic Bragg's Pie Factory, a place where desserts were once turned out but that today hosts a mess of art and a passel of artists. Moore's latest ventures may be her most exciting yet. She's launching the first Grand Avenue Street Festival this month. And her Kooky Krafts Shop, which just opened, offers for sale her artwork — the project she intended to do when she arrived here almost 25 years ago. Wait 'til you see what she does with vintage bump chenille.

Best of Phoenix 2009 In Photos

"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.

Best of Phoenix 2009 In Photos

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.

Best of Phoenix 2009 In Photos

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.

Best of Phoenix 2009 In Photos

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.

Best of Phoenix 2009 In Photos

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.

Best of Phoenix 2009 In Photos

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.

Best of Phoenix 2009 In Photos

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