Red Hot Robot
You know that Red Hot Robot has awesome designer toys. You know it's got a wide selection of vector art. It's not short on tiny trinkets, either. One of our favorite things to impulse-buy is Japanese busts hidden in cardboard boxes. Which Gundam robot will you get? Is it a Zaku Warrior? Is it a Force Impulse Gundam? You're going to have to buy one and open the box to find out. For those of you with a mind for engineering (or at least figuring out how to put stuff together) you'll appreciate the fact that each box of parts must be pieced together to make the full bust.
Sebastien Millon had us at "hello." Really. As in his etsy shop greeting: "Hello! My name is Sebastien Millon and I draw bears (and because of my amazing artistic versatility, I sometimes draw other things, like rabbits and squirrels). Big-time news! I'm expanding into tote bags . . ."This guy — who hails from the Valley, lucky us — is funny, right? And you can wear his heart on your chest, in the form of his polar bear T-shirts, now available at MADE art boutique and Red Hot Robot. Our favorite is a child-size shirt with a big bear breathing fire while juggling several little kids. But that's just us. You might prefer Millon's other images — equally cuddly-looking, at first glance. There's always a subversive message behind them, and that's just fine by us. Keep an eye out for some dastardly lemurs.
Brand X
We love the fact that there's a friendly, reliable business in town that will print for us a batch of T-shirts for a school event or a sports team. But what we like even more is that the folks at Brand X give us the same wonderful custom service even when we just want one T-shirt. Prices are reasonable and the choices are plentiful — the staff consults with you on all details of your design, whether you're looking for old school iron-on letters or you've got a digital photo you've just got to see plastered across someone's chest. Best of all, for us, is the instant gratification factor. In the time you can say, "I'll just be across the street at Urban Outfitters," your order is practically done.
Fairytale Brownies
What girl doesn't love getting flowers for a special occasion? A girl with severe allergies. When our best friend told her new sweetie that roses send her into a sneezing fit, he begged us to find an allergen-free alternative that wouldn't break the bank. After a little mouth-on research, we found our answer: Fairytale Brownies. The store has adorable mini-brownies called "Sprites," offered by the dozen in flavors including chocolate chip, peanut butter, and caramel. We sampled every flavor and were hooked by the salty-sweet toffee crunch decorated with huge pieces of candy that look like amber stained glass. You can order a gift online or by phone and have it delivered to your sweetie. Or you can pick one up at Oakville Grocery, Duck & Decanter, or other local spots. (Call or check Fairytale's website for retail locations.)What did we discover from our little tasting adventure? Flowers die. Fruit spoils. But a chocolate brownie is forever — on your butt, anyway.
Community Florist
We knew we were going to love Community Florist when we spotted the shop's cat purring away near the cash register. But when we phoned in an order during a busy Mother's Day weekend, and one of the floral artists called back later to ask how Mom felt about snapdragons, we were really sold. Who makes that kind of effort anymore? The folks at this aptly named place, that's who. We like how the floral arrangements are created right out in the store itself, at a long, low table where we can watch and get some ideas for what we might like to send or display at home. The coolers are always stocked with completed arrangements, for people on the go who need a quick hostess gift, and loose flowers are available for a make-it-yourself bouquet. We prefer to work with the talented staff in creating a wild centerpiece, and we wonder what they're putting in the water that makes these flowers last longer than most. We bet it's a Community secret.
Baker's Nursery and Gift Shop
Let's face it: Most gardeners fight a losing battle in the war against Phoenix weather. We throw some gravel down, stick a barrel cactus or two next to a boulder, and call it a day. But Baker Nursery always seems to beat the heat. With an ever-changing selection of lush annuals, sturdy perennials, and a healthy supply of heat-tolerant shrubs, walking through Baker's acreage feels more like a trip to a botanical garden than a landscaping chore. And the helpful staff offers more than just sound advice and friendly service. They offer hope — an exit strategy for those of us who have uprooted our last crispy gardenia.
Chain-store nurseries can lack charm. But when we see the display of blooming bougainvilleas and bushy lantanas at Lowe's, we know we've found a green-thumbed friend. You may not find at Lowe's that rare euphorbia you've been looking for (then again, you might), but you will find a sturdy selection of time-honored plants at prices affordable enough to re-create the Hanging Gardens of Babylon in your backyard. And when one of your leafy friends can't hold on for another minute, Lowe's will replace your withered specimen for up to one year. And who could brown-thumb their nose at that guarantee?
Zinnias at Melrose
Here's a little shopping secret: Go upstairs at Michael Todd's new vintage mall, to the wide terrace that overlooks the many bibelot-crammed carrels down below. Up there, you'll find practically a whole floor of old, newer, wrought-iron, and pot-metal outdoor furniture. A separate department, this space is filled with trellis benches and wire terrace tables and old tin shell chairs, all grouped in displays to inspire a garden party of your own. This swell trove of beautiful old lawn furnishings is modestly priced and certain to be discovered by someone soon — why not make it you?
Figs Home and Garden
The urban home and garden fashion boutique Figs (Fine Interior Garden Space) has been around for five years, but it took owners Jon Douglas and David Coark four years of traveling beforehand to establish the shop's eclectic mix of European, Asian, French, Indian, Haitian, and Moroccan furnishings, antiques, and accessories. With home and garden goods covering nearly every square inch of wall and floor space, treasure-hunters can wander worldly amidst finds of carnival boats, architectural salvage, vintage padlocks, and Asian statuary, or stay in the neighborhood with one-of-a-kind works from Figs' stable of local artists.
La Grande Orange Grocery
Courtesy of La Grande Orange
Not long ago, we were listening to a fascinating show on the Martha Stewart station on Sirius. The topic: what to bring your host or hostess. One caller told the tale of bringing a gift to a hostess, only to have the hostess ask the guest to take the gift home with her. "We don't like to bring anything more into the house," she explained rudely. We can assure you that that hostess would have been singing a different tune had the gift come from La Grande Orange Grocery. Whether it's LGO's homemade English muffins, a sprinkle-covered cake from Tammie Coe, or a bottle of wine, you can find the perfect edible gift, as well as a wide selection of inedibles your hostess never knew she needed — like bright-colored oilcloth bags, champagne-scented candles, or T-shirts and bags emblazoned with the LGO logo. Just thinking about all the goodies at LGO makes us want to throw a party — if only for the hostess gifts.

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