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.
Stupid Cupid
We didn't even know we needed a private-label soy candle until we were given one by a dinner guest recently. The sticker on the bottom read "Stupid Cupid," so we headed there and, well, sort of had our life changed. We bought a bunch of stuff for our own home — hand-pounded metal picture frames, a soap dish with an old metal water spout attached to it, a ceramic planter shaped like a cow — and then, taking a cue from our friend with the candle, grabbed a couple of items to tuck away as hostess gifts. The best part is that the prices are practically thrift-shop low, but the stuff is all new, and some of it is one-of-a-kind artisan work (like the hand-carved wooden horsie we couldn't bear to pass up).Invite us over for dinner, and you'll likely wind up as hooked on this groovy gift shop as we are!
Cheap Thrills
We hear it every time we visit Cheap Thrills at its new Indian School location: Some shopper spots something on a shelf or a rack in this boffo boutique and cries out, "My grandma used to have that!" But it's not just granny stuff that's stocked at this shop, where we recently bought a mint-in-box Big Jim Sports Camper (like the one we got from Santa in 1971!) and a bathrobe made entirely out of fake fur. The French deco dresser in our bedroom came from here, and we're still kicking ourselves for not buying that honest-to-gosh lava lamp (not a repro!) that we saw there on the same day. Everything's priced to move here, and all of it is pretty dang cool.

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