Changing Hands Bookstore
Best of Phoenix is a special occasion. Let's be honest: Fifty-one weeks a year, we're in a bad mood over here at New Times (if we're doing our jobs right) — bursting bubbles, dashing dreams, reminding you what a godforsaken, politically backward, culturally deprived hellhole you've chosen for a home.

Ahem. Sorry, we got carried away there for a moment. Point is, once a year we take the time to celebrate the things we love about Phoenix, our very favorite things. And one of those is Changing Hands Bookstore. In a town where chains rule and originality can be all but impossible to find amid rows of sun-baked little pink houses and white church spires, this bookstore makes our job easy, for it simply is the best. Not just the best bookstore in town, but the best independent bookstore in the country. Not the biggest, no, but certainly the best, because Changing Hands is not just a business. It's a community. Whether you're selling books or looking for new ones, running into old friends or making acquaintances at one of the many workshops, readings, and other events the store offers, you can't help feeling included here, and just a little bit smarter. You can buy a book anywhere (except Border's — sorry, couldn't resist) but there aren't many places left where you can get advice about what to read next from the clerks; displays that point to genres you didn't know you love; and piles of sale books that are practically free. There's nothing automated about this place, and that's what we love. We know more than one Kindle owner who reads the e-book and buys a hard copy, just to have a reason to come to Changing Hands. That's love. That's the love.
Poisoned Pen
Some may consider us dinosaurs of the digital age, but we still love our bookstores, and we even mourned the loss of the Valley's Borders mega-stores. We especially love our handful of remaining independents, including this venerable (opened in 1989) and inviting little shop that sits one long block from the hustle and bustle of Scottsdale Road near Indian School Road. The name gives a big clue as to this store's leanings — mysteries and crime novels. Also available are anything that owner Barbara Peters and her crack staff like, which can mean travel and food books and good old-fashioned wordsmithing. Every visit to the "Pen" is a wonderful adventure, whether an author, famous or obscure, is doing a reading and signing, or not. Raymond Chandler would love this place.
Half Price Books
Our bookshelves were already groaning when we happened upon this well-lit, well-organized place, which offers new and used books, CDs, DVDs, and record albums for next-to-nothing prices. Recent bestsellers share space with grand titles you missed a few years ago, all neatly arranged by category and alphabetically by author. Our search for those few missing Anne Tyler hardcovers is over, thanks to the simply titled Used Books and Records, run by a friendly staff who appears to love books as much as we do. One of them pointed us to the rare and collectible aisle, where we scored a first edition Bobbsey Twins and an ancient biography of Thomas Hardy that smells like an old library — love it! Lately, we run straight for this stunning Camelback Road shop every payday, much to the chagrin of our poor, over-taxed bookshelves.
Book Gallery
Book Gallery owner Mike Riley is picky about the books that go on his shelves. While this doesn't bode well for people trying to sell him common paperbacks, it's a very good thing for his bibliophile customers, who don't have to dig through a bunch of secondhand Danielle Steele romance novels to find that rare first edition of John F. Kennedy's Profiles in Courage. Riley's inventory also boasts titles like Mr. Citizen by Harry S. Truman (signed by the former president himself), The Lord of the Rings trilogy (first U.K. editions with the original dustjackets), and a first edition of Ernest Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises. These are just a few examples of the thousands of rare, antique, and collectible books at the Book Gallery. There are plenty of affordable reads, too, but the magic of Book Gallery is that it's one of the few places to find some truly rare books — not just rare for Arizona, but the entire world.
Bookmans Entertainment Exchange
We admit it. We've got a serious magazine addiction. Why, just the other night, we picked up the latest copies of Bazaar, Country Living, and Martha Stewart Living. And it cost us next to nothing. No, we weren't pilfering in the dentist's office; we were at Bookmans. Better known for used books, movies, and music, the magazine rack at the North Phoenix outpost of this Arizona-based chain is just divine, which is good since we haven't had a magazine fix since Borders packed up and moved out. This is even better, because not only do the mags cost next to nothing, you just might run across a copy of a periodical you missed. Or a whole set of them. In fact, we're wishing we'd grabbed that stack of back issues of the now-defunct ReadyMade magazine. Long after the magazine goes the way of the dinosaur, we bet Bookmans will be there to keep us in reading material. As for those copies of ReadyMade? Maybe they're still there. We'll be right back.
Ash Avenue Comics & Books
Pop quiz, comic geek: What do fossil records and comic shops have in common? Answer: Both are a window into a time and place that have long since passed. The glory days of comic stores with their boxes jammed full of meticulously plastic-sleeved, cardboard-backed wonders may be gone, but you can relive the memories of them at Ash Avenue Comics. In this shop, spandex-clad superheroes continue their eternal quests to defeat the forces of evil (also in spandex) 24 pages at a time. Just be prepared to wait for the shop to open. There are posted hours, mind you, but they're a bit more like guidelines than hard-and-fast hours of operation.
Porn. Everyone watches it. Young, old, rich, poor. Your priest. Your rabbi. Your County Attorney. Your grandma. Okay, maybe not Grandma, but Grandpa sure does. That's how he stays married to Grandma. That and Jack Daniel's.Free porn on the Internet makes things so much easier, so civilized. But if you want to watch Tera Patrick do the nasty for more than three minutes at a time, you still have to rent the occasional DVD. Free Internet porn is free for a reason, you see. That's why Fascinations is around. The adult store is well lit, scrupulously clean, and hires normal, nonchalant salespeople who can suggest the best bondage flick as if they were selling you a pair of sneakers. This is not to mention the endless supply of sex toys, lingerie, and weird novelties that we can't even begin to describe in these pages for the sake of, ahem, decency.So if you're a regular Joe or Jane, and are jonesing to rent the latest in fetish vids, or are hard up on a Saturday night and need some DVD assistance scratching that hard-to-reach spot, Fascinations is the place for you. And for your grandpa. Just don't let Grandma know.
Revolver Records
Vinyl nerds, music connoisseurs, and anyone who yearns for a fresh stack of 12-inch platters full of their favorite tunes have made this downtown record shop a local landmark. Collectors think of Revolver as the best place to score inexpensive upgrades of titles they already own, as well as a great place to fill out their collections with elusive musical prizes. Penny-pinching music fans who think they might want to sample Laura Branigan (but don't want to pay eBay prices) love Revolver, where "Gloria" can be theirs for a buck (thanks to Revolver's stacked-to-the-ceiling back room, where one-buck bargains are the order of the day, every day). Can't think of the name of that song you danced to at your junior prom? The counter help here is unusually happy to assist you in tracking down that elusive song hit from your past. Our last visit netted a still-sealed Boyce and Hart LP, a dead-mint copy of Rachel Faro's ultra-rare third album, and a bootleg CD of some of Sinatra's V-Disc recordings. The well-organized stacks are augmented daily, and an embarrassment of riches awaits anyone in search of old jazz wax for less than $10 a pop.
Bookmans Entertainment Exchange
The Bookmans location in Mesa has the larger CD stock of the two Bookmans stores in the Valley, but it's not just the size that makes the Mesa location stand out — it's the selection. Of the thousands of used CDs that find their way onto Bookmans' shelves every year, about 30 percent are things you won't be able to buy new at say, Best Buy or Target — such as soundtracks for '80s movies like Less Than Zero, early Modest Mouse CDs on indie labels, and obscure reggae box set collections. The other 70 percent of Bookmans' CDs are Top 40, rock, and indie albums selling for a fraction of the price they'd cost new. There's also plenty of local music in stock — CDs by Jimmy Eat World, Gin Blossoms, What Laura Says, Kongos, and many more Valley rockers line the shelves, at prices as low as $5 a CD. Best of all, you don't need to drop a wad of cash to walk out with a stack of music — Bookmans' trade rates are extremely fair.
Local skate shops have come and gone over the years — except for indie Cowtown. The "family"-owned and -operated skate shop had been slangin' the best boards and gear to Phoenix skate rats since 1996 (that's three years before the first Tony Hawk's Pro Skater video game). The owners credit their success to outstanding customer service and knowledge of the industry — two things that are hard to come by these days, especially in the skateboard world (i.e., that shop in the mall). We love Cowtown for its extensive line of the latest and greatest skate shoes, the best shirts, and the biggest selection of boards in the Valley. If you're lucky, you might even stumble upon a few rare collectible decks (we recently scored a Toy Machine Black Worm of Death). Be sure to look out for newest gear from local skate companies like Old Man Army and AZPX, and don't miss the annual shop sponsored contest, The PHX AM.

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