Best Underground Shoppers 2011 | Garage sale pickers | Shopping & Services | Phoenix
"No, you can't take my picture!" Marcus Breen hollers. "I'm a picker! We are totally incognito."Apparently, in order for him to score the very best deals, Breen and all the other pickers who are prowling our garage sales and thrift stores, looking for nice things that they can mark up and sell to antique dealers and to their own clients, must remain as anonymous as possible. They belong to a secret underground that allows them to show up, unrecognized, to scam our things.It seems that remaining invisible is just one of many tips of survival in this ultra-exclusive club. Pickers and antiques dealers tend to arrive early for a yard sale or an estate clearance. "If you plan to start selling at 8 a.m., and you see someone looking around your property, that's a picker," Breen says. "We want to be there before you even set up, to see what you've got before the other pickers get to it."Picking is an especially competitive and sometimes nasty sport, Breen says; there's no love lost among these people who make their living reselling our old junk. "I hate showing up at 5 a.m. at an estate sale and seeing three other pickers in line ahead of me. And we're all trying not to be too obvious while we're glaring at each other."Sellers have gotten savvier, Breen laments, since the advent of reality TV shows about his ilk. "It used to be that no one knew we even existed, but now you've got things like Storage Wars and American Pickers, and so when you start wheeling and dealing, people are less willing to cut you a deal. They're like, 'Are you going to resell this?' I liked it better when it was easier to blend in."
In the old days, places you frequented for years made you feel special with extra treats and freebies, but mostly with a kind of familiarity that only commitment and loyalty could buy. Today, every shop and service has some kind of "secret" deal, one that's broadcast far and wide via not-so-secret e-mailed coupons or Constant Contact campaigns. And, anyway, who wants to pay for their extras?

That's another reason why we love Savant Day Spa. It's worth the trek to the Westside for us, because at Savant we get to use a secret word that's truly secret, and just by uttering it, we're not only part of a special club, but we get one special service for free. It makes us feel like a total insider, and all because we were smart enough to get our hair and nails and, well, everything else done at this well-appointed spa.

Last time we were there, we whispered the secret word (which keeps changing and which you won't find in any Groupon offer or on Facebook — it's really secret!) and got a free hand massage while we were having our roots dyed. Later, Dan, the owner of Savant, walked us to the door and, as we were leaving, whispered the new secret word ("pixie") to us — for next time. Sure, we feel a little silly with all this make-believe espionage, but no sillier than when we announce to one of the friendly nail techs that we want little ladybug decals on our newly painted talons


Both the secret word and the service you get make us feel special, which is the whole point. But even without it (and, if you ask someone who works there, they'll be sure to tell you the secret word — it's that simple!), you'd be hard-pressed not to have a relaxing, beautifying time at this top-notch salon. Haircuts and coloring, brow waxing, scalp treatments, aromatherapy sessions, facials, massage — this place offers it all, much of it available in thrifty spa packages and à la carte, and all of it super-professional and fashion-forward.

We love you, Phoenix shoppers, and we're giving up our most closely held secret to prove it. In fact, it's not just our secret. Up 'til now, no one has known about The Book at Zinnias at Melrose. But now you do, because we're blabbing. You can thank us later.Here's how it works: At Zinnias — the city's latest and greatest Seventh Avenue antiques and collectibles mall — there's this book that's kept behind the counter. If you're looking for something, say a specific vintage coffee pot or a piece of furniture, you can write it down in the book. The dealers who work there read the book and can add your "must have" to their list of stuff they're looking for.Big deal, right? Lots of antique stores have "want lists." But here's what makes the Zinnias book different: People who are not antique dealers — just everyday shoppers and collectors like you — can also ask to see the secret book, which is kept tucked away under the counter at Zinnias. If they have what you're looking for, they can sell it to you from their private collection, and Zinnias doesn't seem to mind."It's like a very low-fi Craiglist, for collectors," Zinnias owner Michael Robertson confides. Robertson let us look at this ultra-private book and pointed out items that customers had found for other customers. Why, since Zinnias doesn't take a cut from all this goodwill, is this good for business? "We're doing just fine," Robertson says. "So why not let collectors share in the fun?"
When the apocalypse comes (or maybe just when the dust storms outside are particularly nasty) nothing beats an underground bunker for comfort — provided you have all the essentials. And Allied Surplus has them all. You'll need food, and this military supply store stocks a wide selection of emergency, ready-to-eat meals ranging from canned "scrambled eggs and bacon" and "seafood chowder" to granola and pouches of "chili mac." Just add water and a heat source. Speaking of heat sources, Allied Surplus stocks a really handy Esbit Pocket Stove for less than 13 bucks. If you want better water, pick up a water-purification filter pump or some purification tablets. If things get really hairy (or dusty), AS has Israeli M-15 gas masks. Oh, and there are plenty of can openers, flashlights, and first aid kits to choose from, as well. With so many survival tools to choose from, going underground doesn't seem so bad, after all.
Like many of the best things in life, Last Chance just isn't what it used to be. Back in the day (like, the mid-'90s) you could pick up a Kate Spade purse for under $20 ($19.97, to be exact), a Nicole Miller ballgown for under $40, five pairs of Hush Puppies for well under $100. But now Hush Puppies are out of style — again — and the folks who run Nordstrom's clearinghouse for all returns and the crap it didn't sell at it department stores or outlets are onto us. More important, they're onto the network of re-sale experts who truly seem to live at Last Chance. These days, you can't just snatch up every Prada purse that lands on the pile; there are rules and limits. And, yes, that takes some of the fun away. (Although really, did you need that fifth Louis Vuitton?) Still, there are bargains to be had in this musty, well-lit basement in the former Colonnade Mall, where, on a recent Saturday afternoon, shoppers packed the aisles, trolling for TOMS espadrilles and Hobo wallets as "That's the Way I Like It" by KC and the Sunshine Band played overhead. We must admit, there's nothing we like better than a big score at Last Chance. Uh huh, uh huh.
Lauren Cusimano
There are so many things that make this old gas station turned coffee shop cozy and charming, from the vintage pump out front and the exposed industrial piping in the ceiling to the comfy couches and red brick walls adorned with local art. This is a hangout place, where hip Phoenicians gather to gab over a cup o' joe or cloister in a corner with their laptops. Of course, all the quaint ambiance in the world wouldn't matter if the coffee sucked. Thankfully, Copper Star serves up some delicious brews, from frozen treats like green tea smoothies and blended double chocolate mochas to hot Americanos and chai lattes. Everything is made fresh, so expect to wait for your drink (especially on weekends), but while you're waiting, there's no shortage of people to chat up, free magazines to read, and pastries to ogle.
Heather Hoch
On average, we fill a minimum of three punch cards a month at this Fifth Street coffee house. Some might say we have a problem — and they might be right. But that's not going to stop us. Just over a year old, JoBot brews its own special blend of locally famed Cartel coffee and serves to-die-for homemade scones — and crêpes. Not just any crêpes; these are some of the best in town. Sweet or savory, we love them all. Hang out inside at the bar and chat with the locals, and when it gets too crowded, move next door to the quaint living room or take your business outside to the covered patio. Open 'til midnight Sunday through Thursday and 24 hours Friday and Saturday, JoBot's got you covered whether you're looking for your morning fix or attempting to sober up after a late-night binge.
We're suckers for a good crêpe. Light and eggy, savory or sweet, the prospects of grabbing a cuppa joe with a crêpe on the side have us salivating just thinking about it. Lucky for us, at Cupz N' Crepes each part of that dynamic duo stands on its own. The drip coffee is rich and bold, and the fully stocked coffee bar serves up all your favorite espresso-based treats. And the crêpes are just as varied and delicious, whether they're packed with bananas and nutella or eggs and bacon. Cupz N' Crepes will definitely have you coming back for more.
You know those little leaf patterns that baristas create with cream or milk on top of your coffee? Well, the leaves at C4 (as Cave Creek Coffee Company's also known) are perfect — so beautiful that you almost don't want to ruin them by taking a drink. But then you'd miss out on the delicious house blend javas here. Whether you like your coffee dark, medium, or light, C4 has your strength (in house blends called Black Mountain, Black and Tan, and Cowgirl, respectively). Caffiends with a sweet tooth will also relish C4 drinks like the Mocafe (spiced Mexican hot chocolate) and the Mocha Latte (made with Ghirardelli chocolate). And the atmosphere at C4 — which draws an eclectic crowd ranging from old bikers to young artists to families of tourists — is damn cozy, as guests can chill at candlelit tables by the wine bar or in comfy oversize chairs by the coffee bar.
Tucked away in the Southwest Valley, Ground Control serves up delicious coffee drinks from beans that are roasted and ground on site. Ground Control has the usual suspects — Americano, cappuccino, and iced mocha — and signature drinks such as Cafe Sisu (a white and dark chocolate drink); or Cafe Roma, a flavor that mixes dark chocolate, caramel, and praline. The shop offers a variety of blended coffee drinks, including a lactose-free CocoMochaNut and a Blended Fruit Blast with mango, strawberry, peach, banana, sour green apple, and wildberry, a super-fruit antioxidant. Don't look for Wi-Fi at this old-school gathering place, which encourages you to bring a book or a friend instead of a computer. Check out Ground Control for breakfast, lunch or dinner, and don't leave without trying the homemade gelato.

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