Easley's Fun Shop

If you buy into the theory that the end of the Mayan calendar will coincide with the end of the world this December, then it's about time you picked out your apocalypse ensemble. As it very well could be the last thing you ever wear, why not have a little science fiction-inspired fun along the way? Perhaps you'd like to outfit yourself as an uprising primate, à la Planet of the Apes, or embrace the end as a zombie from The Walking Dead. Goofy green aliens and Star Trek characters also could work just as well. For any of the above and, oh, so much more, Easley's Fun Shop is the place. Of course, they're your go-to costume emporium when it comes to Halloween, but the family-owned store is open to suit your dress-up needs year-round and, if that Mayan legend holds true, until the end of time.

Lulubell Toy Bodega

You don't see many of Fuei Shokai's eerie Slender Man dolls selling alongside other vinyl playthings at chain stores like Urban Outfitters or Zia Record Exchange. In fact, the sought-after collectible is so scarce that they can't be purchased anywhere in Arizona, except at Lulubell Toy Bodega. The quirky emporium, which moved to downtown Mesa from Tucson last winter, focuses on selling ultra-rare figures and obscurities imported from Japan, particularly Kaiju monsters and custom rarities made by little-known and micro-size manufactures. Co-owner Luke Rook frequently visits the Asian nation to search through boutiques and toy shows and scoop up these gems while partner Amy Del Castillo minds the store. Though you can also purchase cutesy works created by local artists or popular designer favorites from Frank Kozik and Kid Robot at the shop, it's a niche operation geared toward hardcore collectors. That's a toy story with a happy ending.

Gotham City Comics & Coffee

With all the geekery that's found a home in downtown Mesa, it's no surprise the main drag is also home to a comic shop that's busy with Daredevil, Wolverine, and Joker fans alike. Store owners Kevin Johnson and Miguel Vega and have played host to video game tournaments, book-signings, action figure showdowns, late-night Wi-Fi sessions, and plenty of good-hearted debate on the latest Marvel masterpiece. It's been called the next best thing to a geek mall, and with the buzz served up behind the counter, we could stay well past curfew.

Changing Hands Bookstore

It's funny. As reports of the demise of the bookstore — and, indeed, the paper-and-ink book itself — increase, hipsters are embracing the book as an art form. Not as something to read, but something to carve — literally. Really, we've seen skulls carved from old books, art stamped on their pages, shelves built on their backs. A coffee bar made of books; a rug, for crying out loud. We love art, but we'll be honest: Book art makes us cringe. Is it really time to call it a day when it comes to the book? Have we forgotten what books are actually for?

There’s one place (two, if CHB’s plans for a Central Phoenix spot come to fruition) where the book still is alive and well — and flying off the shelves, thank you very much. It’s not for lack of a lot of hard work on the part of the owners, staff, and community that loves Changing Hands, and it’s not for nothing that this bookstore embodies all the best qualities of our favorite book shops across the country. Not only will you find an educated staff and a wide selection, this spot serves as a community gathering place for metropolitan Phoenix, with readings from nationally acclaimed, famous authors, as well as first-time locals. And, hey, before you decide to arrange those old books by color in a decorative (and never-to-be-disturbed) artistic display, or make them into shelves for your Kindle, iPad, and Nook, consider selling them back to Changing Hands and buying new ones. The paper-and-ink kind. A novel idea.

Bookmans Entertainment Exchange

Really, we should give this local micro-chain a Best of for "Best Place to Kill an Entire Summer Afternoon," because we've done that more than once at Bookmans. Or "Best Place to Do All Your Christmas Shopping" — because we've done that, too. In short, this is our favorite place to browse, to buy, and to sell back gently used books, movies, and gaming electronics. The magazine rack alone is reason to come — for a fraction of the cost, you can pick up the latest issues of your favorites if you're lucky. And you'll always be in luck when it comes to finding just the right book — the selection is giant and if they don't have it at one store, chances are they'll have it the other.

Poisoned Pen

When bookworms find themselves craving a literary thrill, we point them toward The Poisoned Pen. There are shelves of novels in the bookstore that will sate their appetite. But that's nothing new. Since 1989, the specialty store has offered up tales, some of which its sister press publishes, in niche genres such as mystery and thriller. But don't let that (or the unpleasant origins of its name) scare you off. The bound-paper purveyor provides a cordial place that's free of plot twists where you can read and explore. Weekly book-signings featuring nationally acclaimed writers and such hyper-talented locals as James Sallis, an annual authors' conference, and the staff's eagerness to share their latest crime, noir, and other fictional faves will leave you feeling poisoned in the best possible way.

Arizona Art Supply

After slowly but surely plowing through the mass of art history goodness that is Phaidon Press' The Art Museum, any artist (or person with vaguely creative tendencies, for that matter) would feel inspired. But what to do with such a burst of creative energy is the real matter. We say head to Arizona Art Supply and let the materials that strike you be your guide. The store is a favorite among pros and amateurs when it comes to finding project must-haves like sketch pads, watercolors, and pencils, as well as discovering necessities that shoppers didn’t realize were must-haves until seeing them (yes, pearlescent airbrush color kit, we mean you).

Beads Galore

Whether you're a serious beader in need of sophisticated tools or a newbie ooh-ing and ahh-ing at the strings of crystals and other sparkling treasures, Beads Galore won't disappoint. It's a one-stop shop for all your beading needs, a star of the annual gem show in Tucson, and the standard bearer in the Valley. Seed beads in every imaginable color, vats of Czech glass beads to pick through, an entire wall devoted to African trade beads, pearls in all shapes, sizes and hues — what are you waiting for? Get your bead on!

Knit Happens

In case the cheeky name didn't give it away, Knit Happens is not some mothball-infused shop for old ladies and their kittens. No. Knitting noobs and purling pros of all ages get their needle fixes at this Scottsdale skein supply store, where the approachable staff has shoppers in stitches in no time. Knit offers more than 30 brands of yarn (including some that are locally dyed and spun) and all sorts of accessories keep the Valley's crafty knitheads coming back. Not sure how to wield a needle? No matter. Whether you're a total novice who needs basic training or you're embarking on some ambitious handmade project, Knit has a class for you.

Tempe Sales

The dimly lit aisles of Tempe Sales might not be the easiest spot to locate the Marimekko-inspired fabric for your latest reupholstery project. But if you have an hour or two to kill and need a place to find some serious inspiration for a new fabric-based project, Tempe Sales is a good place to start. It's here you'll find collections of cloth and vinyl in countless designs, colors, and textures, and heaps of swatches that can be patched together, all at prices that'll make it a whole lot easier to justify the long list of projects you came up with after you entered the doors.

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