Retro Ranch

Ramie. Baft. Bombazine. We're addicted to reading the labels on vintage clothing, and some of the best label-reading (not to mention shopping) that we've done lately is at Retro Ranch, one of Seventh Avenue's best-known vintage stores. Sure, you can find broadcloth and dungaree at most vintage shops that sell clothing, but what is it about these guys that even their throw pillows are made of decades-old Gloria? Swing coats made of Shaker flannel and midi skirts made of landsdown — nowhere else but at Retro Ranch, baby.

Zinnias at Melrose

We didn't used to own a set of Santa Claus salt-and-pepper shakers or a Frosty the Snowman slushy maker, but we do now, thanks to Zinnias at Melrose, our favorite spot in town for vintage holiday gewgaws and all things Christmas. There, we've seen boxes of 60-year-old Shiny Brite glass tree ornaments stacked alongside mint-in-package tinsel, bags of still-glossy garland strings, and even an ancient card full of brightly painted jingle bells. We bought as much as we could and dragged it all ho-ho-home. Next time we were back at Zinnias, there was even more Christmas stuff, right where we couldn't miss it, just inside the door. It's remained there, year-round — well, most of it, anyway. We keep going back and buying more red-and-green holiday stuff from the '50s and '60s. And you can, too.

Best Antique Shop for Vintage Carnival Chalkware

Antique Centre

Antique Centre

Lots of people go to Scottsdale for its better restaurants and uptown department store shopping, but we go there for plaster Kewpie dolls. Antique Centre is the best place to find vintage carnival chalkware, those oddly painted statues that were given away as prizes at carnival dime-tosses in the '30s and '40s. At Centre, we've scored two 10-inch marching majorettes, a tiny Pinocchio, and a really gigantic Betty Boop. And that's just this year! We've seen a lot of animal chalkware from the '50s here, too, but we're into the dolls and figurative statues, and we never leave Scottsdale's better antique mall without at least one of them.

Last time we were here, we got a Virgin of Guadalupe with a chipped ear and an Infant of Prague whose index fingers were gone. The time before that, we got a plaster Jesus with real vinyl hair. And although we sometimes see religious statues in other thrift stores, this is the only place in town where we always find them — and good ones, too. They may not always be in mint condition, but the prices are so good that we feel blessed. We're on the lookout for another melamine Jesus-on-the-Cross wall plaque, like the one our mom found here last summer. We have faith it'll be here, eventually.

When we decided we wanted an old set of encyclopedias, we thought it would be a piece of cake to find one — because any thrift store must have at least one set, right? Wrong. We visited a half-dozen of them before we headed to this west-side Goodwill, where we snagged a 33-volume set in mint condition for $20. And after poking around, we found that this place is a veritable treasure trove of nice old books — and some better new ones, besides. We found a second edition printing of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, a pair of John Irving novels with their dust covers intact, and the rather more unusual Hygiene of the Breasts, a 1920s hardcover about nursing one's baby. We've made going to this particular Goodwill a weekly habit, and we never leave without a new stash of reading material.

Outside of a plain old antiques store, this is the place where the best local collection of slightly tarnished vintage furniture resides. Every stick of Stickley is waiting for you to discover it and bring it home; and next time you drive past this Seventh Avenue destination and see a moving van out front, pull in! Nonstop deliveries to this popular thrift means that the vintage stuff just keeps arriving — and flying out the door, too, because local pickers love this joint. We do, as well — our most recent finds at this super-chic furniture emporium include a blond book shelf with built-in lamp (a steal at only $29), a well-loved handmade side table ($24), and a rather large ottoman that, while not strictly an antique, was still too good a deal to pass up. Go find one of your own at White Dove.

Flo's

The best thing about our new set of Brockware Chanticleer dishware is that we got it for next to nothing, because we shop at Flo's. The buyers there seem to know what they have — often, dishes and serving pieces will be tagged with the set's current eBay value — but they're not doing that weird thing where they lock it all up in a case and over-price it. Flo's is a thrift store, and the owners know it. So one can find great cooling trays and warming dishes and coffee pots and stemware and plated flatware for nearly no money at all. The former Florence Crittenton Thrift Shoppe also offers furniture, clothing, appliances, and even great old 45 RPM records, but it's the Harkerware and the Anchor Hocking and the Stengl that keep us coming back. (Fans of old linens will want to make Flo's a regular haunt, too, because vintage tablecloths, napkins, and window treatments are among this shop's other specialties.)

We thought it was a total fluke when we found two minty-mint Wearever cook-pots from the 1940s at this thrift store, but then a few weeks later, we found the matching saucepan — with its lid, too! After that, we made this unusually clean shop a regular stop. We've since found a like-new fondue set, still in its avocado-green box, and a Minute-Man turkey roaster with its original draining pan — something we'd been looking for on eBay forever. We bought it, and now we're waiting for the day when we walk into this cookware-centric secondhand store to see the Wearever coffee pot we need to complete our set. It'll happen. Meantime, see you there!

There was this corner in our home that needed nothing so much as a big, ugly table lamp. Off we headed to the Goodwill at 32nd Street and Thomas, because we'd seen a colossal monster of a lamp there not long before. Little did we know we'd find not one giant lamp, but three — one of them a floor model! We bought the one shaped like a giant ship in a bottle (the bottle lights up, as does the top part with the shade on it) and are tempted to go back for the big plaster cherub holding a snow globe we saw there — all it needs is a nice shade, and just the right corner of someone's house to live in . . .

Best Thrift Store for Small Appliances

Savers

We wanted an electric can opener but didn't want to pay full price; we knew we'd be using it only to open the occasional can of dog food. And so we headed straight to the Bell Road Savers in Peoria, because we knew they have practically an entire department devoted to small appliances. We found a nice almond-colored can opener for five bones, and then cruised around admiring all the nice Crock-Pots and Mr. Coffees. Which, of course, led to our purchase of a vintage Mixmaster blender with a glass canister and a funny little pamphlet with fruity drink recipes stuffed inside. Next time you need a little thing that plugs into an electric outlet, head to this thrift.

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