Arizona State Fairgrounds

Mark your calendars for Saturday, February 15, and Sunday, February 16, 2014. It's going to be a weekend heyday for bookworms and literary fanatics who travel from far and wide to see what's been deemed worthy and interesting by the Volunteer Nonprofit Service Association (VNSA).

Members of the local nonprofit spend all year, every year, sorting through thousands of book donations dropped in parking lot bins and carted in by book-recycling programs. The best (around half a million) hardbacks, paperbacks, children's books, and rare items make it to the sales tables at the Arizona State Fairgrounds every year to be snapped up by avid readers at a fraction of the price you'd find on Amazon or big-box bookstores.

This year's 57th annual event was billed as one of the largest book sales in the country and the "Valley's Greatest Treasure Hunt," which all began in the 1950s as the fundraising arm of what's now the Volunteer Nonprofit Service Association, with a logo drawn by local comic hero Bil Keane. The organization since has held an annual book sale to raise money for the community. In its first year, VNSA raised $900, and since, the organization has traded used books for more than $6 million. We can't wait to see what's sifted out of this year's loot.

From the outside, Gilbert Convenient Mart doesn't look like much at all — just your standard corner store, intriguing only in that it doesn't have a steeple, like the 30 or so Mormon churches that surround it. But walk inside and you may be struck with a religious experience. It's not the size of the selection so much as the variety — few other shops in the Valley offer such a well-curated list of bottled craft beers. One-time releases from small breweries, seasonal rarities, and seldom-seen imports often can be found here, and the guys who buy them are great about posting online and letting you know exactly when they're available. If you can't make it right away, let them know and they'll hold some bottles for you, protecting your booze from the plague of beer geeks who may descend upon it. A bottle shop for a lover on a mission, to be sure.

In case you haven't noticed, the industrial trend has taken over. From restaurants and retailers to posh bars and personal spaces, everyone is shifting gears with their décor, opting for a style of mechanical statement pieces and streamlined steel furniture. Unfortunately, like most things trendy, it's hard to stay modern without looking mass-produced. Though it's easy enough find some refurbished replica at retail giants like CB2 and Restoration Hardware, if you want your industrial home to truly stand on its own, your best bet is to go custom. Vintage Industrial offers brand new industrial pieces made to look vintage with the added bonus of being customized. Their motto, "Built by hand to outlast us all," attests to the quality of the company's made-to-order products and grants them such high-end clients as MGM Grand, Four Seasons, and Guy Fieri. Located in a nondescript warehouse in downtown Phoenix, Industrial Vintage is not zoned for a public showroom, and thus visits must be made by appointment only.

Let's face it: Given the state of journalism these days, any reporter worth his or her salt has a plan B. And ours follows our raging thirst, all the way to one of the nine Total Wine megastores in the Valley. After all, we already spend an inordinate amount of our copious free time trolling the aisles, perusing the 8,000 wines, 2,500 beers and 3,000 liquors from all over the world. And though the prices are lower than just about any retail shop, dropping wads of cash on a push-cart full of booze can get habit-forming, not to mention drinking the stuff. Then there are the wine classes, the tastings, the on-tap beer bar, the variety of noshes on sale, and a humidor with a fine selection of cigars. Imagine waking up every day and getting to spend eight hours in such a place. And they pay you. Which is a good thing, because we'd almost work there for free.

Top's Liquor

Locally run liquor stores are usually known for poor service and a small Bud Light-dominant stock housed in a sketchy, possibly drive-thru atmosphere. However, downtown Tempe's Tops Liquor fights every small liquor store stereotype. It took us years of satisfied drinking to taste-test the regular roster of hundreds of beers at Tops. From stouts to hefes and even mead from all over the world, it's pretty much guaranteed that you'll find at least one beer that you like. Best of all, the knowledgeable and friendly staff is always quick with a great recommendation if you can't pick, or you can just meander through the east wall to Taste of Tops to try one out before you buy a pack. We recommend snagging any case of craft brew from their sale section for the best deal. The liquor department is equally well stocked.

Ye Olde Pipe & Tobacco Shoppe

After a long day wading the mire of Arizona politics, sometimes a cigar is in order — or, perhaps if we're working a story that calls for a more sleuthing style, a good ol' Sherlock Holmes-style pipe. Which is why, when we want tobacco, we visit Ye Olde Pipe & Tobacco Shoppe. The shop has a huge humidor for those premium cigars we crave, and bundled grab bags for the smokes we can actually afford. There are couches and a smoking area if you feel like hanging out with other aficionados. If you're new to the scene, the staff is knowledgeable, genial, and are typically gumming or puffing a cigar of their own. But if pipes are your calling, they've got starters, estate pipes and handmade Italian Savinelli pipes. If you can't find it at Ye Olde Pipe & Tobacco Shoppe (or if they can't order it for you), then you probably can't smoke it.

Blaze Tobacco & Gifts

Blaze loves glass. Other bong shops lay claim to quality; some can even back it up with what's on the shelves. Blaze is different. Its two locations, in Tempe and Phoenix, carry a shit-ton more varieties of waterpipes, bubblers, and pipes than your run-of-the-mill head shops. And it has better prices, carrying California-made glassware by companies such as Illusion and Sillica. One piece we took home was easily two-thirds the price of similar items we've bought elsewhere, with a thick sturdiness that means it won't break when we're feeling too loose and set it down too hard. The stores don't fix waterpipes anymore, speaking of broken smokin' devices, but they still seem to be friends with talented glassmakers who spin funky shapes and colors. If you must spend $900 on a bong, you need to at least take a look at Blaze's stock. No matter your budget, it's got shelves of hookahs, plastic bongs, and anything else a fashionable toker needs.

Fashion by Robert Black

book by its cover. In the case of the elegant, simple White Hogan building in Scottsdale, it wouldn't be wild to assume its innards reflect the shell. It wouldn't be incorrect, either. (The typically drool-worthy window displays might tip you off, too.) That's because the building houses Fashion by Robert Black, where you'll find the best selection of vintage clothing the Valley has to offer. With fab jewelry, sunglasses, hats, and wearables that date anywhere from the 1920s to the '80s, there's no way to not find something that's wish-list-worthy — particularly if you have a yen for well-made dresses and/or luxury brands. Louis Vuitton, Dior, and Pucci are just a few of the designers you'll find gracing the racks and mannequins. Feel free to judge them by their cuts and colors — we'll be gawking right there with ya.

In addition to being a serious art form, circus acrobatics has become a trendy way to stay fit, and in downtown Phoenix, this total-body practice is made accessible for both athletes and fitness newbies alike. Class levels start with beginner aerial yoga, practiced in a safe, comfortable hammock to encourage development of basic strength, flexibility, and spatial awareness. To get a feel for flight, introductory series in acrobatics help students get comfortable on performance apparatuses like silks, rope, and trapeze. And, for those who dream of running away to join a traveling circus show — dancing high above the cheering crowd, suspended on a spinning metal hoop — Altitude offers higher-level instruction to fine-tune acrobatic technique and learn daring mid-air drops. Director Nicole Crist has a background in jazz and modern dance and first took to the sky in 2005, studying with top performers in NYC. She returned to Phoenix last year to bring aerial acrobatics to Arizona and teach, collaborate, and choreograph this exciting movement art in her safe, supportive studio.

GROWop is a group effort. The RoRo-adjacent shop's owners, Josh Hahn and Kenny Barrett, work with local designers and makers to stock the plaid-painted bungalow storefront. That means it's a great place to discover up-and-coming Phoenix-area creatives alongside Hahn and Barrett's handpicked vintage pieces, like plaid button-ups, kitschy home décor, and patterned skirts. The pair also works with national brands like Pendleton's The Portland Collection to keep ultra-fresh finds in stock. Between the vintage goodies, local wares, and über-new clothing, there's always something worth toting home.

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