Best Bookstore 2016 | Changing Hands | Goods & Services | Phoenix

It must be disonancia cognitiva. Right around the time we quietly landed on our theme for this year's Best of Phoenix issue — Border Town — we began to notice that Changing Hands Bookstore was sponsoring Spanish-language events, including a story hour for kids. That's just how it seems to go with Changing Hands — it's like the staff can read our minds and know what we want, like a second indie bookstore in Phoenix, with a wonderful bar with killer coffee, a great wine and beer selection and good snacks, and expanded programming, including workshops. They even knew that in the middle of all the changes with the arrival of the Phoenix store, we didn't want a single thing about the Tempe location to change — and it hasn't, not to our eyes, anyway.

No matter what language you say it in, Changing Hands remains our city's bespectacled, nerdy-in-a-hip-way, always-generous BFF. Let's keep it that way. Buy local.

This tiny outpost on Mill Avenue is easy to miss, but it's also well worth a visit for any bibliophile. Just make sure you set aside a nice chunk of time, since it's all too easy to get lost among the store's somewhat messy stacks of previously loved reads. Old Town's appearance can be overwhelming, but perseverance pays off as you can find everything from affordable paperback copies of classics you've been meaning to revisit to hardback vintage editions that will leave the avid reader in your life swooning. The shop's hours are flexible — as in, you may find the owners have "gone reading" even during posted business hours — but that, along with the resident bookstore cat, only adds to the small-town charm of this book lover's paradise.

Some people have the Super Bowl. Others have Coachella. But for the literary junkies of the Southwest, there's the VNSA Book Sale. Short for Volunteer Nonprofit Service Association, the annual VNSA Book Sale is a treasure trove of gently used paperbacks, rare and unusual hardcovers, and the occasional audio-visual item, all organized neatly inside a warehouse at the Arizona State Fairgrounds. With only two days to shop and roughly a half-million books up for grabs, the February event sees its fair share of customers who not only camp out in line but carry their own suitcases for shopping. Better mark your calendar and set your alarm, because the book lovers who attend this sale mean business.

With comic book heroes headlining so many summer blockbusters, the market for superhero stories has never been bigger. But one of the best things about Ash Avenue Comics & Books in Tempe is that while the staff stocks and totally gets down on whatever Superman, Batman, Captain America, Wonder Woman, and Deadpool are up to, their knowledge extends to a wide variety of comics outside of the Big Two publishers, from creator-owned independent books and science fiction to horror and autobiographical alt-comics. Community-minded, Ash Avenue also hosts readings like the Untidy Secrets storytelling series and monthly book-club readings, where books like Neil Gaiman's Sandman can be digested and discussed.

Mesa has blossomed into an arts destination these past few years, with music festivals and new venues popping up to complement the city's thriving art scene. And then there's Asylum Records, the best record store in the Valley. The store has a surprisingly well-stocked collection of classic rock records, and its metal collection is pretty terrific, too. Browse through the funk and soul records and you'll find the classics, from Funkadelic to Etta James. If the selection isn't enough for you, this is also the only record store in the Valley we know of that has a store cat welcoming visitors and bugging the friendly ones for head scratches.

Need that one Mötorhead live CD to complete your collection? Most likely, you can find it at Zia Records. There really isn't a better place to buy new and used CDs in town. Zia's selection is just that much bigger — there really is no competition or comparison. If you are looking for a hard-to-find CD, Zia is your best bet (unless, of course, you are hip to this little thing called the internet, which is probably just a flash in the pan, anyway). If the price is important to you, the bang for the buck at Zia is usually pretty great for the new and used CDs you must have before the medium completely goes away for good. Buy, sell, and trade CDs with the best in town at Zia.

Bizarre Guitar founder Bob Turner passed away last year, but it would seem his legacy is in good hands, as the shop has continued on, maintaining his high standards. Famously featured in a Miller Beer advertisement that ran during Super Bowl XLIV in 2010, Bizarre Guitar doesn't have that impersonal, warehouse-like feel that makes other places so nightmarish. Instead, the staff is attentive and quick to answer questions about the new and vintage guitars, amplifiers, pedals, and drums. The staff values connection, whether you're picking up a starter Squire or a deluxe Gibson ES 335; the company's Facebook page routinely features happy customers posing with their recent purchases, all smiling faces and gleaming six-strings.

Step aside, boys: This one's dedicated to the ladies. Young ladies, to be specific. In 2007, a group from Portland, Oregon, decided to reach out and expand on a little idea they'd had for a while — a rock 'n' roll camp for girls. Recognizing that rock is too often a male-only pursuit, camps have sprung up across the country (and even internationally) with the idea of allowing girls to form bands, learn to play, and then perform live before an audience. This year, Girls Rock! Phoenix hosted its first-ever summer camp — and brought down the house. The weeklong day camp included screen-printing instruction and a zine workshop, as well as performances by local bands and the aforementioned musical training. The final show, held at the Nash on Roosevelt Row, was standing room only. Women from all over the Valley stepped up to volunteer their time and talents, and the tiny band members did them proud. Girls about to rock, we salute you.

Pop quiz, movie buffs: Which Hollywood legend performed his most iconic film scene with a 100-degree fever? In Jaws, Steven Spielberg named the mechanical shark after whom? The answers, and plenty of other fun facts, behind-the-scenes stories, and juicy Tinseltown gossip can be found at FilmBar Film School, the popular series hosted by screenwriter, ASU professor, and cinephile Joe Fortunato. Film School is offered approximately once a quarter; past offerings include Citizen Kane, City Lights, Casablanca, The Graduate, and Dr. Strangelove. Each screening begins with introductory remarks by Fortunato; then, audiences watch the film while he provides commentary. After the credits, you can stick around for a post-show discussion, or go out into the night replete with enough movie trivia tidbits to dazzle everyone at your next cocktail party. (And for the curious: Gene Kelly, Singin' in the Rain; Bruce, Spielberg's lawyer.)

Ever wanted to study the art of improv? You totally can at the Torch Theatre, where a dedicated cast of improvisers will walk you through the ins and outs of live, spontaneous comedy. Director of education Jacque Arend leads open classes on the art of taking an audience suggestion and building on it for hilarious results. The crew at Torch help make sense of the character building and dialogue required to construct comedy gold in front of a live audience, absent the safety net of a script. Class sizes are small and intimate (and we highly recommend the kids' program), but the potential for yucks is great.

Best Of Phoenix®

Best Of