Half the fun of container gardening is picking the container, which is one reason Matt Pfeilstucker is one of the best makers around. Instead of boring, uninspiring planters, he makes planters with a fun twist — drawing on everything from zombie lore to skull iconography. His own personality shines through in his work, which helps others create spaces that show off their unique ways of looking at the world. In his world, every planter tells a story. His small-scale pots resonate with alternative culture, and you can find them in several art and retail spaces around town. Our favorites include his zombie baby heads, which we think everybody should fill with a festive plant and place on the dinner table for their most conservative relatives when holiday time comes around. They're miniature works of art and conversation starters, all rolled into one.

Come on, you really think we would go with something else for this one? At this point, Changing Hands is metro Phoenix's bookstore. Across its two locations, the Valley institution carries all the books you could ever need, with its buyback program ensuring you'll be able to get rid of your old books in favor of something new (or gently used) and better. We're particularly fond of the Phoenix location, which, while not as large as the main Tempe branch, is more centrally located, includes the First Draft Book Bar and plenty of dedicated space for lectures, readings, and other events, and usually has a more refined selection that's easier to browse.

All About Books and Comics

There is no hellish disdain like the look given by snarky comic shop staff when you ask if the new Power Rangers or My Little Pony annual is in stock. Luckily, at All About, you'll never get this look. These are the nicest people in the business, able and willing to carry on a conversation about whatever your weird fascination is and tell you exactly where to find more of it. Their stock is immense, so much so that they have a second location four doors down with older, discounted materials for the more adventurous (our personal favorite find is a Batman graphic novel published in the early '90s done entirely with then-cutting-edge digital art, with the titular hero pitted against a computer-virus Joker). Top that off with unlimited arcade games and an excellent drink selection at Bonus Round right next door, and you have yourself a New York slice of geek heaven.

Bookmans Entertainment Exchange

Calling it "Bookmans" is kind of a misnomer. Walk into the labyrinthine used-media emporium, which also has locations in Tucson and Flagstaff, and you'll certainly find books — thousands of them, from fiction and nonfiction to comics, manga, even vintage magazines — but you'll also find a massive cache of DVDs and Blu-rays, CDs and vinyl records, classic video games and consoles, pop culture merch, and much more. As if that weren't enough, the store also sells musical instruments — guitars, brass horns, woodwinds, drums — along with sheet music, production equipment, and even a couple of oddities (anyone want a hammered dulcimer?), all at economical prices. You could easily lose a day here, along with some hard-earned, well-spent cash, and if you need some more, Bookmans will take a look at any old stuff you've got lying around.

Bookworms and collectors throughout the Valley have been known to stow away cash for this annual sale months in advance, and with good reason. For one glorious weekend in February, the Volunteer Nonprofit Service Association fills a warehouse at the Arizona State Fairgrounds with hundreds of thousands of donated books, from museum catalogs and ancient tomes to comics, paperbacks, religious texts, and even volumes in foreign languages. Vinyl records, CDs, and DVDs are also available for perusing. Best of all? A massive chunk of the selection can be had for less than $5, with many of those going for just a buck. Bibliophiles from all over gather in the chilly predawn weather to make sure they get into the sale early enough to get the best selection. Make sure you know how you're going to bring all those books home, though — you're likely to fill at least one shopping cart by the time you're finished.

You're not going to find a discount bin at Record High in Phoenix. That's because you won't see any scratched or damaged vinyl inside this small record store located alongside the auto garages and strip clubs just south of Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. You will find an audiophile's dream in this small but well-organized store, with a curated inventory that boasts a robust jazz and blues selection in addition to rock and indie favorites. If you're just starting to build your collection, don't be intimidated by what you're reading. The friendly and knowledgeable staff won't rake you over the coals for asking if they have a copy of the Dave Matthews Band's debut album.

Stinkweeds

If you're sick and tired of racking up data by streaming music on your plan, just cancel your Spotify subscription and head to Stinkweeds in uptown Phoenix. The store, which has been in business for over three decades, has a wide selection of compact discs from buzz-worthy indie artists, groovy soul groups, and local musicians. Listening stations are located throughout the store, so you can try before you buy. Sure, they have vinyl, too, but you can't play wax in your car. This Valley staple will help put your vehicle's long-neglected CD player to great use.

Recently opened near Green New American Vegetarian where Scottsdale ends and Tempe begins, Pink Elephant takes a more feminine approach to record collecting. Decorated in a pink-and-black, '50s-inspired style that recalls an old malt shop, the shop was designed by owner Danielle Frazier to be accommodating to female, LGBTQ, and other customers who may be turned off by the gatekeeping and low-key misogyny found at other record stores. Everyone is welcome at Pink Elephant, and while the shop is still growing its stock — the 3-inch singles hanging from the wall are a notable exception — we're excited to see where it goes.

Many of the chain bike stores in the Valley want to get you and your bike in and out of the stop as quickly as possible. That type of service can lead to missed problems, which come back to bite you in the saddle when you take your two wheels out on the road. Sooner or later, cyclists find their way to Mike Cox at Curbside Cyclery. He and his wife, Steph, have been fixing and selling bikes at their little Ahwatukee Foothills shop for over a decade now. They want to hear about your latest race or what's working for you on your rides, plus their store dog, Snickers, will keep you company while you wait. If you're new to the sport, they'll make sure you leave with the proper attire and equipment.

When we're shopping for a new deck for our nephew's birthday or want to add some sneakers to our closet, Cowtown is our skateboard shop of choice. It has what skateboarders need to hit the road and look good doing it, from boards and board parts to clothes, accessories, and protective gear. But we really love Cowtown because it's a local business that puts a lot of effort into supporting and enriching the local skate community. It just participated in an event on the San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation that helped provide boards for kids interested in skating, and the annual Locals Only skateboard contest is a day of fun for participants and spectators alike.

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