Best Bookstore You Didn't Know Existed

Books

Currently closed for browsing but open for curbside pickup, the aptly named Books is one of our favorite local secrets. This family-owned and -operated trove stocks nearly 200,000 hardbacks, paperbacks, records, comics, and DVDs — and has for more than 30 years. We've scored several rare, out-of-print treasures here, including a first-edition copy of Shirley Jackson's Hangsaman and a signed wartime edition of We Followed Our Hearts to Hollywood by Emily Kimbrough. Always friendly and eager to help, the staff is made up of bookworms who'd love to help you find your next favorite novel or memoir. We look forward to the day when we can return to wandering around the neatly categorized and alphabetized selections in this brick-and-mortar booklover's paradise.

The closure of All About Books and Comics in April, after nearly 40 years in business, felt like the end of an era for nerd culture citywide. Fortunately, another pop culture torchbearer has been marching along this entire time: Drawn to Comics. This Glendale shop shares AABC's commitment to unabashedly celebrating nerdy pursuits, uplifting fans with new heroes, and maintaining the flames of artistic curiosity. (Not to mention a great pull service and deep back issues.) But what we really love about Drawn to Comics is that it provides a comics-buying experience that prioritizes the people. It's a store where the most magical thing isn't the flying aliens or dudes in robot suits: It's the community.

It's easy to lose track of time inside The Paper Place, where those looking to eschew electronic communication will find everything they could possibly need to do so. Operated by a pair of sisters, this charming retail space lets you custom-order invitations for weddings and other occasions, shop for unique greeting cards, explore gift-wrap options including individual sheets of decorative paper, and find presents for all those little holidays and celebrations that happen throughout the year. Amid all the paper, you'll find cookbooks, desk accessories, stuffed animals, pens, jewelry, and more. The cheerful ambiance, attentive customer service, and creative offerings make this paper store a standout shopping destination.

Hazel & Violet could easily be the moniker for an adorable pair of kittens, or a trendy fashion line. But over on Grand Avenue, it's the name of a letterpress that's long been a hub for First and Third Friday activity. Owner Nancy Hill welcomes the artsy crowds in a hands-on way that few businesses do, setting up letterpress printers where people can try their hand at small prints or coasters. Other times, people pop in to order wedding invitations, shop for text-based gifts, or take workshops that bring a dash more creativity to their lives. The shop prints personal as well as commercial stationery, business cards, broadsides, and more. We hit up the brick-and-mortar store (or Hazel & Violet's Etsy shop) when we're looking for minimalist or smart-aleck greeting cards, desert-themed art prints, or cool patterned stationery. Simply put, life is better with letterpress love.

Phoenix Art Museum

Need to buy somebody a present but have absolutely no idea what to get them? Hit up The Museum Store at Phoenix Art Museum, which has an excellent assortment of gifts for any budget. For art lovers, there are exhibition catalogs, art books, art prints, and even art-inspired clothing for both men and women. There are kitchen supplies, office supplies, and ceramics by local artists. (We are big fans of the store's collapsible vases, which come in handy when you're giving fresh flowers.) There's an extensive children's section too: Start 'em early.

Bunky Boutique

Rachel Malloy's beloved shop first opened in 2007 inside a small space in Roosevelt Row. Nowadays, you'll find it tucked inside a building just north of Burton Barr Public Library. Don't let the cozy size of Bunky Boutique fool you. The store is packed with items that reflect Malloy's love for Arizona and her vintage vibe. There is a gift here for nearly any occasion. Candles, tote bags, and greeting cards. T-shirts, rings, and body care items. Presents for babies and toddlers. And if you're short on ideas, Malloy will help you find something sure to be a hit at the family gathering or office gift exchange. She's that type of shopkeeper (the best kind).

MADE Art Boutique

Lots of changes happened near MADE Art Boutique in Roosevelt Row this year. The Eye Lounge art gallery got a new entrance around the corner on Fifth Street and Greenwood Brewing moved into the neighborhood. But the art boutique, which is located in a cute vintage house that's a charming contrast to the area's ho-hum apartments, is pretty much the same: still filled with eye-catching works by local artists. It's a wonderful place to support metro Phoenix creatives while shopping for jewelry, prints, greeting cards, personal care items, small ceramics, stickers, and more. Our favorite things to buy include charming embroidered artworks with cats or desert plants by Cindy Dach and miniature robots made by Jordan Alexander Thomas using upcycled materials and wood. The eclectic selection shifts over time, so you won't get bored by seeing the same offerings over and over again, and there are great items in every price range.

Originally run by the Arizona Record Collectors Association, this vinyl swap meet has been a mainstay among platter fanatics for more than 20 years. Originally organized by record whiz Sam Hill, the convention — where you'll find mint and still-sealed albums by everyone from ABBA to Frank Zappa — lately has been a project of Tracks in Wax shop owner Timmy Stamper, who has moved it to the much-roomier Arizona American Italian Club. There, several times a year, some 60 vendors offer boxes and boxes of rare and hard-to-find albums, singles, and CDs to hundreds of collectors. You think you'll never find a VG+ copy of Lou Reed's Growing Up in Public or a decent copy of the Life With Mikey soundtrack. But that may be because you haven't yet hit this groovy record swap meet.

Where, we wondered, could we find that super-hard-to-score arrangement for the Maureen McGovern version of "The Carioca," published in 1973? Then, we remembered that we're within driving distance of Central Music, one of the best sources in the Southwest for old, obscure, and up-to-the-minute sheet music. Need a lead sheet for Sammy Fain's "I'll Be Seeing You"? You'll find it here. Think you'll never find a simplified version of Schumann's "Im Wunderschonen Monat Mai" for violin? You're wrong. Central Music will have it, or it'll get it for you if it doesn't. The staff here is always friendly and seems to actually want to help you track down print music spanning every genre — rock, blues, country, sacred, classical, opera, jazz, and folk. This place has always been a great resource for music teachers, professionals, and amateur musicians alike. Here's hoping it always will be.

It would have been better for our savings accounts if we hadn't hopped on the vinyl bandwagon, but we're record collectors now, and we're not stopping anytime soon. As a result, we find ourselves at The 'In' Groove a couple of times a month surveying the selection. Owner Mike Esposito has created an environment welcoming to both vinyl newbies and seasoned collectors. We like to hit the bins of recent used arrivals first, then scan the rest of the store, which is heavy on pop and rock of today and yesteryear, but also has strong sections of jazz, hip-hop, and soundtracks. Everything is fairly priced (like the gorgeous vintage copy of Led Zeppelin's first album we scored for under $20 the other day), which isn't to say cheap — there are some real vinyl gems under glass at the store, with prices to match their rarity and condition. The folks at The 'In' Groove are friendly — but they ain't dumb.

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