Running hasn't had a moment this big since Forrest Gump laced up his shoes back in the mid-1990s. Since the pandemic hit, the family-owned Runner's Den, which has made uptown Phoenix its home for over four decades, has stepped up its game to assist those new to the sport (and those who returned to it after realizing their local gym wasn't going to open anytime soon). Its friendly, knowledgeable employees will get you fitted into a cool pair of shoes that won't give you shin splints, and to help everyone get what they need to make the most of their time outside, the store has offered free delivery options and curbside service to customers. But what we love most about Runner's Den is that the staff isn't just trying to sell you stuff. You can find information on topics like hydration and nutrition on the website, and after COVID-19 settles down, it'll get back to its lineup of group runs, race training, and other activities that promote and support the local running community.

Sometimes, we look out our office window at the hot asphalt of central Phoenix and dream of going somewhere far away. When these bouts of wanderlust hit, we know it's time for a trip to Arizona Hiking Shack. We're merely amateur adventurers, so we go there to buy maps of local trails, clothing from brands like Columbia, and Tonto Passes for excursions in the national forest. But we can't help but linger and look at all the incredible stuff the store offers — essential and optional gear for rock climbing, kayaking, camping, backpacking, and more. Arizona Hiking Shack rents equipment if you're not ready to commit to buying an item, and the knowledgeable staff is always willing to answer questions, from which hiking shoe is best to how much food to bring along on a camping trip. Next time we get the opportunity to escape to the great outdoors, Arizona Hiking Shack will be our first stop.

Cardio sports have experienced a resurgence during the pandemic — so much so that local bike shops have been struggling to meet the demand. Mike and Steph Cox (and their dog, Snickers) of the Ahwatukee Foothills shop Curbside Cyclery are just as busy as the bigger bike retailers, but they've sacrificed none of the high-quality personal service and expertise they offered before the coronavirus bump. The store has you covered in the way of bikes, equipment, shoes, apparel, and accessories. Things are rough out there still, but inside Curbside, cyclists can count on the help and the gear they need for a smooth ride.

Yes, Bobbie's Flowers & Marketplace is located in a bland southeast Valley strip mall called the Tempe Dental Plaza, but inside, you'll be thoroughly transported somewhere far more verdant. Bobbie's is a family-owned florist that's been around since 1949, and it sources flowers from first-rate greenhouses on the California coast. The key here is cold-chain management — or keeping all cut flowers cold till purchased. Inside, you'll also find yard decor like bird houses, pots, and planters, as well as Arizona-made gifts. But the best part about Bobbie's is the way the staff, composed of three generations of family members and some longtime staffers, interacts with its customers. The shop offers a Flower of the Month Club, sends random bouquets to medical personnel, and manages giveaways like posting first names on Facebook (if that's your first name, you get a free bouquet).

Most Phoenicians are transplants, which means they're used to flora and fauna beyond the world of succulents and cactus. Sometimes they long for plants that have lush leaves instead of spines or blooms of fragrant flowers that aren't common in the urban desert. Fortunately, a fascinating plant shop in the Garfield Historic District is filled with plants from parts near and far, and people who can help you give them just the right type of TLC. At The Bosque, there are plants that hang, cling, trail, float, and grow like gangbusters. You'll get plenty of help with picking the right plants for your own personal vibe, and a warm welcome anytime you circle back for a little refresher course in how to help them thrive. The shop also carries a fun assortment of accessories, from macramé plants hangers to ceramic pots, as well as art prints, plant-themed gift wrap, and other goodies to help you rock that green thumb. (Also, it smells amazing in there.)

Berridge Nurseries

For more than 80 years, the Berridge family's friendly service, devotion, and perseverance (the owners rebuilt after the nursery burned down in 1971) has made Phoenix greener. Its philodendrons and rhododendrons and Creeping Charlies have climbed and sprouted and greened up the Valley for generations. We're nuts about the Berridges' impressive array of bonsai starter plants and related pots, trays, soils, and tools; its vast pile of ceramic planters; its wrought-iron benches; and its tidy bags of manure. But what we love most is the saintly patience the Berridge staff showed when we were just starting to grow a green thumb and turned up to ask every dumb question a first-time gardener could come up with. During our first visit, one nice fellow patiently talked us out of planting bare-root rose bushes in the fall. We've been back almost monthly ever since.

Fun Services

Party planning is daunting when you're out of fresh ideas. But walking the aisles of Arizona Fun Services is a lot like sampling your way through a candy store — every turn brings a new assortment of party decorations, favors, invitations, games, and other celebratory delights. It's got all the big occasions covered, from birthdays and weddings to graduations and baby showers. And it has an impressive selection of holiday themes, for Valentine's Day, St. Patrick's Day, and Halloween. You'll find entertaining options for celebrating everything from Mardi Gras to Oktoberfest, helping you earn the coveted "best party planner ever" reputation with family, co-workers, and friends. And if you're planning a truly epic bash, the store can rent you a bounce house, casino equipment, and even a dunk tank.

We used to know a guy named Lavoo who works in his wife's cake-pan store, and he swears by this place. It has, he says, the best selection of cake and baking supplies in town, and has for more than 20 years. G&G owner Gilbert offers everything you'll need to make the perfect layer cake, from straight-edged pans in every imaginable shape, to frosting bags and tips, to the decorative junk you'll want to pile on top once your masterpiece is out of the oven. Flavorings, colorings, and edible glitter share space here with cake mixes and cookie cutters in super-unusual shapes (we bought one shaped like a casket — no, really). Unlike other cake supply joints, G&G will even do the baking for you. Those online baking supply sites will only sell you SpongeBob cake-toppers in bulk, but at G&G you can mix and match. You'll never need another cake supply store, we promise.

It's all about making memories at urbAna. The boutique, owned by Ana and Brian Wells, was inspired by Brian's grandmother's written accounts of all the parties she'd once thrown. Some of the selection of home decor here channels such vintage vibes, and other items on offer have more of a modern flair. Either way, build-it-yourself furniture is not part of the equation at urbAna. This is where you go for the finer things that also have character: a brass bar cart, a laddered bookshelf, a cactus silk pillow, and a beach towel with a big, beautiful saguaro on it. The type of items, in other words, you'll be glad to pass down to your own grandkids one day.

Antiquarian stores aren't hard to come by around here; the center of most Valley-area cities and towns has a row of vintage shops to pop into while you're out and about. If you'd like to graduate from casual browser to active shopper, though, head up to Sunnyslope and visit The Vintage Arizona. The antique wares here are plentiful, well-priced, and extremely Southwestern in their aesthetic. Hand-painted coasters, turquoise ashtrays, scorpion paperweights? Grandma-looking Pyrex or old-fashioned bathroom scales? Weird old records, magazines, books, and toys? Saguaro-shaped margarita glasses and well-worn playing cards? It's all here. The store was opened in 2019 by Shannon Steward, who scouts and handpicks the many items lining the shelves, furniture surfaces, and front patio of her curated shop. Steward even throws the occasional dance party up in here. Stop by and she'll tell you when.

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