Anytime we need to kill an hour or four, we head over to one of The Brass Armadillo's two Valley locations. Our attention span fizzles long before we run out of things to see at this antique mall. Anything you like that's old-timey, vintage, or retro, one of the booths at The Brass Armadillo probably has it. We've bought vintage Pyrex, old records, classic issues of Arizona Highways, and so much more. Sometimes we zip through quickly looking for something in particular, but more often, we stroll up and down the aisles, looking for something special that catches our eye. Pro tip: If you sign up for the mailing list, you can find out when the store is having a sale, making the treasures you find at The Brass Armadillo a little more affordable.
The beauty of ABC Cake Decorating Supplies is that it caters to both decent amateur bakers like ourselves and true pros with the skills to do it for a living. We shop there for cookie cutters of every shape and size, baking stencils for dusting powdered sugar on our creations, cool cupcake liners, and pretty bakery boxes for when we're feeling fancy. But if we ever decide to up our baking game, we know we can head to ABC to find pans of every size, an array of flavorings and extracts, gumpaste flowers, and even airbrush machines. The best part is that the staff is equally friendly and helpful whether you're a pro or just gearing up to make your first batch of cupcakes.
Giving your pet a bath in the home tub can be a real back-breaker. Stop wrestling with Mr. Wiggles and playing slip-n-slide on your bathroom floor — head to Wag N' Wash. You can use one of their pet-friendly washbasins to get your dog smelling good and looking fancy. There's even conditioner, for a silky finish. If you don't want to complete the task yourself, you can have one of the friendly staff members polish your pcup. This place is a pet lover's paradise. After you get your four-legged friend beautified in the grooming room, walk the aisles shopping for dog and cat food, accessories, and plenty of treats. Feel free to bring your dog in with you — he or she might pick out what they want to snack on from one of the many accessible buckets of bully sticks and cow ears.
When it came time to send flowers to our favorite uncle, we were a little shy about our budget, yet we wanted something special. Enter Community Florist, where friendly staff crowded around with photos and flower samples to help us get the most begonia bang for our buck. We finally settled on a houseplant from the pretty, verdant jungle that Community stocks, but came back a few weeks later to order one of the floral masterpieces we'd seen one of the shop's designers building. Corsages and funeral floral arrangements are also on the menu, and Community's staff will even phone you with a progress report if you're worried your daisy bouquet won't reach its destination in time.
Dig It Gardens has an all-around good vibe. The staff is friendly and knowledgeable, and the lush plant offerings have something for everyone at all price points. Load up on potting soil geared specifically for desert cacti, snag some beautiful clay pots, or grab that aloe plant that you always wanted. Even if you're not there to buy anything or aren't interested in gardening, its labyrinth-like outdoor nursery is ideal for a stroll among a variety of thriving cacti and other plants. But be careful: At least one of Dig It's staffers will unapologetically endorse blowing an unreasonable portion of your income on plants and gardening supplies.
People have vastly different relationships to plants, a fact that isn't lost on Bosque at Pueblo founder Michael Lanier and his partner Coby Bruckner. Their Grand Avenue plant shop is a haven for both plant pros and the plant-curious. You can discover plants you've never seen before, meet other people who share your affinity for nature, and learn the fascinating histories of plant life at the Bosque. The shop carries tiny plants and massive ones, and has all the information and inspiration you need to help give them a good home. It's also filled with gift items, from macrame plant holders to vintage-style botanical illustrations. By coupling an eclectic inventory of plants and plant-related items with a contagious curiosity about plant life, Lanier and Bruckner have created the city's best place to match houseplants with new homes.
Changing Hands, which has long leaned into the idea of bookstore as community gathering space, takes that concept to the next level. The Phoenix location is home to a bar where you can enjoy drinks and a nosh while you read, and you'll find works by local artists on its walls. There's also a room set up with tables where people gather for casual conversations or attend book-signings and poetry readings. The store has a robust lineup of online events for readers with diverse interests, and often reflects the big conversations happening in contemporary culture through its choices of books and happenings. Both locations have charming children's sections, a great selection of magazines you won't find elsewhere, and a wide assortment of gifts that make it fun to just kick around and explore instead of simply popping in for that one book on your must-have list. Here, you encounter a bookstore that feels like home; it's a place you want to return to again and again to experience new and familiar treasures.
In last year's Best of Phoenix issue, we pondered which outlet could fill the void after the iconic All About Books and Comics closed after some 40 years. As it turns out, the best contender, Glendale's Drawn To Comics, has more than stepped up to the challenge. Part of its success was because, as COVID restrictions hampered the obsessive box-digging preferred by hardcore readers, DTC found ways to maintain a safe, socially distant shopping experience, promoting community and connection at a time when people needed it most. And DTC continued to do the work of any great shop: cater to comics fans of all ages, carry a massive catalog of back titles, share picks and recommendations, and generally hype folks to embrace comics. Because of those efforts, comics fans across the Valley still have a place to gather and celebrate these beloved stories and larger-than-life heroes. A Herculean effort? Nope, this was the work of 100 versions of Superman.
Charissa Lucille is a true literary badass. As creator and operator of Wasted Ink Zine Distro, they (Charissa's preferred pronoun) celebrate the most indie form of publishing: the humble zine, a DIY approach to publishing open to anyone with pen, paper, and access to a copy machine. Wasted Ink sells zines online and in its wonderful new location at Nurture House, and it also offers workshops and advice to anyone who shares a passion for zines. Spend some time in the shop (online or in person) and you'll get a taste for the variety and amazingness of the offerings. We're so glad that the Phoenix Zine Fest — spearheaded by Lucille and Wasted Ink, but felled by the pandemic — will be back (albeit in a virtual format) later this fall.
Getting into trading card or tabletop games isn't easy; with 1,000 different titles available, it's often a terrifying prospect for beginners. That's why the Valley is lucky to have a place like Imperial Outpost. The shop covers all your gaming needs, from miniature games and non-collectibles to board games galore. Plus, there's no reason to ever go home to play your favorite game, as the shop has several gaming rooms, a snack bar, and even a painting room. That last bit speaks to what makes the shop truly stand out: inclusivity. Because even if you don't know what game to buy, the shop fosters excitement regardless of your intent or skill level. You can wander around from different displays, watching others play or browsing boxes, and readily find your next obsessive-level hobby. In that way, Imperial Outpost feels like a genuine haven, and one that makes the Valley seem all that more playful and enjoyable for its mere existence.