Our mind starts spinning the moment we walk into a SAS Fabrics store. "What could I make with this? How would I use that?" SAS Fabrics represents endless creative possibilities in each of its Valley locations. We love to run our fingers over the cozy fleece, delicate lace, faux mink, and heavy brocade. There's enough faux fur to create an army of Muppets. There are plenty of accessories here, too, from piles of zippers and rolls of elastic to fun patches and tubs of buttons. The staff is knowledgeable and ready to help, not just because you're not allowed to cut your fabric, but because they know the exquisite feeling of having a sewing project turn out perfectly.
Did we find a still-sealed copy of The Archie's Everything's Archie for only $20? We did. A mono pressing of The Beatles' Second Album with the shrink wrap was not only affordable, but also in dead-mint condition. The only thing better than the bonus dollar-record bins tucked under the counter at this east-side shop is the quality of the products it peddles to novice and longtime collectors alike. The 'In' Groove's stock is not only neatly organized, but each disk (including that nice, clean copy of The Love Generation's rare third album we scored on our last visit) is slipped into a high-end plastic sleeve so potential buyers can see what great shape the vinyl is in. The knowledgeable staff always takes time to talk with us about our purchases, and when we say, "We'll be back!" they know we mean it.
A Spotify user data report came out earlier this year that stated that of all the major cities of the world, Phoenix buys the most CDs. We don't buy many these days ourselves, but when we do, we get them at local entertainment chain Zia Records. Zia locations still have a large selection of new and used discs. The used CDs in particular are super-affordable, and you can often pick up some hard-to-find gems, like titles by local bands and rare imports. Of course, once you've made your CD selection, there are countless other things to browse at Zia, too, such as records, toys, books, video games, and clothing.
We know a number of people who took up a musical instrument to pass the time during the pandemic (although not as many as started baking bread). When our friends asked for suggestions on where to get a guitar or a ukulele or, in one notable case, a banjo, we directed them to Bizarre Guitar & Drum in the Melrose District. This year, Bizarre Guitar celebrated 45 years of equipping Phoenix musicians with instruments, and the shop shows no signs of slowing down. We love to visit the showroom, where the walls are lined with everything from the humblest starter guitars to some stunning Taylors, Fenders, and Gibsons. If you're into skins rather than strings, you're covered too: the store has Drum in the name for a reason. Bizarre Guitar's staff genuinely wants to see you walk out with the instruments, equipment, and accessories that are going to work best for you, whether you're a lifelong musician or a new pandemic player.
Got a special night coming up? You know, one of those Marvin Gaye on the stereo, rose petals on the bed kind of nights? Get yourself to Groove. The local chain stocks a wide assortment of naughty merchandise — there are sexy get-ups for men and women, toys, BDSM accessories, instructional books, lubricants, and a big selection of condoms (gotta play safe, after all). The stores are brightly lit, colorful, and well-stocked, and the staff is helpful, friendly, and doesn't make you feel weird for asking questions. We like the Thomas Road location best, which is decorated graffiti-style by local artists. Props to Groove for giving the lovers of Phoenix an open and unashamed atmosphere to find everything they need for a night of romance.
We don't judge how others choose to spend their spare time. Some people like to golf, some do crafts. Others relax by engaging in less wholesome activities. Whatever your vice, north Tempe mainstay Smokin' Lingerie probably has what you need for it. If drugs are your thing, there's a significant portion of the store devoted to that, including a large assortment of glass accoutrements, as well as vape equipment, rolling papers, scales, and back issues of High Times magazine. If you'd rather stock up on gear for other pastimes, Smokin' Lingerie has a big selection of, well, smokin' lingerie plus accessories like hosiery, costumes, and shoes. There's also one of the bigger adult DVD sections left in this town, plus plenty of sex toys and a varied — and frankly, quite eye-opening — assortment of BDSM gear (anybody in the market for a human-sized cage?).
A cigar is an occasional vice for us, but every so often, when we feel like indulging, we get what we need at Big Sticks. Whether you're looking to smoke on a budget or you feel like dropping more than a Benjamin on a single stogie, the store's humidor will have what you're looking for. Outside the main humidor, the shop sells everything from pipes and tobacco to cutters and humidor boxes. There are lockers for your stash if you're a frequent customer, and even a dropbox where you can donate cigars to veterans. And when you feel like sticking around to smoke, Big Sticks has a bar that sells beer and wine, and several rooms with TVs and big comfy couches. It's like your own personal rumpus room.
Honestly, stores full of used things are just more interesting than places that only sell new stuff. We like to be surprised by what's on the next aisle and daydream a little about where some of the stock might have come from. Bookmans' two Valley locations are our favorite spots to find used everything: the fine folks at the buy counter take books and movies, sure, but also craft supplies, knick-knacks, toys both modern and vintage, records, musical instruments, maps, and plenty more. Some of the more valuable items get put in a case and slapped with a price befitting their worth, but for the most part, the used goods at Bookmans are priced quite reasonably. And since the stores are constantly taking in more stuff, we think it's only sensible to visit frequently to try to find a new-to-us treasure to take home.
There really is no store in Phoenix quite like Curious Nature. Imagine a Victorian-era mad scientist who dabbles in witchcraft — that's the vibe. Curious Nature has an easy-to-navigate website, but we prefer to go in person. You'll see tarot decks, butterflies in paperweights, antique photographs, nature-themed stickers, and books on a variety of scientific topics. But what we find most impressive is Curious Nature's bones. Ducks, gophers, bears, armadillos, and bobcats are just a few of the animals represented. You can even buy human bones that the staff assures us are ethically sourced — from a sternum all the way up to a full skull. The delightfully creepy selection at Curious Nature never fails to send a shiver up our spines (which we plan to keep for ourselves, thank you very much).
Okay, technically, Cutie isn't a "dollar store": Most of the items cost $1.50. But "dollar-fifty store" doesn't roll off the tongue, and you'll still be shocked at how low your total is when you shop at one of Cutie's two Valley locations. The stock here is mostly Daiso brand, a discount label from Japan, and it changes often. We go to Cutie for Asian-style dishware, fuzzy socks, notebooks, craft supplies, snacks, ramen, and way more. Our $1.50 earbuds aren't fancy, but they haven't broken yet. Last time we went to Cutie, we picked up a mini planter with a corgi on it, some bento box supplies, seaweed-flavored potato chips, and a plastic sushi pen. Relentlessly cheerful Japanese pop music plays on the intercom system, making every trip to Cutie that much more — what's another word for cute?