Why would you shop at big-box stores or online behemoths when locally owned businesses all over metro Phoenix have so much to offer?
Exhibit A: these eight Valley stores, whose wares run the gamut from baby gifts to kayaks and everything in between.
10 West Camelback Road
Georgette Bryant named her charming boutique after her grandmother, and she treats everyone who shops there like family. The place is thoughtfully curated, organized into sections that reflect particular interests, from the great outdoors to life with a new baby. Some of our favorite items include candles with images of pop culture icons (Karamo from Queer Eye pictured as a saint), novelty keychains ("Just Trying to Be the Person My Dog Thinks I Am"), and vintage-inspired barware. It's a great place to take an out-of-towner for some cactus-themed goods that are more classy than kitschy — or to take yourself when you need a little retail therapy.
Best Vintage Clothing for MenTime Bomb Vintage
4632 North Seventh Avenue
Finding poodle skirts and '40s A-lines and pink angora sweaters has never been a hassle around here: Most vintage clothing stores feature racks and racks of women's clothing. Few, though, offer much more than a passing glance at menswear. Not Time Bomb, a furniture-and-decor shop that not long ago began emphasizing old, off-the-rack clothing in mint condition. Last time we were in, we spent an hour trying on great guys' stuff from the '50s, '60s, and '70s: Pendleton knits and pristine disco shirts and enough double-knit textured polyester to choke a mule. Designer labels share rack space with department store favorites from Enro, Puritan, Milford, and Towncraft. The pair of wool plaid Boston baggies we bought still had the original tags on them! Owner Josh suggested accessorizing with some keen '70s sunglasses and a cool sharkskin blazer. He let us try it all on.
Best BookstoreChanging Hands Bookstore
Personal is the word that comes to mind when we ponder the virtues of Changing Hands, the oldest and greatest bookstore in the Phoenix area. Even though we haven't been hanging around there as much this year — the virus and all — we haven't felt any less connected to this powerhouse community hub. That's because Changing Hands has done an excellent job of pivoting on the fly. It does curbside pickup, of course. The author events we love? Kinda great as literary Zooms, it turns out. Best of all are the book bundles. You fill out a Book Personality Quiz online, and Changing Hands' expert staff will send you care packages with multiple books and themed swag (prices range from $50 to $500). It's a wonderful gift to send somebody, of course, but it's also totally worth treating yourself to a bundle — both for the reading material and for the simple pleasure of connection that comes from a smart person choosing a book just for you.
Best Outdoors StoreArizona Hiking Shack
3244 East Thomas Road
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.
Best Place to Buy CDsZia Record Exchange
Yes, we still listen to CDs. Quite a bit, thank you very much. And the best place to buy them is at Zia Records. The esteemed local chain celebrated its 40th anniversary this year, and indeed, we've been hitting up Zia stores for CDs since high school. They carry new and used copies of rock, hip-hop, country, etc., plus imports, rarities, local stuff — they've got it all. Everything is inspected at the buy counter, so getting a scratched-up used disc is unlikely. Of course, once you've got your CDs picked out, it's time to explore everything else Zia has to offer, like clothing, video games, books, comics, records, and toys. It's one-stop shopping for everything entertainment-related.
Best Baking SuppliesG&G Cake Decorating Supplies
10222 North 43rd Avenue, #15, Glendale
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.
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Best HouseplantsThe Bosque at Pueblo
1002 East Pierce Street
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.)
Best Return of an Old FavoriteMichael Todd's Treasures
4433 North Seventh Avenue
How often does one of your favorite local shops reopen, years after it closed, in its same former storefront? Not very often. But Michael Robertson must have grown weary of listening to Phoenicians whine about how much they missed QCumberz, the vintage decor store he ran for years on Seventh Avenue before moving on to other, equally popular antique stores. So, late last year, he moved right back into his old digs. Within minutes of entering (or reentering, as it were) his store, we were already reliving our favorite shopping memories of yore. Robertson sells more than just antiques and warmhearted charm at this swell boutique. He peddles decorating ideas, too. We're glad he's back, and not just because we needed a new-old sofa and a lava lamp.