That's the Pee Wee's Playhouse word of the day for this gift guide. In this hectic day and age, we might find it strange to think that there used to be a time when customer service was priority Numero Uno in every store. Sadly, for the most part, those days are long gone, and now we get giddy if we're able to pay the cashier without a menacing glare.
Fret not, because the one thing that connects the 15 businesses in this gift guide is service that is beyond "personable." (Insert Pee Wee freak-out!) From the owners to the staff to the customers, these businesses are super-friendly places to spend your time and money. Plus, when you present your friends, families and loved ones with gifts from these shops, they, too, will treat you a bit better.
So, without further adieu, here's the most personable (screaming arm chair, yelling genie head!) gift guide, ever!
Lisa Milne, owner and operator of Azure Skies, is reason enough for repeat visits to this shanty of global gifts. In fact, after just a few visits, Lisa might treat you like family. And if great customer service is not enough to lure you into Lisa's shop, you may be pleased to know that all the items contained within are Fair Trade items from developing countries all over the world. Fair Trade is a designation that ensures your purchase from a foreign land equals money in the hands of those who made or cultivated your purchase. If you enjoy not exploiting workers, then you'll like Fair Trade. Azure Skies packs in a variety of Fair Trade fare (say that three times fast) from coffees and teas ($4-$11) to a doorway garland made from palm leaves in Bangladesh ($7). With items from all over the world and a variety of knick-knacks, Azure Skies offers something for that earth-conscious special someone. Other hot items include a goldfish-painted river rock from Vietnam ($7), a variety of Indonesian kites in the shapes of dragons, peacocks and butterflies ($27-$40) and a Tree of Life tapestry from India ($50). The store stocks everything from the cheap (50 cent straw rings from Bangladesh) to the moderately pricey (a $288 handcrafted Pakistan coffee table). Given the quality and authenticity of the items in the store, everything is a bargain. Plus, for the holidays, there are nativity scenes from Peru, Kenya and the West Bank (various prices), as well as a variety of Hanukkah items.
Thank God Tucson cares about how it looks in the mirror. You should see some other cities (Cleveland, I'm looking at you!). We love to hike, run and bike nearly as much as any city. The Running Shop also cares how Tucson looks, so the staff prides themselves--according to their business cards--on "fitting you in the proper shoe!" The Running Shop is the one-stop shop for the health-conscious shopper and gift buyer, from beginning runners/joggers to hard-core marathoners. Boosting a wide array of shoes, the Running Shop truly will find you a perfect match. You can find your favorite shoe for tearing up the asphalt, or gravel, or grass, or whatever surface you prefer running on (prices range from $75-$135, with even-higher priced, specialty shoes). The brands range from the heavy hitters like Asics and New Balance to the big-name conglomerates like Nike and Adidas. Once the crew at the Running Shop has your feet ready for the road, they will be happy to provide you with a variety of running apparel and accessories. With everything from shorts and shirts to socks and caps, you can literally be equipped head to toe ($60 up). If you know a runner who's been hinting that they could use some gear, I suggest running (not walking) to the Running Shop.
Tucson loves to puff away. From the bars to the churches (kidding, religious zealots!), Tucson loves nothing more than lighting up and inhaling its tasty freedom. And since 1908, Crescent Tobacco Shop and Newsstand has loved nothing more than providing Tucsonans with the finest in tobacco. During its illustrious history, Crescent has been in five different locations (including a stint in front of the then-booming Fox Theatre; that shop included a billiards room and bowling alley). Crescent now occupies two locations. Owner David Cantrell is friendly and knowledgeable about tobacco, and stresses that Crescent is the store with more than you would think. In fact, the store's best-seller (with rare exceptions and ingenuity) cannot even be smoked. That's right: Magazines (particularly specialty magazines) are the store's hottest items. If it's in print, you can likely find it at Crescent, and if not, Cantrell is happy to order and stock it. However, if you are shopping for the holidays, you may want to check out their fine selection of cigars (with several hundred in stock). With a reasonable price range of 99 cents to $35, cigars are available for every aficionado on your list. Best of all, Cantrell stresses, the staff is discouraged from price pressuring, and the average premium-cigar price is around $5.50-$6.50. They aim to suit the right person with the right cigar, not the most expensive cigar. With a Christmas sale the first week of December through the first of the new year, Crescent is going to be smokin' this holiday season.
Is your girlfriend, wife, sister, niece or female buddy a bohemian? Does she dig hip threads with foreign influences? Creations employee Teresa Eagle believes her store is the perfect fit for such women of discriminating taste. Eagle deemed it a store based on "bohemian, India-style," and several minutes inside will prove her right. Located on a cozy corner of eccentric Fourth Avenue, the 30-year-old Creations is a pleasant shop that benefits highly from a knowledgeable and friendly staff, as well as a wide and unique selection of women's clothing and accessories. Admittedly, a guy writing about women's fashion is a bit speculative, and I make no bones about it: I really don't know much about the stuff. Thankfully, Eagle and co-worker Lauren Enwright were more than helpful in answering my questions, and customers with more than a basic knowledge of what clothes accompany what female body parts can expect equally helpful service. Some of the cooler items to my eye were the accessories. The bohemian-veined jewelry (particularly earrings) looked interesting and seemed like (hint, hint) a quick and relatively cheap way to get someone out of the doghouse (with some dipping as low as $4.99). There were also impressive, arty-looking Mexican matchbooks ($3) and matching magnets ($4). Many of the items are imported from Mexico and India, and sale items are offered buy two, get one free. Dresses and tops keep up the bohemian theme, and many are reasonably priced, from $12.99 to $29.99. I may not know women's fashion, but I know cool and I know cheap gifts for women--and Creations has both.
Mark Thomson, owner of Plaza, may be the luckiest man in Tucson. Sure, Lute Olson makes a good counter-case, but I'll take Thomson's job as head honcho of Plaza any day over the high-stress occupation of coaching one of college basketball's best teams. Thomson has the privilege of owning arguably the best liquor store in all of Arizona. Affectionately known as Plaza Liquors, it boosts "Tucson's Largest Selection Since 1978," and it has what you need when it comes to spirits. Skeptical? Plaza stocks 600 beers at a given time (fluctuating upon occasion). Still not sold? Plaza also stocks the hard stuff, with more than 100 different tequilas and around 75 different single-malt scotches. These are merely two examples, and I haven't even touched Plaza's extensive wine selection. If you or somebody you know loves to drink (responsibly, of course), you can be their savior with a quick stop at Plaza Liquors. Plus, the holiday season is one of the best times to check out Plaza. As the season gets underway, Plaza looks to stock around 15 to 20 holiday beers, as well as a full selection of Thanksgiving wines, including France's much-sought-after Baujolais Nouveau first release of the '05 vintage around Thanksgiving ($8-$12 a bottle). If giving gifts to strangers (or, if any of my family and friends are still paying attention) is your bag, you can certainly pick me up the $100 (Ralph Steadman autographed!) bottle of Gonzo Imperial Porter. Hailing from Colorado's Flying Dog Brewery, the porter is a tribute to the late Hunter S. Thompson, and the autographed Steadman wine-sized bottle comes with its own holding case. The last, essential item to note about Plaza Liquors: They let you make your own six-pack without charging you astronomical costs. They merely take the price of your six beers and divide it by six, rather than tallying them all up separately. Now that is a tasty deal.
Family owned and operated, the Chicago Music Store is a Tucson institution. Started up in 1919, the downtown music shop has had a rich history that includes a spot in one of Martin Scorsese's early films (Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore). When it comes to music, Chicago Music Store is the only stop you'll need to make. The warehouse-sized store buys, sells, rents, trades and repairs all types of musical instruments. As manager Mark Levkowitz told me, "all instruments" means everything from "kazoos to pianos." The clientele of the Chicago Music Store speak to its credentials. Among the list of heavy hitters that rely on the store are local indie-desert legends Giant Sand, local Wavelab Studios and most of the local casinos. However, if you think that means the Chicago Music Store is out of your price range, think again. As Levkowitz told me, their prices range from "25 cents for a guitar pick to $250,000 for a complete sound and lighting system." While most of you searching for gifts are likely to opt out of the complete sound and lighting system this year, you can still get someone their first guitar (roughly $50), bass (roughly $75-$90) or drum set (roughly $295). Best of all, the store offers a try-it-before-you-buy-it program that lets you know you're buying quality instruments.
"Whoa." "That's cool." "Where'd you get that?" These comments may result after you've done some shopping at the recently opened Lulubell. Owner and toy baron Luke Rook has somehow managed to combine all the best aspects of Saturday morning cartoons, kitschy artwork and pharmaceutical madness into a bright, pink shop along Sixth Street, and for that, we are thankful. Looking inside and out like some sort of R. Crumb fever dream, Lulubell is dubbed a "toy bodega," and for parents with hip or edgy tastes, this is where you should pick up your holiday gifts for your friends and family. As Rook said, Lulubell is a store to showcase "sheer randomness." Considering Lulubell's offerings range from strange and marvelous toys and action figures to artwork from San Francisco, New York, England, Japan, Mexico and Tucson (among other places), you'll be happy someone has corralled it all into a manageable space. Throughout the store, you'll find little figurines and toys, like Frank Kozik's Smorkin Labbits ($6 individually, or a pack for $14) that will be sure to please your kids more than something that instantly becomes dated (Tickle Me Elmo what?). For those in college, just out of college or still looking to keep their coolness firmly intact, Lulubell offers neat gifts from $2-$200. Plus, there is original, awesome artwork donning the walls that costs $20-$2,000. A personal favorite is a dead-on-accurate painting of a scene from the Mega Man video-game series re-created with oil on canvas by Matt Anderson ($500). So, the next time you find yourself rushing to a Toys "R" Us for that last-minute gift, just ask yourself, "Do I want my child to hate me when he/she reaches those awkward teenage years, or do I want to get him/her something at Lulubell?"
When the former owner of PDQ wanted to sell his record store, he approached Judy Swanson. She owned the antique store next door, and with the purchase of PDQ (now Judy's Music Shop), her empire is spreading. Aside from being a savvy businesswoman, Judy is a blast to be around. Hang around her long enough, and she'll regale you with hilarious and sincere stories. While I may not be picking up antiques anytime soon (real furniture would be a better start), Judy's Music Shop has me coming back time and again. After all, it's not everyday that you can find both the soundtrack to Death Before Dishonor (with music composed and conducted by Brian May!) and The Modern Lovers self-titled album on vinyl in one shopping session. As far as antiques, you name it, and Judy's got it. From tables to clocks to bedroom sets, Antiques by Judy contains items from 75 to 300 years old. Although some items may dent the pocketbook, there are others (like glassware) in the $15 range. Meanwhile, Judy's Consign and Design shop has a variety of collectables, but it was still under construction when I visited (it should be open by now). Eventually, Judy's Corner will be a great place to kill a Saturday, Sunday or just about any other day when she adds her very own coffee shop. For now, just embrace a collection of shops where you can buy a 200-year-old giant St. Michael statue ($12,000) and a copy of Springsteen's Nebraska ($6) on vinyl. God bless America and Judy.
Tucson has a huge cycling community, and while El Tour de Tucson doesn't have quite the prestige of that other notable race (the one Lance Armstrong keeps winning), Arizona Cyclist still equips many of its participants. As opposed to other cycle shops, Arizona Cyclist only caters to road cyclists, and that puts them at the front of the pack when it comes to rolling down the asphalt. Started about seven months ago, Arizona Cyclist already has a great following, with tons of diehard and new customers constantly stopping in. Owners Scott Boocher and Geoff Gould, two cyclists, decided to start up Arizona Cyclist in the spirit of doing "what you know." The recent popularity of Saturday Night Live-hosting Armstrong has not hurt the store's sales, and Gould noted that plenty of professional cyclists make Tucson their home because of its ideal, year-round cycling weather. Arizona Cyclist stocks plenty of bikes, including all three major road brands (Cannondale, Orbea and Pinarello) with prices ranging from $1,000-$1,200, for entry-level bikes, up to $10,000. The store also stocks all the gear you need to look like a professional cyclist. A complete clothing setup (helmet, shoes, shirt, shorts) can run upwards of $300. As far as discounts, the store will have 5-10 percent off on all 2005 gear at the end of this year.
"This place has everything." You've probably heard that slogan on a commercial for some place that, likely, does not have anything close to "everything." Well, the 17th Street Market should be allowed to copyright the saying. From CDs to veggies from fresh fish to guitars, the 17th Street Market can and should be your local grocer, music store and gift shop. If you're wondering why--essentially--a supermarket is in your gift guide, then it's clear you have not checked out the 17th Street Market. Luckily for you, there's no need to leave the comfort of your home, as you can check the store's items out online at www.treasureshidden.com. The Web site's homepage offers an example of the great bargains you can get at the 17th Street Market, with featured items like an 18.5-ounce can of Irish oatmeal for $2.19. With the holidays coming up, it's unlikely you'll want to get those special people in your life something with a temporary shelf life, which makes the 17th Street Market's non-perishable items perfect for you. For the freethinker, you can get Morning Star Jasmin Incense from Japan (200 sticks for $5.49). For the quirky friend, try a boxed set of laughing Buddhas (12 Buddhas for $10.99). For the budding musical talent, try a beginner's full-sized classical guitar ($70). And when you've finally finished all your holiday shopping, you can take a bath or read a book to the soothing scent of Beeswax Tea Light Votives from Oregon (set of 12 for $7.49). If you dread relying on conglomerates like Target and Wal-Mart for groceries, gifts and entertainment, the 17th Street Market is your store.
In 1988, after a decade in Southern California, Bill Sassenberger and wife, Julianna Towns, moved to Tucson and opened up Toxic Ranch Records. The rest is punk-spiked history. The underground music shop is a landmark in the downtown area. With all types of formats from vinyl to CD to DVDs, Toxic Ranch continues to supply the latest and greatest in music, with a leaning towards punk and underground music. Check out their vinyl section (roughly $9-$11), and you'll likely find some of the hottest indie releases. Delve into 7-inch territory (roughly $3) and you'll find gems from punk acts like The Germs; check out their CDs (roughly $15 and less) which are accompanied with the humorous tag: "Hey, the CD boxes are empty. If you want to steal something, try Zia Records." Oh, the store also stocks T-shirts ($13.99), posters (large for $12, regular for $7) and independent and underground magazines like Chunklet ($7.95). The store will have a T-shirt sale the day after Thanksgiving (Nov. 25) with all shirts $9.99. Sassenberger offered me these slogans (for your reading pleasure): "Why not spend your lunch money at Toxic Ranch Records?" and "You've got questions, we've got Toxic Ranch Records."
If this holiday season is your first with your newborn bundle of joy, then you'll want to deck him or her in the finest of garb. Fret not: La Encantada's Angel Threads has you--rather, them--covered. From newborns (ages 0-12 months) to "big girls," Angel Threads has something for the wee little one(s) in your life. All the finest, hottest and best brands in kids' fashion are represented. Angel Threads can turn your burping, diapered slob into a bona fide fashionista in no time, with brands from Baby Lulu to Little Giraffe. Plus, the holiday threads have already started coming in, with Plum Pudding (one of the tops in the holiday market) looking to rule the season. Although Angel Threads does cater a bit to a fancier clientele, there is no reason not to venture in and check it out, no matter how much is in your pocketbook. In fact, some of the store's hottest items are its ceramic angels and crosses that are relatively inexpensive ($17-$25). Angel Threads also does good business with its themed Timeworks clocks ($68.50). Some pricier fare comes from the Little Giraffe line, where you can get a robe and a throw blanket ($200 each) that will put you in line with some of the top Hollywood mommies. With a wide array of jewelry, accessories, socks, booties, clothes and arts and crafts, Angel Threads is a very special place for your very special baby.
If you've frequented Fourth Avenue, then you've likely seen this massive thrift store that occupies a nice chunk of property. However, if you've never taken the time to wander through its massive sales area, then you're only cheating yourself. Since 1965, Value Village has been turning donations into quick, cheap, permanent gifts and household items. If you're on a budget (or, to put it another way, going to college), you can still accomplish copious amounts of holiday shopping thanks to Value Village. The clincher, manager Nick Kanellos told me: All profits go to the Beacon Group, which serves and assists people with mental disabilities). From household appliances and music to clothing, shoes, hats, books and kids toys, Value Village probably has something to satisfy every person on your holiday shopping list. For your uncle who misses the old days, there's a working, antique piano for $225. Is your brother complaining about his television-less dorm room? Value Village has color TVs for as low as $30. Plus, the store is packed with clothes that sell for as low as $1. You can't even get two sodas for that anymore! And at the end of each month, Value Village makes things even more reasonable when they offer a 50 percent-off sale on select items. So, why pay high prices when you can just thrift it?
It's the holiday season. Gifts are being given; hugs and kisses are being exchanged, and Fido is sitting in the corner plotting which rug to destroy, because you've excluded him. Don't be a victim of a dog's (or cat's) holiday bitterness: Head over to Paws and Claws. Trust me; you're pets will be thankful. Paws and Claws was started up last December by owner and animal lover Pam Aikens, and business has been barking--sorry, booming ever since. Double-billed as a boutique and bakery, Paws and Claws earns its stripes for originality by combining kitschy and fashionable dog and cat wear and accessories with homemade treats (made by Aikens). Paws and Claws has a wide variety of stuff, from homemade snacks and cookies as low as 39 cents to classy dog/cat beds at $250. Some particularly fetching items include an array of T-shirts with slogans like "Yappy Hour" ($19.99) or "Desperate Housedogs" ($15.99). Don't worry; there are also plenty of items for humans, like books, mints and coffee mugs (all relating to our four-legged friends). So, be a good boy or girl this holiday season, and include all your family members when you buy your gifts this season. It may save you on future rug-cleaning expenses.
Nothing says "I love you," or "Mom," or "The Charlie Daniels Band" quite like a little ink on skin. Although Majestik Tattoo may take liberties with the spelling of their name, they make no mistakes when it comes to decorating (while puncturing) your skin. Majestik will put permanent artwork on your skin and pierce whatever you wish for great, competitive prices. Although it was impossible for the Majestik folks to quote me an average tattoo price, there is a $50 minimum. Meanwhile, body piercings (which are done in a clean, sterile environment) are 2-for-1. The locations are also looking to add clothing sections by December, where you'll be able to get all the tattoo-themed gear you need. They're also looking to offer a 20 percent discount for the entire month of December. With tattoos, piercings and gift certificates galore, Majestik is royalty when it comes to the exotic arts.