Best Budget Comic-Book Store
AAA Bear Valley Sports Cards
3100 S. Sheridan Blvd.

Given its name, you can understand why only the clued-in know AAA Bear Valley Sports Cards is a comic-book haven. The store has an impressive number of new, classic and collectible comics, as well as attendant merchandise such as bubble-gum cards featuring the likenesses of Wolverine and Spiderman (as opposed to Dante Bichette and Bobby Bonilla). The real attraction, though, is the vast budget section--rack after rack of name comics on sale for 50 cents or a quarter. At Triple A, two bits can go a long way.

Best Neighborhood Library
Virginia Village Branch Library
1500 S. Dahlia St.

Customer service is the ticket at Virginia Village, a branch library that cheerfully took up the slack while the central library was closed for construction. Last year VV processed the greatest volume of requests and checkouts of any Denver library. No task is too esoteric for the crew here, who will gladly dig up strange information at your behest or do what they can to interest your little ones in the magic of books. Maybe that's because they're so happy to be in a big, new, functional building after years in a cramped storefront. The series of peaks in the new building's design, by the way, are a gentle reminder of the greenhouses that sat on the library lot back in the old days. Old and new, young and old--they all mingle here.

Best Reader's Representative
Koelbel Public Library, Arapahoe Library District
5955 S. Holly St., Littleton

Lynn Dyba knows how to read between the lines. The head of Koelbel Public Library's reader's advisory department--the only such department in the state--she and her colleagues help readers pick out just the right books. For example, all the John Grisham volumes might be gone, but it's no mystery what to read instead: Dyba simply suggests a book from her "What to Read While Waiting for Grisham" list. When she's not advising customers on their own particular quests, Dyba's supervising Koelbel's two critique groups: one for general fiction and one the Romance Book Club that she set up after she noticed how much female patrons loved the books.

Best Bookstore for Japanophiles
Kobun-Sha Imports
Sakura Square

America's Japan craze--which began in the Seventies with the simultaneous national discovery of sushi and Akira Kurosawa flicks--may have been tempered by time and camera-toting tourist gaggles. But the Far Eastern mystery never really diminishes. At Kobun-Sha, you'll be drawn in and drugged by the shop's library of books on all things Japanese. And we do mean all things--cooking, folk tales, poetry, baseball, martial arts, philosophy, shiatsu, language, printmaking, crafts and--whew!--anything else we forgot to mention. How about a rice-paper lamp to light up your book of choice?

Best Way to Hold a Book
CARL reserve service Denver Public Library
The computerized card catalogue called CARL (for Colorado Association of Research Libraries) has been around for years. But now it has a new twist: Instead of just using the computer to browse through what's available at the dozens of member libraries, you can actually reserve books yourself, either on the library's computer or on your own, just by using your library-card number. Think of it as a book lover's ATM.

Best Jams on the Internet

Locals' Music, a bold experiment by entrepreneur John Carter that carved out a niche for recordings made by area artists, collapsed earlier this year. But Jukenet, a computer service that Carter inaugurated in conjunction with Locals', is still up and running. The idea is to provide Colorado musicians access to the rest of the world via the Internet, and so far, it's working. With Carter acting as a band's guide, new fans can be a mouse and a modem away.

Best Place to Buy Dated Material Out-of-Date
Magazine City
200 E. 13th Ave.

Want to study the mistakes of history? You can find them all here, along with the success stories and the cartoons, too. Magazine City is filled to the rafters with old magazines and newspapers--from upscale art and architecture periodicals to the sleaziest detective pulp. And you can get current--this great shop also serves as one of the best newsstands in the city.

Best CD Selection (New)
Wax Trax
638 E. 13th Ave.

Wax Trax is the Tattered Cover of Denver's album world--the store against which all other stores are measured. And once again, the competition doesn't quite measure up. That's because Wax Trax continues to carry the deepest, most eclectic collection of imports, indie discs and hard-to-find oddities in the area. And with the passing of Locals' Music, it's the once-and-future headquarters of discs and tapes produced by Colorado talent. Add in the used records (stacks of actual wax) and the video and jazz branches, and you've got a treasure trove. So dive into it.

Best CD Selection (Used)
Albums on the Hill
1128 13th St., Boulder

The Denverites among us tend to forget that there are great used-music bargains a few miles up Highway 36. Albums on the Hill is a subterranean surprise, filled with bin after bin of used discs--and because CU students use it as a favorite place to raise some ready cash, it's almost always stocked with fresh material. The store is well-known for in-store appearances by touring artists, and it's also the official headquarters for anything having to do with former Replacement Chris Mars, whose artwork graces the place. Stop in again for the first time.

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