Best place to turn Jagged Little Pillinto a five-dollar bill

Cheapo Discs

Everyone has musical skeletons in their closet: an embarrassing Euro-trash obsession, a long-outgrown affinity for death metal, an Alanis Morissette disc purchased during a particularly weak moment. Don't fret. The curiously friendly counter crew at Cheapo Discs has seen it all, and they pass bills instead of judgment. Here, old, unwanted CDs turn into money -- which one can pocket or spend on the store's impressive and inexpensive inventory of used discs. It all works off the magical and dynamic wheel of musical tastes. After all, the Cheapo people know that we all make mistakes -- and that at any given moment, someone else is ready to make that same mistake again.
In their quests to make the world a better place, Mahatma Gandhi promoted peace, Mother Teresa nurtured the impoverished, and Martin Luther King Jr. fought for equality. Following these precedents, one Denver man is making his contribution to humanity by committing to protect his neighbors from parking tickets. Last summer, Phil Gage noticed how often people were getting ticketed for not moving their cars on street-sweeping days, so he decided to take a stand. Gage founded First Call Communications, a service that uses a computer program to notify subscribers the day before a scheduled street sweeping so they can move their cars and avoid a $15 ticket. He began with twelve subscribers, but business has grown tremendously, and he now boasts 600 ticketless customers. People can opt for free service, which means their phone call comes with a sponsor's advertisement, or they can pay $5 a year to get a message without the ad. Gage's ultimate goals: to serve 10,000 residents and to make the world a better place, one street at a time.
Bookworms are always looking for a new place to gnaw, and the Book Stack, run by DU's Women's Library Association for the benefit of that school's venerable Penrose Library, is a great place to dig in. It's a repository of cheap, cast-off books: hardbacks, paperbacks, children's books, collectibles and more, some of which have already been dog-eared, and others that are just waiting to have their pages ruffled. Open Wednesdays from 9 to noon and Saturdays from 10 to 2, the volunteer-managed store isn't the biggest or snootiest used bookstore around, but it's certainly one of the nicest.

Sue Lubeck's store's been around the block. But now, thankfully, it's actually beginning to wrap itself around the block. A recent expansion will allow Lubeck to better accommodate educators who meet at Bookies without compromising her already crowded retail space, which spills over with wonderful things for and about kids, providing hours of browsing of the most excellent kind. Whether you're looking for Harry Potter or something more obscure, you're more than likely to come across it. But if you don't, Lubeck's steadfast, customer-service-oriented staff will help you get it as quickly as possible. It's the little things that count.

This is a place you either love -- or you just don't get. But be forewarned: Don't come in here without a healthy imagination and a love for the beautiful and unusual. Five Green Boxes changes its whole look with every season, segueing as grandly and organically as nature herself, dressing in new hues and unfolding with unexpected whimsies. But some things remain the same: Central to the gift, gewgaw and home design emporium's raison d'être are such regular features as an in-store design team that whips together one-of-a-kind felt patchwork chairs and other household embellishments, what must be the town's most creative gift-wrapping service, and a fabulous mixture of contemporary craft, antique showpieces, kitsch and flea-market chic. And it all falls under the umbrella of a sky-wide price range that allows you to splurge on a singular, once-in-a-lifetime investment or just take home a little trinket for a pocketful of clinking change.

There's more to Judaica than a nine-armed candelabra and a six-pointed star. With that in mind, the Boulder Arts & Crafts Cooperative has a sharp eye for artful things Jewish: seder plates, Shabbat candles, dreidels, tallitim, mezuzahs, menorahs and more, all sporting the human touch of an artisan. Hand-forged metals, stoneware and clay are only a few of the mediums represented year-round in the co-op's supply of Judaic wares, but holiday time is when the displays really shine, expanding to include such items as fine-art paintings by Deborah Kanegis. Try it -- you'll like it.

The signs decorating the warehousey building on the corner of West 38th Avenue and Osage Street in northwest Denver bilingually advertise everything from 14k gold jewelry, pagers and stereos to ropa and the joyería inside. But more than anything, it's the business's name -- against a logo bearing the colors of the Mexican flag -- that says it all: This is Ameri-Mart, brother, and all you need to be happy in this country is lots of stuff. Muscle shirts, mustard-colored jeans, packages of socks for two bucks, christening and communion dresses and Fruit of the Loom briefs. An entire aisle of shoes, 50 percent off. Kenwood and Bose speakers and subwoofers. Video games and Pokémon cards. Cleaning supplies, paper towels and trash bags. Monster squirt guns and brown dolls. Chairs, sofas and a "surprise" back room full of antiquey furniture, "Tiffany" lamps, gilded mirrors, faux elephant-tusk carvings and bronze deer and dolphin statues. Small appliances and Jesus candles. Dried chiles, freeze-dried coffee, corn husks and 25-pound bags of pinto beans for $9.50. Co-owner Mark Reichert says he and his partners "wanted to open a store that combined all the things we found other businesses in the area doing," but he swears that unlike that notorious, wholly American creation known as Wal-Mart, he's not trying to put nearby small businesses out. "I thought about that, but I think people like to come where they have a lot of choices. We have clothing, but that doesn't hurt the other clothing stores around here. People like to shop," he says. And when they run out of money, there's a Western Union at the front counter.

Remember the Saturday Night Live skit with Mike Myers wearing a kilt while screaming at customers "If it's not Scottish, it's crap"? Well, Frank and Sheryl Campbell, the owners of Thistle & Shamrock, which carries Scottish and Irish goods, don't greet customers with quite the same hostility, but they are passionate about their merchandise -- from souvenir-type gifts like plaid mugs, shamrock socks and shortbread cookies to serious items like kilts, claddagh rings, wool sweaters and vests and bagpipes. They can even order your family's very own tartan directly from a Scottish woolen mill. One thing that's sure to make a shopper kick up his heels, though, is an Aran sweater. The patterns, distinctive of certain Irish villages and knitters, were used at one time to help identify where a dead fisherman came from. Traditionally knit on Aran island, they're now manufactured all over. A machine-knit sweater costs $85, and a hand-knit one will run you $225. Not bad for a little taste of the old country.

Ivy Morgan is a traveler, and her little Sixth Avenue nook is a telling repository. Stuffed to the rafters with trinkets and clothing from such exotic climes as Nepal, Indonesia and Thailand, Cargo has wonderful novelties: Chinese Feng Shui compasses, temple candles, singing bowls and thangka prints and tapestries used by traveling monks to teach Buddhist stories. But for mass appeal, you can't go wrong with one of her imported T-shirts: Splashed from seam to seam with geishas, bodhisattvas, dragons, samurai warriors, anime characters and more, the body-hugging gear will open eyes and make you feel like you've been there and back.
Alice Monroney works out of an ordinary storefront, but what goes on inside is extraordinary. Her lush tapestry travel and passport bags, backpacks, flap bags, totes and cosmetic bags are made of fabrics adorned with everything from flora and fauna to the sun, moon and stars. Monroney finishes them herself with unique, handcrafted buttons, saucy tassels, moiré lining and braided loops and shoulder straps. Then they're shipped off to shops from Maine to Hawaii and all points between. If you like, you can log on to www.alicetapestries.com and she'll ship one right to your doorstep.

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