Pat and Jeff Garcia's recently relocated downtown emporium is like sunshine on a cloudy day. When you step inside Blu Zebra, you're guaranteed a smile. The crafty couple's outdone themselves with whimsical and outrageous handmades that can't be found every craft store in town. From Priscilla Draper's hilarious papier-mâché fat-lady scales to Janice Katz's Critters From the Hood -- fantastical creatures die-cut from rusting car hoods -- this is the stuff of a happy life.


Lions and tigers and bears! Giant fish, monkeys and hares! A stable full of crafted clay and ceramic animals greets curious shoppers at Curiosidades de Mexico, a northwest Denver coffer of crafts, housewares, religious objects, rugs, furniture and art from south of the border. Fancy a trout planter or a donkey chimenea? Head upstairs, where the merchandise ranges from the small -- say, some sculpted grapes from Guadalajara -- to the very large -- as in a Mexico City-style casita bar, complete with stools and built-in tequila racks. Bright, friendly and reasonably priced, Curiosidades is a wonder.


Yarnies of all skill levels would do well to make the drive to Peggy Anderson's heaven on earth for textile artists. A Knitted Peace offers a wide selection of imports -- from soft Irish merinos to scratchy Japanese wools -- as well as cute novelty bits and fluffy cashmere skeins you'll want to fondle until you notice the staff giving you the stinkeye. Aching to kip (knit in public), but not ready to fully out yourself? Take advantage of the comfy chairs or cozy worktables to bang out that sweater in sympathetic company. The KP ladies will gladly help you select a pattern and the right yarn for the job, and you can even hire them to finish those trickier projects in time for Christmas.


AAA offers the best in Pfaff, Viking, Husqvarna and Brother machines at excellent prices. But what could be more frustrating than investing in a sophisticated contraption and discovering later that you have no idea how to work it? Thankfully, AAA sends you out the door armed with an arsenal of sewing-machine knowledge. And when that wears off, you're invited back to the store for free classes. You'll never sew alone.


Textile addicts, gather up your spare change and prepare to enter paradise. While Denver Fabric is known for its vast selection of high-end decorator and dressmaker fabrics, the Annex next door is loved for selling the same thing -- cheap. Bolts of discontinued treasures stretch to the ceiling, many at pennies per yard. Naturally, a Filene's Basement-like atmosphere pervades, but it's worth the fight.


Quilters are made, not born, and it usually happens when they encounter a place like Quilting Up a Storm, where the air is thick with color and inspiration. Crammed with books, classes and bolts of bright, contemporary fabrics, including a brilliant selection of batiks, the store focuses less on country kitsch and more on absolutely stunning modern quilts.


While most local sewing classes and shops now cater to country-cute crafts, the Emily Griffith Opportunity School still takes an haute couture approach. And last summer's revival of their millinery program -- one of the first courses taught when Miss Emily Griffith opened the school in 1916 -- was a splendid addition. Rita Smith of Classic Canyon Creations taught students to block and hand-stitch hats, helping them fashion everything from the pillbox to the cloche. Why sport a Kangol when you can go one-of-a-kind?
For those who refuse to say it with saccharin, the shelves at Decade await. Here's the place to find a wide selection of Roger la Borde stationery (the pastel kind with elongated people holding potted plants and juggling Santa hats) alongside modish and sparkly Rock Scissor Paper notes (previously found only on the Internet at recession-unfriendly prices). Our favorites are the spunky Squibnocket Cards, which are free of silly sentiments or precious images -- they're just blocks of whimsical, witty print that are sure to spread joy. Whatever your predilection, it's a reprieve from bland Hallmark hell.


Sitting in a line of fume-belching SUVs just to do some drive-through banking is almost enough to make you leave the bicycle at home. But not if you live in Boulder, where an estimated 10 percent of in-city trips are made by bike. Pueblo Bank & Trust has recognized the demand and opened a special Bike-Thru Banking lane just for customers on two wheels. Any would-be bank robber, however, should note that it's only fair that he make his escape on a tandem manned by a getaway cyclist.


Banker Stephen Baltz wasn't made for these times. When he opened a First United Bank branch in the grand old Equitable Building, he renovated the space to resemble the First National Bank of Denver, which was located in the Equitable at the turn of the last century. Now, in what was most recently the dapper men's clothing store Andrisen Morton Co., you can make deposits through barred teller cages set in sleek, polished mahogany. But the pièce de résistance is the $150,000, 7.5-ton round vault door, a fin-de-siècle relic that still does the job proudly.


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