Sugarlicious

Denver has a sweeter side, and Sugarlicious Denver does more than cater to it: It satisfies this city's sugar needs. This Cherry Creek store has an entire wall devoted to bins housing over 250 different candies and treats, including oodles and gobs of retro and hard-to-find goodies as well as nut-free and vegan delights. The collection of gift baskets and bags makes last-minute sweet-giving a no-brainer; your toughest task is deciding between fruit gummies and sours, chocolates and truffles. And don't forget to take a few fistfuls home, just for the sugar-sweet hell of it.

Coloradans had plenty of marijuana-related meetings, conferences, protests and contests to choose from over the past year. But the most haze-filled, hashed-out event was the Extract Artists Unite Secret Cup, which took place at the Oriental Theater in December. Organizers Daniel de Sailles and Selecta Nikka T managed to bring an entire community together under one smoke-filled roof, pitting thirty hash makers against each other in a grassroots contest to see who could produce the best hash and BHO. The event may change its name in 2013, but we're looking forward to attending it again.

Indie boutiques that support local artists are always hunky-dory in our book. But one that donates a portion of every purchase to a charity chosen specifically by the artist is even better. Hope Tank, which Erika Righter Ramirez opened just over a year ago, is stocked with items that are by turns useful, pretty, thoughtful and fun: one-of-a-kind kids' gifts from Wee Gallery and Nerdy Baby; gift bows made from recycled magazines by Green Rock Creations (to benefit Lifeline Puppy Rescue); Gallo en Fuego's canvas belts made from decommissioned fire hoses (supporting the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation); leather cuffs with interchangeable metal inserts with inspirational messages by Lenny and Eva; Christina Patzman's hand-sewn clothing and more. Whatever you buy, you'll walk out of Hope Tank feeling doubly blessed.

Gourmet chocolatiers Jennifer Spielman and Andrew Starr produce small batches of handmade artisan chocolates with seasonal ingredients like lavender buds, fresh mint and jasmine flowers. In the process, they not only make piles of chocolates, but collect piles of awards: Black Star's signature Saffron Rose Cream won both grand champion and best non-traditional truffle at the 2012 Colorado Chocolate Festival. Their latest creation is a smoked bourbon-grapefruit zest, bittersweet Swiss chocolate that will give Denver chocolate fans something new to love.

Behind the Denver Entertainment Art and Design Academy is a stunningly simple idea: offer affordable classes and workshops in comic-book art and lettering, monster FX, video-game character design and related subjects to aspiring entertainment artists, taught by pros who've actually worked in the industry. The practical advice is as indispensable as the skill set you'll need to be the in-demand, high-concept zombie developer of tomorrow.

Maggie & Molly's Sweet Life
Cassandra Stiltner

Maggie & Molly's Bakery, a modest spot squeezed into a strip mall, isn't the fanciest place, but it produces the town's best coffee cake — a moist, dense, sour-cream crumb cake. Old-fashioned baked goods made from scratch are a vanishing art form in these days of pre-made, pre-packaged cakes, but Maggie & Molly's is enough to make customers forget the rise of grocery-store bakeries. You can buy a thick-cut, square slice of this delectable treat, or pick up a whole cake from the pastry case — if any are still available. Your best bet is to come early or call ahead, because these cakes go fast.

No question: Paul Budnitz's Kidrobot empire is the Valhalla of the vinyl collectible-toy universe, and that was ample reason for a certain cross-section of local pop-culturists, hungry for the latest MUNNYs and Dunnys and Labbits and such, to do a little jig when the art-toy emporium opened both an office and a retail store in Boulder. That town can now boast a rarity in common with many of the world's great cities, bringing the artist-designed sculptural limited-edition Kidrobot toys to a more sophisticated Wild West.

Goldyn

Bringing in lines by well-known designers like Helmut Lang, Alexander Wang and Chloe, Goldyn keeps its shelves stocked with the latest in top couture and gives Denver's high-style scene a face and a name in the international world of fashion. But it also leaves room for the little guys: Local brands Cartel Noir and The Woods get equal exposure. Goldyn also invites up-and-coming designers like Pamela Love and KORA Jewelry's Maxandra Short to Denver and holds in-store trunk shows, meet-and-greets and music-oriented cocktail hours.

Uptown Cheapskate

Thanks to the proliferation of urban hipster commerce, the consignment experience is no longer confined to the pantsuit crowd, and the arrival of this upscale yet affordable chain in the 'burbs provides a welcome alternative to the malls for youth-conscious shoppers seeking the latest like-new thing from Forever 21, True Religion, Juicy and hundreds of other big labels. It's Anthropologie without apologies.

"It's really adorable, and it might be the only corgi needle-felting kit that I know of in the world." That's how Fancy Tiger's Amber Corcoran describes the craft kit she designed last fall for I Heart Denver, where shop mascot Denver Picard Schimek (last year's winner of the Best of Denver's award for Best Shop Dog) often holds court with shoppers and his adoring masses. Corcoran cites Denver's beautiful black-ringed eyes as a special inspiration and selling point for the kit, which retails for $14 and features custom packaging. Good dog!

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