Best TLC at the Airport 2017 | Canine Airport Therapy Squad | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword

It's ironic that CATS — the Canine Airport Therapy Squad — is all about dogs, but there's no question that airports can be stressful places. Sometimes you work your way through the TSA line with your bare feet and plastic baggie full of toiletries only to find that your flight's been bumped back by three hours. When that happens, you just want to stare into a puppy's eyes and get a little of the lovin' that only man's (and woman's) best friend can deliver. And there's nothing ironic about that. Over the past year, the Denver airport's squad of certified therapy dogs and their volunteer handlers have roamed the concourses, offering harried travelers dog hugs and sweet relief. The program has been so successful that it's been more dogs, not cats.

At the height of shopping-mall popularity, these centers for socializing and commerce also specialized in entertaining the masses. But the town-square aspect of the modern mall is all but lost today, save for the action you can find at Denver Pavilions, which hosts smart activities and performances throughout the year. ArtStir is the retail plaza's signature event, a Memorial Day weekend festival of live art demonstrations, outdoor exhibitions and a market featuring dozens of local creators (which last year raised money for VSA Gallery, an organization that supports disabled artists and advocates for art space). But the Pavilions doesn't leave the community out in the cold in the winter: At the end of the year, it hosts the annual pop-up Holiday Carousel, a whirling, twinkling slice of carnival fun that raised $5,000 through ticket sales for Food Bank of the Rockies in 2016. And then there's the shopping, of course — the best you'll find downtown.

Sophisticated, modern and always on the cutting edge of consumerism, Cherry Creek Shopping Center has consistently stood apart from its mostly suburban counterparts. Barely a year goes by without another sleek update to the retail mecca's interior architecture; Cherry Creek is always adding new stores and updating the plush seating in its living-room-like gathering spaces (with TVs!). And every few seasons, of course, the lauded children's play area gets a makeover (and we hope a decontamination). But it's the purchasing hub's ability to build whole new corridors within its urban infill-locked geography, taking out anchor stores once thought to be immovable objects and replacing them with sparkling monuments of retail, that keeps those cash registers ringing. Now if they would just bring back the free parking....

Everything an outlet shopper could want comes together at Castle Rock. The complex is huge, with multiple pods easily accessible from jumbo parking lots fore and aft. The variety of stores is vast, representing major national chains, local stand-alones and everything in between. Athletic-shoe junkies will be especially sated thanks to separate Nike, Converse, Puma, Vans, Adidas and Under Armour shops jammed with the latest styles as well as recent remainders that often go for a fraction of the original price. The outlets are in a great location, making them a fine place for a stroll, too — but bring your wallet, just in case.

The Annex

A few years back, large sections of Broadway were crowded with antiques stores of every description. Now, many of those spaces are occupied by dispensaries, and a lot of the antique shops that remain specialize in oversized furniture that can sometimes cost as much as a used car. The Annex boasts some of these items, too, but its collection is broad and eclectic, encompassing oddball artifacts large and small: Think vintage swizzle sticks, a teapot and interlocking cups that stack up to look like the tower of a castle, and quirky metal yard animals. Not that the store is dominated by kitsch; indeed, the stock is governed by a guiding aesthetic that embraces mid-twentieth-century design rather than looking down at it. Oh, yeah: The prices are among the most reasonable on Broadway, making the Annex well worth exploring.

Readers' Choice: Decade

Life in Colorado is casual, but sometimes you want to dress to impress. For thirty years, Denise Snyder and her staff at Mariel have helped Denver women look their best, helping them choose one-of-a-kind "fit to flatter" outfits that they can wear to work, to a wedding...or even to their own wedding. Like women of a certain age, Mariel knows how important it is to emphasize your assets, and the boutique has done some updating over the years, moving from Larimer Square to Cherry Creek, then transferring to elegant new digs earlier this year that reflect both the shop's upscale surroundings and this city's increasing interest in fashion. Looking good, Denver!

Readers' Choice: Lush

Kyle Harris

As more and more chain stores stomp over Colfax, Herbs & Arts helps keep the street cool by providing a wide array of witchy goods, herbs, jewelry, pagan art and more. The shop's deceptively small library is loaded with everything from books about crystals and herbs to old grimoires (classic magic textbooks). The staff is friendly, stylish and always willing to guide you to a fanciful sarong, a mystical sculpture or a tiny talisman, providing advice for how to conduct a ritual, how to use herbs to heal minor ailments and how to bring spirituality into your life. Whether you're a neo-pagan, a devout witch, a connoisseur of mystical decorations or just looking for a shopping adventure, this store is pure magic.

Readers' Choice: Twist & Shout

For years, the 16th Street Mall was a vast wasteland for shoppers, but recent moves at the Denver Pavilions has been turning that around. And when Uniqlo — a legend in Japan for its casual yet chic, minimalist, affordable clothing — opened in October 2016, the revolution was complete, at least in this two-block merchandising mecca. The Pavilions now offers one-stop shopping for cool Colorado-produced gifts (I Heart Denver), sassy grown-up fashion (Rosey's) and sassy less grown-up fashion (H&M), with other specialty stops scattered in between. And with Uniqlo, it has a true star — not just a spot where you can browse away a lunch hour, but a real destination for savvy shoppers from all over Denver.

Readers' Choice: I Heart Denver

Gone For Good Facebook

The commitment here is commendable: Gone for Good has a stated mission of "reduce, resell, recycle," and it follows through by hauling away your junk and garbage for a fee. Workers will even carry the stuff out of the house. The company then either sells it all at the store or disposes of what can't be reused in the most non-toxic and environmentally friendly ways possible, including breaking things like wood, electronics and metal items down to their basic components for commercial use. But most of the items are sold whole: On any given day at the store, you can pick through amazing things that Gone for Good has gleaned from around the state. There's very little organization, and the place is a bit dusty, but that's part of its charm: In the midst of the clothes, furniture and knickknacks, you might pick up a velvet Elvis and find underneath it a set of Depression-era dishes, at prices way below those at other local thrift stores.

Readers' Choice: ARC Thrift Store

The small but definitely sweet Sweet William Market in Stapleton is a triumph of quality over quantity, with a weird and wonderful mix of vintage, antique, retro and hip new merchandise, and just three dates planned for 2017: June 3, September 2 and a holiday market December 2-3, when it will be held at Northfield's new indoor events center. Laid-back and welcoming, the market has a true community feel, something that founders Kim Kouba and Lizzie Kienast — Kouba still runs it — were shooting for when they started the humble flea eleven years ago. Wander among the handpicked vendors to find one-of-a-kind items, from funky jewelry and interesting clothes to found-object art and upcycled furniture. Food stalls and live music make it even easier to stick around; fortunately, there's plenty of parking in surrounding lots and on the street.

Readers' Choice: Denver Flea

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