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Readers' choice: ARC Value Village

Best Thrift Shopping Area
88th Ave. and Washington St., Thornton
Being thrifty can be a time-consuming task, but the bargains come a lot quicker when the shops are in close proximity. With that in mind, welcome to thrift shopper's paradise. Located in Fifties suburbia--now transforming itself into Nineties urban fringe--the two strip malls at this intersection are brimming with bargains. Regular visits to the stores--The Salvation Army Thrift Store, Bargain House Used Furniture, The Used Bookstore, ARC Value Village Clearance Store, DAV Thrift Store and Beauty's Treasures--will yield great finds from a past generation, as well as practical necessities for budget-minded families.

Best Flea Market
Mile High Flea Market
I-76 and 88th Ave.

Don't pass over the permanent booths up front at the Mile High Flea Market; among the T-shirts, shades and dreck, you'll find repackaged CDs at very low prices in one space and a mad hodgepodge of unrelated items in another, while still another stop unearths cheap bundles of socks. And absolutely go for the tent-city garage sale going on in back. For every chipped plate and paint-by-numbers gem, there's another item that's truly unique--a bit of railroad memorabilia, an antique Navajo rug or a Yoruba beadwork snake (the seller claimed it was handmade by his grandma in Uganda, but that's just part of the game).

Best Place to Buy Mardi Gras Beads
Fat Tuesday
9 E. Ellsworth Ave.

In between the racks of "vintage" Seventies clothing (Adidas athletic shorts and Munsingwear shirts of the "old school" are big sellers) and cutting-edge music (club DJs are known to drag themselves out of bed to go vinyl hunting at Fat Tuesday on weekday afternoons), owner and New Orleans native Merrick Delesdernier keeps a small supply of bona fide Mardi Gras trinkets on hand. The bead necklaces may be little more than hard plastic on a string, but they're from the big parade itself--and Merrick, who drives a UPS truck when he's not cooking up a pop-culture gumbo, sells 'em in Denver for a fraction of what you'd expect to pay in the Big Easy.

Best Slipcovers
I Do Slipcovers
4856 S. Acoma St., Englewood

Elaine Ellis, an almost alarmingly committed artiste, has never met an old sofa she didn't grow to love. And when the owner of I Do Slipcovers becomes inspired, watch out. She'll find you deals on fabric, show you hundreds of photographs of her work, ask you exactly what you want--and return a couple of weeks later with a washable, one-of-a-kind slipcover that will withstand even the grimiest home environment. She will then thank you for providing her with such an exhilarating creative experience. As for her prices--they can't last.

Best Eclectica
Desert Heart Inc.
3480 W. 32nd Ave.

You may come away with something you really didn't need, but at Desert Heart, chances are it'll be something great. The shop sells beads, metal stampings and oddball ornaments that can be purchased by the scoop from color-coordinated bauble baskets--as well as exquisite, jangly costume jewelry designed by owner Deborah Sparshott. And the wares don't end there: There are transparent glass seashells in candy colors, papier-mache animal rattles, fanciful boxes, petroglyph T-shirts and other unpredictable pretties.

Best Erectica
Adult Book & Video
4810 Pontiac St., Commerce City

The Triple-X neon sign at Adult Book & Video burns 24 hours a day because this adult toy store behind the Sapp Brothers Truck Stop (the one with the big neon coffeepot sign just north of I-70 and Quebec) never closes. If you yearn for a nice pair of nipple clips at four in the morning, you can find them here, along with a porndog's treasure cache of other goodies. There's a large selection of gay and straight periodicals, books and magazines available in multipack deals. The 25-cent arcade has more titles than you can shake a stick at, and the extremely large video collection is conveniently divided into "subject" areas. You can buy one, rent one, or reserve an on-site viewing room and catch all the action without ever leaving the comfort of the store. An abundant novelty selection includes love kits, paddles, penis pacifiers, risque gag gifts, blow-up dolls and pocket pals, along with enough vibrators, fake phalluses and sturdy strap-on tools to satisfy the needs of even the pickiest consumers. What we liked best was the counter display of red-leather AIDS ribbons for sale.

Best All-Around Vice Shop
Jerri's Tobacco Shop
1616 Glenarm Pl.

Clean living? Who needs it? At Jerri's Tobacco Shop, you can choose your poison: gluttony (a very large array of cholesterol-packed snack items from barbecued Corn Nuts to palm-oil-drenched coconut balls), gambling (Lotto tickets by the score), pornography (the widest assortment of bodice-busting skin mags we've found yet in an establishment that also sells walking canes) and general decadence (care for a water pipe, anyone?). Naturally, the shop is also choke-full of the richest, meanest tobacco this side of North Carolina.

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