AAdler Planetarium 1300 S. Lake Shore Dr., Chicago, 312-922-7827
The Adler Planetarium’s gift shop stocks merch for space-minded kiddos, such as astronaut backpacks, Lego space shuttles, rockets, solar system kits, glow-in-the-dark planets, robots, and NASA snapsuits.Alien Entertainment Company 702 S. Main St., Lombard, 630-792-9461 alienentertainmentstore.com
Sci-fi paradise. Browse collectibles for Star Wars, Star Trek, Marvel and DC, Dr. Who, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Lord of the Rings, Disney characters, and much more.American Girl Place Water Tower Place, 835 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, 877-247-5223 americangirl.com *Personal shopping available *In-store restaurant *Events
Hordes of little girls descend upon this enormous flagship to shop, dine, and immerse themselves in American Girl world. (Try getting within a mile of Water Tower Place without seeing one of their trademark red shopping bags.) Find historical dolls, My American Girl dolls that can be designed to look like her owner, Bitty Baby dolls, doll furniture, and clothes for kids and dolls. Special features on-site include a doll hospital for cleaning or “surgery”— average turnaround time is two weeks; a doll hair salon where she can pick up a new updo or ear piercing; and a café where girls can nosh at the table with their dolls. It’s a trek, but the American Girl Outlet Store (920-303-2222) is located in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. It doesn’t stock dolls, but does carry overstock and seconds of clothes, doll outfits, accessories, and books.American Science and Surplus 5316 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago, 773-763-0313 33W361 Roosevelt Rd., Geneva, 630-232-2882 sciplus.com
When it’s raining and you need to occupy the kids for an afternoon, American Science and Surplus is the perfect place to while away the hours. The product mix is hard to define—some scientific and educational, some oddball and funny—but it might be the only place in the city where you can find a crystal ball, rubber chicken, and acrylic skeleton mold all in one spot. Also on the shelves? Fiber optic lamps, robots, origami, sound machines, hobby supplies, and art and science kits.America’s Best Train and Hobby Shop 865 Maplewood Dr., Itasca, 630-467-1102 americasbesttrain.com
Trains of all kinds, from Lionel and LGB electric sets to wooden trains like Thomas the Tank Engine and Nuchi. (Lionel Trains from any era are repaired on-site.) The rest of the product mix is a mash-up of hobbies and toys. On the hobby side, find slot cars, pinewood derby kits, and model cars, airplanes, and rockets. The toy assortment includes Lego, Playmobil, Breyer Horses, Lincoln Logs, K’Nex, and Erector sets.
BBeanstalk 654 Central Ave., Highland Park, 847-432-8300 beanstalktoyland.com *Free gift wrap *Classes and events
Beanstalk combines practicalities like strollers and high chairs with fun merch like pedal cars and Y Bikes. Shop strollers from Maclaren and Phil and Ted’s, Mamaroo bouncers, baby carriers, feeding and bath products, baby clothes from Hatley, and a great selection of toys like old school Paddington Bear and Raggedy Ann dolls. And feel free to bring the kids along—there’s plenty of room to maneuver strollers and children are encouraged to play with toys before buying.Beat Street 930 Green Bay Rd., Winnetka, 847-441-8580
Beat Street is happiness in a storefront. It may be slightly jumbled, but exploring the stacks of inventory is part of the charm. No joke—the merchandise is piled one on top of the other, so leave plenty of time to browse the Breyer horses, Happyland toy sets, Ugly dolls, retro Krinkle blocks, Rubbabu cars, Klutz kits, wind-up toys, candy, and so much more.Becky and Me 620 Grove St., Evanston, 847-492-1030 1462 Waukegan Rd., Glenview, 847-729-8850 beckyandmetoys.com
Owned by a mother/daughter team, each of whom have experience in the education field, every toy in these stores is designed to promote play rather than staring at a video game screen. Check out baby gifts from Manhattan Toy, toddler toys from Melissa and Doug, puppets, games, puzzles, Lego, Playmobil, science and craft kits, dress-up clothes and costumes, Calico Critters (which parents of a certain age may remember as the Sylvanian Family), and Name Trains where each letter is a train car. The selection of books is particularly good, including a mix of board books, classics, and children’s anthologies.Berwyn Toy Trains 7025 Ogden Ave., Berwyn, 708-484-4284 berwynstoytrains.com
Kids love the huge train set at the center of this specialty train and toy store, which balances model railroading supplies for O gauge electric trains from Lionel and Mike’s Train House with toys from Lego, Playmobil, Thomas and Friends, and Breyer Horses.The Boring Store 1331 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago, 773-772-8108 826chi.org/shop
The enormous sign outside the building invites the curiosity of many passersby, and that’s kind of the point. Advertised as an incognito secret agent store, it’s stocked with “spy gear” like banana cell phones. The storefront shares space with 826CHI kids, a writing and tutoring non-profit started by author Dave Eggers, and proceeds from the shop go toward funding it. The merchandise is funny but sparse, so this place is worth stopping by if you’re in the area but not worth a trip on its own merits.Brilliant Sky Toys and Books Yorktown Center Mall Mall, Lombard, 630-495-3424 21540 W. Field Pkwy., Deer Park; 847-438-3800 brilliantskytoys.com
There are two local outposts of this Michigan-based franchise, stocked with toys intended to aid a child’s cognitive development. For example, Laser Pegs, robot kits, Legos, Snap Circuits, blocks, train sets, dolls, kites, and more.Build a Bear Workshop Visit buildabear.com for locations *Birthday parties
The name says it all. Stop in to build a bear (or dog, cat, zoo animal—there are more than 30 choices), add sound, stuff it, name it, and dress it. A sampling of made-to-order gifts are also available.Building Blocks Toy Store 3306 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago, 773-525-6200 2130 W. Division St., Chicago, 773-235-1888 buildingblockstoys.com *Gift registry *Free gift wrap
The emphasis is on the classics at these beloved neighborhood toy shops, which stock wooden toys, craft and science kits, educational toys—anything to engage a child’s imagination. Brands include Haba, Green Toys, Lego, Alex Toys, Playmobil, and Plan. Ask in-store or click around on the Web site to find excellent birthday gift suggestions by age. The plastic bins of small toys at the register are well-chosen and fun.
CCat & Mouse Game Store 2212 W. Armitage Ave., Chicago, 773-384-4454 catandmousegamestore.com *Free gift wrap *In-store events
This locally owned store carries every type of game imaginable: family and children’s games, checkers and chess, strategy and role-playing games, jigsaw puzzles, juggling supplies, and yoyos. The store also hosts game nights and Dungeons and Dragons events.Chicago Architecture Foundation 224 S. Michigan Ave., Chicago, 312-922-3432 architecture.org
The Chicago Architecture Foundation’s gift shop is a no-brainer for the architecture buff but also carries a selection of creative toys for imaginative tots, such as 4D Cityscape puzzles, Krinkles, architecture-themed Legos for Willis Tower and Robie House, coloring books of Frank Lloyd Wright stained glass, and pinhole camera kits.Chicago Children’s Museum Navy Pier, Chicago, 312-527-4276 chicagochildrensmuseum.org
If you find yourself on Navy Pier, this gift shop has a small but decent selection of educational toys, puzzles, novelties like astronaut ice cream, and merchandise tie-ins to the museum’s exhibits.Chicago History Museum 1601 N. Clark St., Chicago, 312-642-4600 chicagohistory.org
The Chicago-centric shop of the Chicago History Museum carries gifts for kids with hometown pride, such as “L” car toys, a Chicago 4-D puzzle, Lincoln bobbleheads, Al Capone playing cards, and merchandise adorned with the Chicago flag.Chicago Kite 5445 N. Harlem Ave., Chicago, 773-467-1428 chicagokite.com
This shop is an explosion of color, with more than 400 kites in store. Experienced kite-flyers might want to know that Chicago Kite carries stunt kites, parafoils, box kites, and singleline kites, but kids will be more interested in the butterfly, clown fish, and dragon shapes that are available. Should your child’s kite meet an unfriendly tree, this store also offers repairs and parts. Remote control cars and planes, rubberband guns, balsa planes, boomerangs, yoyos, and juggling supplies also found here.Children’s Gift Shop 310 Happ Rd., Northfield, 847-441-5975 thechildrensgiftshop.com *Free gift wrap *Monogramming available
A welcoming neighborhood toy store owned by former elementary school teacher Markie Carlson that carries an excellent mix of toys for both girls and boys: games, Legos, crafts like a “make your own umbrella” kit, train sets, outdoor toys, puzzles, and dolls. Personalized items, such as a monogrammed director’s chair or piggy bank, make excellent gifts.Creative Toy Mart 11326 Lincoln Hwy., Mokena, 815-806-8697
Educational toys for kids aged one to 12. Calico Critters, Melissa and Doug, Legos, Playmobil, Colorforms, and remote control cars for the kiddos; headbands, bracelets, locker decorations, Alex craft kits, and board games for tweens.
DDifferent Strummer at the Old Town School of Music 4544 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago, 773-751-3398 909 W. Armitage Ave., Chicago, 773-728-6000 oldtownschool.org
The mainstay of the Old Town School of Music store is obviously musical instruments but it also has a small children’s section with colorful ukeleles, small drum sets, train whistles, and song books.Disney Store 717 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, 312-654-9208 108 N. State St., Chicago, 312-269-4776 4068 N. Harlem Ave., Norridge, 708-583-1930 Woodfield Mall, Schaumburg, 847-619-9213 Oakbrook Center, Oak Brook, 630-368-9188 Hawthorn Mall, Vernon Hills, 847-573-8267 Chicago Ridge Mall, Chicago Ridge, 708-423-6060 disneystore.com
Clothing, toys, pillows, backpacks, and collectibles emblazoned with Disney characters. These stores are princess-heavy (costumes run $40 to $60), but Disney also owns the Marvel line so Spiderman and other superhero paraphernalia balances out the girly merch.
Dupage Children’s Museum Explorer Store 301 N. Washington St., Naperville, 630-637-8000
The emphasis is on education and creativity at this children’s museum store, which has a separate entrance from the museum. Find outdoor toys, train sets, blocks, Krinkles, Melissa and Doug play toys, and other building sets and kits.
FFair Game 5150 Main St., Downers Grove, 630-963-0640 fairgamestore.com *In-store events
A store that offers respite from video games and encourages people to gather around more traditional games. Shop every kind of game imaginable—children’s games, strategy and war games, word games, family games, card games, and role playing games. Fair Game hosts many game nights for Magic: The Gathering, Dungeons and Dragons, and Heroclix.Field Museum 1400 S. Lake Shore Dr., Chicago, 312-922-9410 fieldmuseum.org
The premiere destination for dinosaur toys—lunch bags, hats, dino bicycle helmets, puppets, plush toys, figurines, “Sue” T-shirts. Alongside the dinosaur selection are Egyptian games and toys, Green Toys, puppets, plush toys, and rotating merchandise based on the special exhibits.
GGalt Toy + Galt Baby The 900 Shops, 900 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, 312-440-9550 1915 N. Clybourn Ave., Chicago, 773-327-9980 Old Orchard Shopping Center, Skokie, 847-329-7712 galtbaby.com *Gift registry *Free gift wrap *Delivery service available
Furniture, strollers, and baby gear with a more modern bent than typical baby stores. Mod cribs and bassinets are stocked from Oeuf ($590 to $940), Stokke, and Nurseryworks; strollers from BOB, Bugaboo, and Orbit Baby; car seats from Britax and Graco; and activity centers, baby carriers, baby swings, and high chairs. The product expertise in-store is unparalleled. The toy assortment ranges from classic (arts and crafts, blocks, doll houses, train sets) to the truly inspired, like the Little Nest Giddy UP chair ($695), a replica of the 1973 Pony chair by Eero Aarnio. Check out the online outlet for deals.Geppetto’s Toy Box 730 Lake St., Oak Park, 708-445-9906 geppettostoybox.com *Free gift wrap
Oak Park’s local shop carries toys to inspire young imaginations. Alongside Playmobil and plush toys are wooden toys like Educo dollhouses and kitchenettes, Plan Toys, Haba baby toys, and the truly great Citiblocs that entertain children from toddler to tween, as well as puzzles, games, arts and crafts toys, and more. Locals speak highly of the customer service and expert advice.giggle 2116 N. Halsted St., Chicago, 773-296-6228 giggle.com *Gift registry *Personal shoppers by appointment *Assembly and same day delivery available
Everything in this store is aimed toward urban parents (compact, collapsible, easy to maneuver) and comes in bright, poppy colors. The Lincoln Park spot is the chain’s only location in the Midwest and mixes boutique brands with gear and necessities. Find strollers from Bugaboo and Baby Jogger, Graco and Britax car seats, baby carriers, bouncers, feeding and bath products, diaper bags, mobiles, striped snapsuits and other layette. Also find a great selection of organic and wooden toys. For less spendy options, try their proprietary line, Giggle Better Basics.
Chock-a-block with dolls and stuffed animals, this shop specializes in teddy bears and every kind of doll imaginable—baby dolls, porcelain dolls, Kewpie dolls, vintage and antique dolls, Madame Alexander dolls, Barbie dolls, dollhouses, and miniatures.
Stocked to the brim with board games, puzzles, card games, and toys.Good to be King 160 N. York Rd., Elmhurst, 630-833-5162 goodtobeking.com
A locally-owned store devoted entirely to the game of chess. Shop more than 200 chess sets, pieces, and boards, which are a combination of in-stock and special order selections. Although chess is the main event here, toy soldiers, army sets, replica weapons, checkers, and backgammon sets round out the stock.
KKid’s Rule 1534 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago, 773-227-7525
kidsrulechicago.com *Free gift wrap *Events
This family-run store has more family than most—11 brothers and sisters in this clan—that caters to the Wicker Park neighborhood with toys, party supplies, all with an eco-friendly bent. (Think bubbles instead of balloons.) Shop for blocks, Sesame Street plush toys, Mr. Potato Head and other classics, play food, backpacks, and books. Don’t miss the “try me” table for kids to check out toys before they buy.Kohl Children’s Museum Store 2100 Patriot Blvd., Glenview, 847-832-6908 *Free gift wrap
The museum gift shop, accessible separate from the museum, carries educational toys that tie back into the museum exhibits for children aged 2 to 8, including costumes, puzzles, books, science kits, and toys from Fat Brain, Melissa and Doug, and Legos.Kooky Kidstuff The Shops at North Bridge, 520 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, 312-527-0552 kookykidstuff.com
A group of local designers first launched Kooky in 2009 as a holiday pop-up shop, and now it has found a permanent home in North Bridge. Most of the hip clothing designers still are homegrown, with old favorites like Melissa and Doug toys mixed in. Selections for little princesses include ruffle dresses ($42), tutus, and sparkly headbands; for little men, find capes and tees. The toy selection is well-edited and stocked with dollhouses, games, creative kits, toy food, and play sets. The North Bridge location has added a salon for kids, with hair styling and mini manicures.
LLakeshore Learning Store 2255 W. 95th St., Chicago, 773-233-9210 15780 S. LaGrange Rd., Orland Park, 708-403-6300 1403 N. Rand Rd., Palatine, 847-705-5052 lakeshorelearning.com
This California-based chain is a combination toy store/teacher store that emphasizes educational toys for kids up to sixth grade. Shop for toys like tricycles, easels, arts and craft supplies, finger puppets, costumes, and science kits, as well as educational materials like math, alphabet, and foreign language teaching tools and flashcards.The Land of Nod 900 W. North Ave., Chicago, 312-475-9903 Northbrook Court, Northbrook, 847-291-9902 Oakbrook Center, Oak Brook, 630-368-9990 landofnod.com *Gift registry *Monogramming available
This Northbrook-based baby and kid shop carries traditional furniture (cribs, beds, dressers) and whimsical accents like bedding, curtains, and lighting. The playroom furniture and toy storage are particularly great, such as tables with adjustable legs and optional paper rollers to grow with young artists.The toy selection includes dollhouses, puzzles, kits, plush toys, art supplies, play kitchens, instruments, and books. (See also, The Land of Nod Outlet.)Learning Express Toys Ice House Mall, 200 Applebee Street, Barrington, 847-381-9559 315 S. Rand Rd., Lake Zurich, 847-540-4566 117 S. Randall Rd., Algonquin, 847-458-4701 14160 S. Bell Rd., Homer Glen, 708-645-0600 2863 W. 95th St., Naperville, 630-922-3334 Geneva Commons, 610 Commons Dr., Geneva, 630-232-8697 learningexpress.com *Free gift wrap *Free personalization on select items
The largest specialty toy franchise in the United States, which carries toys and games for infants through pre-teens. Arts and crafts kits, blocks, trucks, puzzles, Legos, Playmobil, Shrinky Dinks, Thomas the Train, Melissa and Doug, pogo sticks, trampolines, and dollhouses in-store.LEGO Store Water Tower Place, 835 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, 312-494-0760 Northbrook Court, Northbrook, 847-291-9520 Woodfield Mall, Schaumburg, 847-517-1640 Orland Square Mall, Orland Park, 708-226-0808 lego.com
Legos, Legos, and more Legos, these shops are veritable wonderlands of building bricks. The shelves along the walls are stocked with the Lego sets including Star Wars, Disney, Hero Factory, City, and Technic lines, and beginner Duplo sets. The “Pick a Brick” walls have plastic bins filled with Lego bricks in variety of shapes and colors. Visit the Water Tower store for the most impressive, professionally-built Lego models.LeoLeno 976 Green Bay Rd., Winnetka, 847-446-1100 leoleno.com *Classes and events
When Catharina Maerklin relocated to Winnetka from her native Germany in 2009, people were constantly admiring her sons’ stroller and toddler bike. The enthusiasm for those German goods prompted her to open Leoleno, a children’s shop stocked with European toys and furniture (mostly German) that are wooden, hand-painted, and high design. Hand-painted animals, wooden blocks, and puzzles come from German lines Bauhaus, Haba, and Grimm’s, and handcrafted learner bikes from Nic are a customer favorite. (Toys are mostly geared for children from babies to age 6.) Strollers and car seats are from German line Teutonia, and the sleek baby furniture is meant as an investment—a Piccolo bamboo crib ($1,279) converts from crib to toddler bed to double bed frame. A baby gated section of the store is set apart for special events like story time, concerts, and German lessons.
This art center offers classes for kids and adults. The gift shop contains mostly pottery and jewelry, but a small kid’s section includes art gifts like a coloring book of master artworks, hand puppet kits, bird house kits, and Owly shadow puppets.
Lollipop Seeds 4726 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago, 773-769-3557 shoplollipopseeds.com
This Lincoln Park newcomer stands apart for its great variety of Chicago-centric merchandise, such as onesies adorned with the Chicago flag and toy CTA trains, as well as adorable clothes, books, toys and other goodies. A chalkboard wall in the rear of the store keeps kids occupied while mom and dad shop.
MMarbles the Brain Store 55 E. Grand Ave., Chicago, 312-494-7769 Water Tower Place, 845 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, 312-255-1201 4745 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago, 773-784-7991 Old Orchard Shopping Center, Skokie, 847-673-9000 Woodfield Mall, Schaumburg, 847-413-1455 123 S. Washington St., Naperville, 630-355-6250 marblesthebrainstore.com
Games, puzzles, software, and books that help adults keep their brains sharp. All of the products correspond to one of these categories: critical thinking, memory, word skills, visual perception, and coordination. Although Marbles is designed to help grown-ups keep theirs, many of the games are just as fun for little ones, particularly Tegu wooden toys, Nanoblocks, and Rubik’s Cubes.Me and Dad’s Toys/HD Coins and Cards 720 E. State St., Geneva, 630-845-9291
A collectible store stocked with action figures (Star Wars, super heroes), sports cards and memorabilia, rare coins, and vintage toys.Museum of Contemporary Art 220 E. Chicago Ave., Chicago, 312-280-2660 mcachicagostore.org
The Museum of Contemporary Art shop, probably the best museum store in the city, carries an unexpected, well-curated selection of home goods, jewelry, books, and gifts. The kid-appropriate stock includes art mobiles, portable ping-pong, 3-D dinosaur puzzles, nesting blocks, race cars, pull toys, wooden blocks, and Keith Haring chairs.Museum of Science and Industry 57th Street and Lakeshore Dr., Chicago, 773-753-6245 store.msichicago.org
Perfect gifts for the budding scientist, such as a table of elements T-shirt, magic tricks, human body puzzles, microscopes, solar racing car kits, and Legos.My Favorite Toy Store 5137 Main St., Downers Grove, 630-493-1400 123 N. York St., Elmhurst, 630-279-0011 myfavoritetoystore.com
This family-owned pair of shops has been keeping west suburban kids in toys for 10 years. Find major brands like Melissa and Doug, Playmobil, and Automoblox, as well as costumes, kits, puzzles, games, and all manner of doodads for little imaginations. The Geisen family also runs TheNewToy.com, which chooses one great toy per week and demonstrates the product via video.
OOak Ridge Hobbies and Toys 7511 Lemont Rd., Darien, 630-435-5900 oakridgehobbiesandtoys.com
This enormous but well-organized toy superstore is nirvana for kids. An aerial train runs around a track on the ceiling, hovering over the toys and hobby supplies. To wit: dolls, dollhouses, Playmobil, Lego, Lincoln Logs, erector sets, wooden toys, puzzles, kites, oversized stuffed animals, craft and science kits, model railroading supplies, Thomas and Chuggington wooden trains, and remote control vehicles. Oak Ridge is one of the largest slot car racing dealers in the nation with a raceway where kids can try before they buy.Oliver’s Trains and Toys 2002 Central St., Evanston, 847-424-1940 www.oliverstrains.com
Wilmette married couple Bogdan and Siri Rogalski started OliversTrains.com as a Web-only operation a few years ago when their older son Oliver, now 8, was obsessed with wooden trains. When space became available on Central Street, they decided to open a toy shop that carries a mix of toys for all ages and the trains where it all started, including cute little CTA trains, Lionel, and Brio, which has been hard to find in the United States over the last two years. On the toy side, shop Green Toys, organic and wooden toys, science kits, board games, all kinds of cars and trucks and things that go (some for less than $3 a pop), Hello Kitty toys, baby toys from Haba, and affordable impulse buys like balls. Nanoblocks, Ugly Dolls, Hex Bugs and a broader selection of books will be available in-store soon.
PParty Animals 11 N. Third St., St. Charles, 630-377-3300 partyanimalsforkids.com *Birthday parties
This shop carries Melissa and Doug toys, Ty animals, handmade doll clothes that fit American Girl Dolls, and beautiful wooden rockers. Party Animals also supplies balloons, makes custom cakes and cookies, and has space to host children’s birthday parties, and craft and culinary classes.Play 3109 W. Logan Blvd., Chicago, 773-227-6504 playlogansquare.com *Gift registry *Free gift wrap *Assembly available *Party favors/planning available
This locally-owned toy store blows big-box competition out of the water with its cheerful, well-curated selection of imaginative toys, and somehow it manages the impossible dream of being chock-a-block while still leaving room to maneuver a stroller. Find an equal mix of goodies for both girls and boys: blocks, puzzles, board games, eco-friendly toys, train sets, craft and science kits, costumes, ride-on toys, and stuffed animals. Books are stocked along one wall, a mix of classic and new favorites, and the register is surrounded by buckets of impulse buys—the toy version of penny candy—wind up toys, erasers, and the like. Toys top out around age 12.Prospect Bike and Trains 506 E. Northwest Hwy., Mount Prospect, 847-259-4569 prospectbikesandtrains.com
This family-owned business has been around for more than 50 years, and what a fun mashup it is. Bikes (Schwinn, Diamondback) make up the majority, but in the rear of the store is an impressive selection of Lionel electric trains, in themes like “Hogwarts Express” and “A Christmas Story.” There is also a variety of older, pre-owned trains available for sale.Pumpkin Moon 1028 North Blvd., Oak Park, 708-524-8144 pumpkinmoon.com
A quirky novelty shop stocked with wind-up toys, bouncy balls, bobbleheads, T-shirts, retro candy, and The Simpsons and Betty Boop collectibles. Prices start at 10 cents.
QQuake Collectibles 4628 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago, 773-878-4288 quakechicago.com
Feeling nostalgic? This collectibles shop is as fun for kids as it is for adults looking to stroll down memory lane. (A Mayor McCheese figurine, a Spice Girls doll, Garbage Pail kids, etc.) Quake has been around for more than 18 years, and is literally packed from floor to ceiling with goods. Shop comics, Star Wars, Marvel, and DC comics, Transformers, action figures, vinyl lunchboxes, and Pez dispensers. The bargain bins are full of unboxed toys, and the best way to stumble upon a childhood favorite.
RRobot City Workshop 3226 N. Sheffield Ave., Chicago, 773-281-1008 robotcityworkshop.com
The main attraction here are the wildly popular robot-building workshops, but the shop carries a fun assortment of robot-themed merchandise like robot kits (as well as the electronic components to make them), hexbugs, wind-up robots, retro tin robots, robot toys and clocks, and R2D2 and Wall-E toys.Rotofugi Designer Toy Store & Gallery 2780 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago, 773-868-3308 rotofugi.com
Rotofugi has inspired a devoted following for its hip, artist-designed toys, most of which are limited edition. Shop vinyl and plush toys, blind boxes, and the do-it-yourself Munny series from Japanese line kidrobot. Local artists also get in on the fun: Chicago-based Shawnimals creates a plush line of ninjas, and the Rotofugi partnership with Squibbles Ink produces toys created solely by local designers. The adjacent gallery features exhibits from local and national artists.
SSanrio The Shops at North Bridge, 520 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, 312-644-9783 Woodfield Mall, Schaumburg, 847-517-2690 sanrio.com
Hello Kitty’s face is slapped on a smorgasbord of products (including a sandwich maker—seriously) from backpacks and lunchboxes to shoes, legwarmers, watches, plush toys, candy, and room décor. Other merchandise is adorned with other characters such as Keroppi the frog and Chococat, but Kitty gets the spotlight.Snickelfritz Toys Hawthorn Mall, Vernon Hills, 847-918-8160 snickelfritztoys.com *Gift registry
A well-organized family-owned shop full of blocks, puzzles, dolls and dollhouses, puppets, trucks, trains, and a good selection of kits like Bubble Gum Factory, Shrinky Dinks, and a Make Your Own Solar System.The Sweden Shop 3304 W. Foster Ave., 773-478-0327 theswedenshop.com
This self-proclaimed “Scandinavian department store” celebrates the best design from Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and Finland. Marimekko home goods are the shop standout (with an honorable mention for the graphic Amy Butler fabrics), and the children’s area carries Haba wooden toys, Zzzoolight lamps ($83), and small felt crafts.
The retail arm of the Swedish American Museum in Andersonville has a small kid section that includes clogs, Viking helmets, Pippi Longstocking books and dolls, Scandinavian paper dolls, wooden trains, Swedish doll clothes that fit American Girl dolls, and The Moomins books and toys.
TTales and Toys 610 Central Ave., Highland Park, 847-433-2231 *Monogramming available
A jam-packed toy store with a great mix of gifts for toddlers and older kids. For tots, there is an array of baby toys, train sets, and dolls, but what really sets this place apart is the extensive variety of personalized gifts, which include blankets, towels, stools, frames, and dolls. For older kids, there is a huge selection of board games, art kits, locker decorations, backpacks, and loungewear.Ten Thousand Villages 121 N. Marion St., Oak Park, 708-848-4572 719 Main St., Evanston, 847-733-8258 499 C Pennsylvania Ave., Glen Ellyn, 630-790-1166 tenthousandvillages.com
Culling handcrafted, artisan goods from Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East, Ten Thousand Villages is a fair-trade nonprofit that benefits the artisans who create the goods. The toy and game selection is on the small side, but the finger puppets from Peru, a wooden crocodile puzzle that teaches letters and numbers ($34), paper dolls, and stuffed toys are unique and handcrafted.Three Wishes Toys n More 1515 Sheridan Rd., Wilmette, 847-251-8622 threewishestoys.com *Gift registry *Free gift wrap
A great little neighborhood shop with goodies that run the gamut from jump ropes to kitchen sets. Shop hula hoops, baby toys, blocks, dollhouses, castles, Calico Corners, Legos, Madame Alexander dolls, crafts, science kits, puzzles, and Thomas Trains.Timeless Toys 4749 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago, 773-334-4445 timelesstoyschicago.com
A magical independent toy store that carries toys for all ages and is surprisingly large, given its prime Lincoln Square location. Shop puppets, art kits, Nanoblocks, Green Toys, train sets, costumes, plush toys, dolls, and tricycles—just row upon row of fun and educational toys. The friendly staff is always ready to make recommendations.Toy Emporium 143 S. Vine Ave., Park Ridge, 847-292-8697
This small shop, tucked on the Vine Avenue shopping strip, has an excellent selection of toys such as costumes, Calico Critters, remote control cars, games, Alex crafts, and small impulse buys that make for great present toppers. Toy Emporium is ideally stocked for last minute birthday party gifts; toys top out around age 9.Toynk 430 N. York Rd., Bensenville, 847-350-0108 toynk.com
Somewhat hidden in an unassuming industrial strip by the airport, Toynk runs a storefront out of the 33,000 sq. ft. facility that also houses its offices and enormous inventory of collectibles and action figures for its online business. Specializing in new toys (not vintage or retro), the array of themes is astonishing. A sampling: Star Wars, DC and Marvel, Domo, Super Mario Brothers, World of Warcraft, Harry Potter, Twilight, Looney Tunes, and Thomas and Friends Trains. The store also carries costumes year-round.Toys Et Cetera 5311 N. Clark St., Chicago, 773-769-5311 2037 N. Clybourn Ave., Chicago, 773-348-1772 1502 E. 55th St., Chicago, 773-324-6039 711 Main St., Evanston, 847-475-7172 toysetcetera.com *Free gift wrap
More than 10,000 toys are available at these local stores, all chosen to build on a child’s creativity. Infant toys, walkers, arts and craft kits, Lego sets, wooden Beka blocks ($149.99), dollhouses, Playmobil sets, jump ropes, bubble machines, Thomas and Friends train sets, and much more in store.Toys R Us.com Visit toysrus.com for locations *Gift registry
The largest, most recognizable toy store in the country stocks brands like Fisher Price, FAO Schwarz, Little Tikes, and Playskool. The clearance racks and seasonal sales are good ways to save.
Trendy Toys Northbrook Court, Northbrook, 847-272-7009
A godsend for gift-giving parents (the mall location next to Gymboree and across from Hanna Andersson is handy for quick kid shopping), this cute but compact toy store packs in all the usual suspects like Green Toys, Haba, puzzles, dolls trucks, crafts, and plenty of other goodies.
UUncle Fun 1338 W. Belmont Ave., Chicago, 773-477-8223 unclefunchicago.com
Uncle Fun carries a random and bizarre assortment of novelties, and hunting through this weirdness is part of the fun. Expect bobbleheads, whoopee cushions, fake moustaches, shark hats, chattering teeth, wind-up toys, robots, and—something everyone needs—bacon lip balm.US Toys and Creative Playthings 5314 N. Lincoln Ave., Skokie, 847-675-5900 ustoyco.com
Part toy store, part teacher store, part craft store, part party supply/novelty shop, this megashop may have a bit of an identity crisis, but it undeniably comes in handy for birthday parties. Craft supplies such as Elmer’s glue, glitter, and Crayola products are one aisle over from oversized sunglasses and seasonal decorations. The toy selection includes classics like K’Nex, Lego, Playmobil, dolls, and Thomas and Friends trains, and oversize items like large floor puzzles. But go elsewhere for swords and guns—no violent toys here by owner policy.
VVillage Toy Shop 807 Elm St., Winnetka, 847-446-7990 villagetoyshopil.com *Free gift wrap *Free local delivery *Party favors available
Village Toy Shop first opened on the North Shore in 1948, and customers still appreciate the old-fashioned one-on-one service. The toy selection is a good mix of old favorites and newer toys such as board games, Madame Alexander dolls, Playmobil, Steiff stuffed animals, train sets, and educational toys and games. Planning a birthday party? The owners can create goody bags and provide balloons.
WWhatsit and Doohickey 346 N. Milwaukee Ave., Libertyville, 847-367-9000 *Birthday parties
It’s not every store that hosts frequent D&D nights (that’s Dungeons and Dragons, for those not in the know). This toy and novelty shop is stocked with board games like the multiplayer sensation Settlers of Catan, Ravensburger puzzles, Madame Alexander dolls, and Nanoblocks, as well as pranks, yo-yos, chalk, and bubbles.Windy City Dolls 227 S. Third St., Geneva, 630-208-0069 windycitydolls.com
This Geneva specialty shop is loaded with dolls and accessories, like vintage and current Barbie, Tonner, Madame Alexander, and Kish and Co. dolls, as well as doll clothes.Wonderland MultiVintage 3731 Grand Blvd., Brookfield, 708-387-0890 multivintage.com
A suburban antique shop specializing in vintage toys, such as tin trucks and robots, army men, kewpie dolls, and vintage board games. The merchandise is more for display than for play, but makes for a nostalgic trip down memory lane.