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A

Adler 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
 

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
*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
 

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
 

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.


B

Beanstalk
654 Central Ave., Highland Park, 847-432-8300
*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
1081 Gage St., 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
 

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
 

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
 

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
 

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
*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.


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Cat & Mouse Game Store
2212 W. Armitage Ave., Chicago, 773-384-4454
1112 W. Madison St., Chicago, 312-465-2178
*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
 

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
 

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.

 
ChicagoHistoryMuseum
1601 N. Clark St., Chicago, 312-642-4600
 

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
 

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
*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.


Different Strummer at the OldTownSchool of Music
4544 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago, 773-751-3398
909 W. Armitage Ave., Chicago, 773-728-6000
 

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
 

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.


Fair Game
5150 Main St., Downers Grove, 630-963-0640
*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.

 
FieldMuseum
1400 S. Lake Shore Dr., Chicago, 312-922-9410
 

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.


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Galt 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
*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.

  
Gigi’s Dolls and Sherry’s Teddy Bears
6029 N. Northwest Highway, Chicago, 773-594-1540
 

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.
 

Go! Games and Toys
Woodfield Mall, Schaumburg, 847-413-1020
Yorktown Center Mall, Lombard, 630-932-5198
 

Stocked to the brim with board games, puzzles, card games, and toys.

 
Good to be King
160 N. York Rd., Elmhurst, 630-833-5162
 

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.


H

Hip Hip Hooray
840 Willow Rd., Northbrook, 847-272-7459
*Free gift wrap

The same owner of the former Hooray Array in Northfield opened this playful shop carrying children’s clothing up to tweens, specialty toys & art supplies, and has a particular specialty in dress-up costumes.


 K

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.

 

L

Lakeshore 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
 

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
Oakbrook Center, Oak Brook, 630-368-9990
*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
*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
 

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.

 

Lillstreet
4401 N. Ravenswood Ave., Chicago, 773-769-4226
 

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
 

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.


M

Marbles 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
 

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
 

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
 

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.

 

O

Oak Ridge Hobbies and Toys
7511 Lemont Rd., Darien, 630-435-5900
 

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
710 Main St., Evanston, 847-425-1155
 

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.


P 

Play
3109 W. Logan Blvd., Chicago, 773-227-6504
*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
 

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 

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.


Q

Quake Collectibles
4628 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago, 773-878-4288
 

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.


R

RobotCity Workshop
3226 N. Sheffield Ave., Chicago, 773-281-1008
 

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 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.


S 

Snickelfritz Toys
Hawthorn Mall, Vernon Hills, 847-918-8160
*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.

 
Spoil Me Kidz
Water Tower Place, Chicago, 312-448-8128 

Adorable jewel box of a shop carrying trendy wear from local and international designers as well as toys, books and other unique gifty items. Sizes run 0 to 10 for boys and 0 to 14 for girls.

 
The Sweden Shop
3304 W. Foster Ave., 773-478-0327
 

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.
 

SwedishAmericanMuseum Store
5211 N. Clark St., Chicago, 773-728-8111
 

The retail arm of the SwedishAmericanMuseum 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.


T

Tales 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
 

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.

  
Timeless Toys
4749 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago, 773-334-4445
 

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.

 

Too Cool
Orland Square Mall, Orland Park, 708-226-8109
Gurnee Mills, Gurnee, 847-855-6009
Fox Valley Mall, Aurora, 630-499-7777 

Mall outposts chock-a-block with Hello Kitty and Sanrio merchandise and other small collectibles.

 
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
 

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
*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.

 

Tye’s Toy Store
2238 W. Roscoe St., Chicago, 872-206-5597
*Free gift wrap
*Special events

Small neighborhood toy outpost emphasizing educational toys, including arts & crafts sets, wooden toys, science kits, puzzles, Playmobil sets and more. Special extras are the candy counter and a custom T-shirt service.


U 

US Toys and Creative Playthings
5314 N. Lincoln Ave., Skokie, 847-675-5900
 

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.


V

Village Toy Shop
807 Elm St., Winnetka, 847-446-7990
*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.


W 

Windy City Dolls
227 S. Third St., Geneva, 630-208-0069
 

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
 

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.