It’s that time of year where kids are excitedly making their Christmas lists (and checking them way more than twice). We can guarantee their biggest wishes can be granted on the shelves of a local Chicago toy store. Shop your neighborhood go-to or venture farther out to discover a new-to-you gem—just don’t forget to stop for a steaming cup of hot cocoa while you’re at it! Or, maybe even a favorite hot dog stand for a super-speedy lunch on the go? Just trust us: you’re going to need sustenance when you start shopping these independently owned toy stores throughout Chicago this season.
1. Toys et Cetera
Learning and play intertwine at this shop, which is located in the historic neighborhood of Hyde Park. The owners seek out good craftsmanship and clever toy inventors, and the store is big on safe, eco-friendly fun that's also educational and developmentally and culturally sensitive. They've been going strong since 1976, so they have their finger on the pulse of what kids like.
1502 E. 55th St.
This hot spot is full of fun and educational finds, and it has a sweet nostalgic twist. Owner Ann Kienzle has worked in the toy biz for eons and stays on top of the latest innovations. She has a passion for the importance of play in a child's life and has created a well-designed space that inspires awe in all who step into one of Play's four shops, located in Logan Square, Lincoln Park, Andersonville, and the West Loop, its newest storefront.
Various locations throughout Chicago
3. Berwyn’s Toys & Trains
Have a wannabe conductor on your hands? This specialty shop is worth the trip. Follow the glowing neon sign to a train lover's dream that has everything from collectibles to Thomas merchandise. Its specialty is O-Gauge electric engines, which were popular in the mid-1900s, from makers like Lionel and Mike's Train House. There's a separate toy room that has LEGO sets, Playmobils, and slot cars.
7025 Ogden Ave.
4. Building Blocks Toy Store
Saying this old-fashioned toy store is packed to the brim isn't an exaggeration. Its three locations fill every nook with play-rich, high-quality toys and books. Owner Katherine Nguyen is passionate about supporting small, local companies, so you'll find everything from developmental playthings for babies to science kits that grandparents can't keep their hands off of. Building Blocks is also known for its deep selection of Thomas, Brio, and Chuggington trains, but you'll also discover lesser-known finds.
3306 N Lincoln Ave.
2071 N Clybourn Ave.
2130 W Division St.
5. Geppetto’s Toy Box
Like Pinocchio, children will want no strings to hold them down at this Oak Park treasure. Cut your little ones loose to explore art kits, building blocks, puzzles, developmental diversions, and lots more. The owners of Geppetto's stand behind "slow toys"—back-to-basics playthings that children need time to explore and grow from. To that end, you won't see (or hear!) a lot of flashes, beeps, or electronic brouhaha on the shelves.
730 Lake St.
6. Timeless Toys
This Lincoln Square mainstay is what we think Santa's workshop looks like—toys, toys, and more toys everywhere. Also: a big air of whimsy. This sweet shop in the heart of the neighborhood's shopping district has been around since 1993 and is known for championing educational play. Go for games, puzzles, puppets, trikes, dolls, outdoor games, books, and just about anything else your little tinkerer's heart desires.
4749 N. Lincoln Ave.
7. Oakridge Hobbies & Toys
This mom-and-pop creation offers more than 250,000 products via their online store, but they have the best-of-the-best on display in their Lemont showroom. You'll find a sampling of hobby, craft, gift, toy and home & garden decor products offered on their website. They're also well stocked in Tonie figurines for those obsessed with the storytelling device.
15800 New Ave.