This article first appeared in Kidsburgh.org. which is published by NEXTpittsburgh.
Shop local at these Pittsburgh toy stores and find unique gifts for your favorite kiddos. With warnings of slower than usual delivery times from the big online sellers, there’s that much more reason to venture to these fun destination stores. Shop safely in-store or schedule curbside pickup or delivery. You’ll find great big stuff and loads of little stocking stuffers, too.
1. Xplor Store
The Xplor Store at Carnegie Science Center qualifies as more than a museum gift shop. The shop is currently open online only, and offers exciting stuff from all four Carnegie Museums. The collection of wares is as remarkable as the Science Center’s programming. Shoppers are lured to the blinking, glowing blacklight corner, where you’ll find Star Light Fiber Optic Lamps, a variety of Dinosaur Night Lights and the Vortex Coin Bank. Over in the tech area, choose from Robotics Workshop, Tincan Edge Detector Robot, plus Coding Critters for the younger set of scientists. Nature gets its due, too, with a Butterfly Farm, Ladybug Growing Kit and an Ant Farm.
2. Fun Buy the Pound
The store started out centered on LEGOs and K’Nex. Kids could come in, build something, then buy their construction, priced according to weight. So, the name made perfect sense: Fun Buy the Pound. Since then, the Sewickley toy shop expanded its hands-on play section (temporarily closed due to COVID) and inventory.
Check out favorite sturdy brands like Melissa and Doug, Playmobil and cutesy Calico Critters. You’ll find a delightful selection of role-play costumes, from pirates and pilots to nurses and mermaids, and loads of puppets. STEM kits include Circuit Blox collections, Crash Test Lab and a variety of crystal-growing projects. Shop in-store or online, with curbside pickup or $1 personal delivery within 10 miles.
3. Games Unlimited
Games Unlimited operates under the premise that tabletop games and puzzles foster relationships, expand mental abilities and cultivate fun. The 42-year-old Pittsburgh shop just moved into a new Squirrel Hill location with its huge collection of classics and latest releases. You’ll find cool games for little kids – like Slamwich, Rat-a-tat Cat and KeeKee the Rocking Monkey – that are fun for grownups, too.
From there, the choices grow exponentially, with group games, dexterity games and solo games. Not sure which to select? Set up a virtual consultation over Zoom and allow the Games Unlimited experts to be your guide. And don’t forget the puzzles: The selection ranges from 12 to 18,000 pieces. The shop is open for browsing seven days a week. You can set up a curbside pickup or order online.
4. S.W. Randall Toyes & Giftes
Over the past 50 years, S.W. Randall Toyes & Giftes has expanded and contracted with the times. The current three shops – Downtown, Shadyside and Squirrel Hill – continue the quest for quality, specialty toys. Junior chefs will revel in the selection of kitchen and food playsets. Puzzles for kids go beyond the expected with Giant Road, a big interchangeable floor jigsaw, and super-size My Body puzzles that demonstrate muscular, skeletal and arterial systems. There is a large selection of craft kits. And the range of KidzLabs and Green Science projects will wow the science-lovers on your list.
The stores host get-togethers, like a yo-yo club where kids and their grownups can learn specialized skills, a Pokemon League and a home for Magic the Gathering fans. Shop in-store or call ahead for curbside pickup. Online shopping takes place on the Amazon marketplace.
5. Playthings, Etc.
The first reason to make the drive to Butler to visit Playthings, Etc., is because this massive toy store is shaped like a Stealth Bomber. Pretty neat! The second reason is the huge inventory of over 6,000 toys and games. Watching employees demonstrate unicycles, remote-control cars and pogo sticks tempts kids to make sudden additions to their wish lists.
Tech toys include XTREM Bots Robots, the Aquapod Bottle Launcher and build-it-yourself Vitascope Film Projector. Seasonal snow equipment, like sleds and toboggans, leads interest in the sports and rec department. You’ll find generational classics, too, along the lines of Jacks, Tiddly Winks and Roy Toy Log Building Sets. You can buy online, but Playthings, Etc.’s webshop is in its early phases with new items still being added.
6. Dragonfly Castle Toys
The slogan at Dragonfly Castle Toys puts it best: “No batteries. No screens. Pure fun!” The Lawrenceville shop specializes in American- and European-made toys and games, from sustainably made baby toys to pre-tween science kits and games. Sold packaged or as individual pieces, Name Trains Wooden Railway System will survive the toughest play. Durable lines like Plan Toys, Timber Tots and Moulin Roty inspire imaginative play. You’ll find a nice selection of board books and washable soft books for babies, too.
HEPA air filters and handwashing stations ensure safe in-person shopping, with appointments available for private sessions. Or order online and opt for curbside pickup.
7. Shadyside Variety Store
This 73-year-old neighborhood shop is hard to resist. Shadyside Variety Store is jampacked with old-school toys like Gumby, Bingo and Jack-in-the-Box. You’ll find new games, too: The speed-stacking Buildzi for ages 6 to 96 and the sensory adventure of Dimpl for the 6-month-and-up crew.
To build dexterity skills, pick up a “Cat’s Cradle Book of String Figures,” extra-long jump ropes for Double Dutch and a Shashibo magnetic puzzle that can be transformed into 70 different shapes. Don’t expect to simply window shop: You’re not likely to leave empty-handed.
8. Castle Toys and Games
Castle Toys and Games services fun-loving Pittsburgh kids with two locations, Oakmont and Beaver, and a terrific lineup. Active toys like pogo sticks, slacklines and American Ninja climbing ropes encourage adventurous off-screen fun. Crafty kids will find their maker moment with the selection of hands-on kits. Remote control choices range from drones to Power Driver construction vehicles to a python snake. The assortment of puzzles and games for little kids to grownups seems to be endless. Ready to shop? Castle Toys is open for in-person and online shopping.
9. Kawaii Gifts
Translated from Japanese, Kawaii (sounds like Hawaii with a “K”) means cute. The adjective completely describes the contents of Kawaii Gifts in Shadyside. Hello Kitty and other Sanrio sweeties are offered in facemasks, jewelry stands and Gudetama Lazy Eggs. There’s a treasure trove of Pusheens, that adorable cat, and its critter pals, like Winter Sloth and Dragonpip.
The TokiDoki series of Surprise Boxes are darling, too. And you’ll find fun collections of Tototoro chopstick sets, bento boxes and water bottles to brighten an ordinary lunch. Kawaii offers curbside pickup and delivery for online shopping. For in-store shopping, reserve a spot for up to three people for a private session.
10. Learning Express Toys & Gifts
Each Pittsburgh Learning Express location in Wexford and Mt. Lebanon is locally owned and operated. The company curates its inventory by gauging each item’s play value, giving toy buyers assurance of quality toys. With pretend play, kids can dress up as a veterinarian, scientist or astronaut. Science kits include rock tumblers, Air-Walkers and rubber band racers. Kids on the go will love the inflatable Jump Horse and Hop N Go Unicorns. Of course, you’ll find educational games, toys and workbooks, too. Both stores offer in-store shopping and curbside pickup.