This article first appeared in 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.

Fun Buy the Pound

Photo by Sally Quinn.

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.

Games Unlimited

Photo courtesy of Games Unlimited.

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.

S.W. Randall Toyes & Giftes

Photo by Sally Quinn.

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.

Playthings, Etc.

Photo courtesy of Playthings, Etc.

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.