The Top Gifts & Stocking Stuffers of 2020, According to Independent Toy Shop Owners

published Dec 2, 2020
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From new twists on blocks and puzzles to design-minded collectables, independent toy store owners have a pulse on what their young clients love. And with real humans at the helm, each store has its own specialty and point of view—meaning, find the shop that speaks to your child, and you’ve got a curated selection of items to please them.

We reached out to seven independent toy shops across the country to see what they’d recommend for holiday gifts for 2020. Here’s what they suggested.

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Merci Milo: Los Angeles, California

With an eye towards items from “local artisans, traditional toymakers, creative mamas, and global brands,” Merci Milo owner Carolina Rodrigues (whose home was featured on Cubby) offers thoughtfully-made toys that look just as good on a shelf as they do on your living room floor. Rodrigues recommends these two skill-builders for the holidays.

Inside a sturdy rattan basket: 15 mushrooms of varying shapes and sizes, ready for a little one to forage on a make-believe trip through the forest. “It’s perfect for learning to count, and such a cute gift,” says Rodrigues.

Merci Milo’s Stocking Stuffer

Half teether, half toothbrush, with an easy-grip handle and engaging illustration, this dentist-designed toothbrush will help infants get comfortable with dental care.

Kappa Toys: Las Vegas, Nevada

Known for its selection of Japanese toys, owners Lizzy Newsome and Trevor Yopp stock their design-minded store with a mixture of retro playthings, pop culture references and pieces rarely seen inside the U.S. For 2020, Newsome suggested two “extra-Kawaii” finds.

AMUSE brand Alpacasso are a rare breed of Alpaca that are a favorite for anime and kawaii culture fans. “These coveted plushies are often copied, but nothing beats the authentic original—and you can collect a whole herd,” says Newsome. 

Kappa Toys’ Stocking Stuffer

Part nightlight, part toy, Smiskis are mysterious Japanese glow-in-the-dark surprise box finds. Newsome says that the Toilet series is a store favorite. “This little dude has brought you some extra paper!”

Lark Toys: Kellogg, Minnesota

Family-owned for two generations, Lark Toys makes their wooden toys on-site in their workshop. The heirloom-quality puzzles and push toys have a simple, nostalgic feel to them—and inspire the sort of long-term, creative play that parents love. “We focus on toys that are open-ended with lots of play value, and we give lots of attention to development, learning, fun, connection, and refreshment of spirit,” says co-owner Kathy Gray.

With working  doors, a ladder, fences, hay bales and a farm-full of animals, the wooden play set is made in-house and will delight youngsters with its simple forms. 

Lark Toys’ Stocking Stuffer

Made in Lark’s workshop and finished in child-safe stains, these wheeled critters are perfect to stash in a bag for an on-the-go distraction. Available in stegosaurus, duck, whale, rabbit frog or turtle. 

Finnegan’s Toys & Gifts: Portland, Oregon

A locally-owned small business in downtown Portland for over 40 years, Finnegan’s offers a range of classic and vintage-inspired kid favorites, plus tons of giftable craft sets, STEM toys and musical instruments.

Finnegan’s Toys & Gifts’ Gift Pick

These ever-popular translucent blocks with magnetic edges are easy and safe for a pres-schooler—but offer tons of room to grow as a child moves through elementary school. Since they store flat, Magna-Tiles offer lots of play for a small footprint.

Finnegan’s Toys & Gifts’ Stocking Stuffer

This set of eight completely non-toxic, odor free and non-staining bath crayons can turn tub time into play time. They work on ceramic, tile, mirrors and glass, but rinse off completely when the time comes, and the plastic cases keep kids’ fingers color-free.

Rotofugi: Chicago, Illinois

Part gallery, part toy store, with a high-design selection of playthings, Rotofugi carries unique toys that’ll particularly please older kids (and the opportunity to reserve one-of-a-kind toys in advance). “Shipping times are a little unpredictable right now so get your orders in early to assure they’ll arrive in time!” says owner Kirby Kerr.

Rotofugi’s Gift Pick

A Rotofugi Exclusive by East Coast street artist MCA, this edition of Evil Ape Fink is one of just 50 in this color. With articulated joints and MCA’s signature styling, this figure will appeal to collectors. “It’s an affordable, limited piece of vinyl art,” says Kerr.

Rotofugi’s Stocking Stuffer

These super-cute unicorns by LA-based fashion brand Tokidoki combine adorable designs with the thrill of the chase, and are a step up from more ubiquitous boxed toys. This series features ten new designs, including the heavy metal Thrasher and Francophone Madeleine. 

Labyrinth Games & Toys: Washington, D.C.

This 10-year-old store is woman-owned and community-focused, and features a wide selection of non-electronic, specialty games and puzzles. “Labyrinth offers something for everyone,” says Melissa Campbell, who encourages shoppers to speak to their knowledgeable staff to find the just-right game for their family. “And most importantly, have fun playing!”

Labyrinth Games & Toys’ Top Gift

“This gorgeous game about birdwatching has been flying off the shelves this year!” says Campbell. It combines beautiful art and education about birds and their habitats into an entertaining game for one to five people. 

Labyrinth Games & Toys’ Stocking Stuffer

Sort of an absurdist take on Slap Jack with a regular deck, this card game for two to eight people involves shouting and slapping—just what kids need when they’re stuck inside. “This quick and silly gameplay is a great way to relax and get the wiggles out in between virtual school sessions,” says Campbell, who plays it with her five-year-old.

Cub Shrub: Columbus, Ohio

Owned by Josh and Niki Quinn, this Grandview neighborhood shop offers a broad selection of design-minded gifts and clothing that will appeal to both children and parents, with an eye toward European makers.

With shapes beyond the typical cubes, this set of building blocks with archways, stairs and varying triangles and rectangles offers a chance for more creative architectural building. “The quality and colors are just so good!,” says owner Niki Quinn. “They make a great starter set, but pair really well with any stacking blocks or wooden shapes.” 

Cub Shrub’s Stocking Stuffer

These custom trains are sustainably handmade in Vermont. And don’t feel limited to a child’s name, says Quinn. “You can spell their favorite color, an inside joke word—whatever!”