A vintage toy store

Sure, you can turn to a big-box retailer to find a toy for the kiddo in your life—but there's nothing like that warm, fuzzy feeling you get whenever you step inside a cheerful local space dedicated to toys, games and the fun they inspire. Here are five local favorites.

Once Upon A Child

2300 Bee Ridge Road, Suite 105, Sarasota (941) 259-3943

Ages: infants to 12 years old

A consignment shop without the wait–on-the-spot cash or trade for pre-loved, gently used toys, strollers and clothes make this children’s store a little different. Open since Sept. 24 of this year, it focuses on inventory for children from infants to 12 years old. There’s just one of each item in stock, making this a unique shopping experience where you never know just what you’ll find. Monday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-8 p.m.; Sunday 11 a.m.-5 p.m.

Toy Lab

1529 Main St., Sarasota (941) 363-0064

Ages: infants to adults

This landmark has been delighting downtowners for more than 20 years. Inside, the shelves are brimming with vintage faves like Monopoly, Jacks and Aggravation, and an extensive puppet selection features an oinking pig and neck-turning owl. But it’s not all old school–you’ll find drones and bestseller Mad Mattr, an addictive, super-soft modeling compound. Bonus feature: an adult section features the two-foot, extendable Freeloader Fork, and you won't want to miss the Cat Lady action figure we can relate to more than Barbie. In-store shopping only. Monday-Thursday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-9 p.m.

Learning Express Toys & Gifts

The Shoppes at University Town Center, 8451 Cooper Creek Blvd., University Park (941) 351-5556

Ages: infant to adult

Whether it’s social skills or ABCs, every toy can offer a learning opportunity. At Learning Express, you'll find academic workbooks to help with school curriculum as well as holiday bestsellers like the Mega Cyborg Hand—a battery-free, wearable, hand-operated mechanical toy that kids will have fun building. The Icee Machine makes easy homemade slushies for hands-on fun and yummy treats. And adults love the 5-Second Rule game, which demands players fight laughter to spit out answers to some questionable questions in five seconds. In-store shopping, onlne ordering, contactless curbside pickup and home delivery within 20 miles available. Monday - Saturday: 10 a.m. - 9 p.m.; Sunday: 11 a.m. - 6 p.m.

The Dark Side 

935 N. Beneva Road, #902, Sarasota (941) 363-0840

Ages: 6 years to adults

This isn’t a toy store per se, but its 6,500 square feet are filled with stories, games and figures that whisk you away to other worlds in the name of creativity and fun. Primarily known as a comic book destination, a family-friendly area stocks Star Wars everything, Harry Potter, Ghostbusters and superhero classics. Support an unforgettable local hideaway where your discerning child can geek out on all their favorite characters, and you will, too. In-store shopping. Monday - Thursday, noon-7 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 12 - 8 p.m.; Sunday noon-7 p.m

Children’s World

4525 Bee Ridge Road, Sarasota (941) 955-6999

Ages: infant to adult

Open since 1964, this two-story shop is more than a school uniform destination. Bestsellers include Mind The Gap, a board game that invites Boomers to Gen Z pre-teens to participate in a pop culture trivia showdown, and a Little Red Riding Hood 3D puzzle where the player must find the safest path to avoid the wolf. The focus is learning- and skill-building disguised as fun, but little muscles also get a fix with Bouncy Pogo Stilts and inflatable trampolines. Bonus: There's a post office so you can get mail to Santa fast, and the store also does embroidery for a personalized Christmas stocking.  Monday - Friday: 9 a.m.-5:45 p.m.; Saturday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.

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