Play Time: Find the perfect gift at these independent toy stores

It’s all fun and games at these Southern toy stores, offering everything from dolls and Legos to painting lessons and trading cards
Treehouse Kid & Craft is well known for its creative classes and art programs

Photo courtesy of Treehouse Kid & Craft

Treehouse Kid & Craft
Athens, Georgia
Creativity reigns supreme at this shop known for its mix of imagination-driven toys, clothes, books, and crafting supplies, including inclusive products (think multicultural crayons and diverse dolls). Want to be surprised? Order a Box of Happy, a curated package of items based on the recipient’s age and interests. At the DIY center, toddlers to preteens can join themed classes with topics such as building tiny worlds or conceptual art techniques. Bonus: Take advantage of the artful, complimentary gift wrapping.

O.P. Taylor’s
Brevard, North Carolina
Two life-size toy soldiers preside at the entrance of this multistory, 6,000-square-foot flagship, open for more than three decades. Try out the slot car racetrack on the main floor, then venture up a stairway stacked with stuffed animals to the Science Central room, loaded with fun gadgets and experiments. The Lego stock is especially robust, with sets ranging from Harry Potter to Star Wars to Marvel superheroes. Need a recommendation? Ask owner John Taylor, recognizable by his signature propeller hat.

Miner’s Doll & Toy Store
Ocean Springs, Mississippi
When retired naval engineer John Miner and his wife, Mary Alice, visited FAO Schwarz in New York City, they decided their community needed something similarly dazzling. In 1986, they opened their bungalow-esque toy store, now run by daughter Merileigh. The delightfully old-fashioned shop carries both trendy and retro toys; in fact, it’s one of the top dealers of Madame Alexander dolls in the country. Guests can enjoy a dose of nostalgia while perusing wooden trains, Playmobil figures, and tea sets.

Smart Toys and Books
Knoxville, Tennessee
This brainy shop offers far more than its name suggests. Beyond the first-rate collection of educational toys, books, and games lies a 2,000-square-foot playground, housing a nine-foot-tall pirate ship, obstacle course, interactive floor games, and a toddler-friendly area. The store is also known for its creative programs, including painting and clay lessons led by professional artist Miss Shelley and a rhythm- and movement-focused Kindermusik class.

Gods & Monsters features an expansive selection of collectibles and toys, many of them related to comic book characters

Photo courtesy of Gods & Monsters

Gods & Monsters
Orlando, Florida
A paradise for nerds of any pop-culture creed, this shop just minutes from Universal Studios packs its shelves with collectibles, trading cards, tabletop game supplies, model kits, and an expansive assortment of comic books and manga. Guests 21 and older can explore Vault 5421, a post-apocalyptic-themed speakeasy where cosplay is encouraged and arcade and classic Super Nintendo games beckon. Every Thursday, the backdoor bar screens classic horror and sci-fi films accompanied by themed cocktails and bottled offerings from beer and wine to sake and mead.

This article appears in the Fall 2023 issue of Southbound.