Take a toy tour of Kansas City with these delightful excursions, perfect for the kid in all of us
Whether you are shopping for that next birthday party, adding to your personal collection, or curious about toy history, the Kansas City area is filled with unique, locally-owned businesses — including a marble maker, a doll hospital, and a Japanese blind box store.
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With the global success of recent movies like “Barbie,” “The Super Mario Bros. Movie,” “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem,” and “Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves,” it is not a total surprise that toys — and all their various media counterparts — are becoming a dominant part of our culture like never before.
For kids, toys have always been the rage, but there’s a major market with some new players: kidults. “Kidults” are carving a new purchasing niche, buying toys not for their children, nieces, nephews and neighbors, but for themselves. Nostalgia has become a major factor in the industry and there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight.
So whether you are shopping for that next birthday party, adding to your personal collection, or just want to enrich your mind with some good ol’ fashioned play, take our “toy tour” to see the various options all around Kansas City.
Kansas City is home to The National Museum of Toys and Miniatures, on the campus of UMKC. The two floor museum is filled with nooks and crannies of fine art miniatures and dollhouses on the ground level, and toys and memorabilia (and more dollhouses) on the second.
While there are magnifying glasses on hooks around the museum to help you get a closer look at the details, consider joining a docent-led tour.
The museum, which just celebrated its 40th anniversary, was founded by Mary Harris Francis and Barbara Marshall, two dollhouse enthusiasts. Since then it’s grown from their personal collections to the world’s largest collection of fine-scale miniatures. There are 66,918 items in the toy collection alone.
The museum re-opened in 2015 after an extensive renovation and continues to present beloved objects from the last two centuries. And their newest edition, set to open Sept. 9, 2023, is the Miniature Art Museum: a museum within the museum, to display some of their most treasured objects.
You can also read about how the museum inspired KCUR arts reporter Julie Denesha to revisit her beloved dollhouse, handmade by her grandfather when she was four years old. No matter what decade (or decades) your childhood spanned, there will be a display to make you gasp “I remember that!”
There are a handful of independent toy stores around Kansas City, each with their own personality. A benefit of visiting a smaller store is expert customer service in picking out toys for different ages and interests. Another is that many have displays set up to let kids “test drive” the merchandise, often with train tracks, building sets, and play kitchens. It’s an errand and an activity, rolled into one!
There’s been a toy shop in Brookside since at least the 1940s. Brookside Toy & Science, at 330 W 63rd Street, has been family-owned since the mid-60s, first by the Ward family and now by longtime employee Holly Pollard, who bought the business in late 2019.
They stock many of the toys you may expect, like stuffed animals, puzzles and games, as well as LEGO, Barbie, and Calico Critters, but if you wander to the back of the store, you’ll find the “science” portion of the inventory, with gems and minerals, microscopes, science kits (though they no longer sell things like iodine crystals), model planes, and even taxidermied animals, mounted insects, and skeletons.
The Doll Cradle in Shawnee, Kansas, is the Midwest’s oldest doll hospital, according to Kansas Tourism. Along with repairing dolls and teddy bears, they have a selection of antique and collectors items (and yes, that includes vintage Barbie dolls).
They are also known for their huge selection of clothes and accessories to fit 18” dolls: think American Girl or Our Generation dolls (FYI: the Kansas City American Girl store closed in 2020). Many of the outfits available at The Doll Cradle are made by local sewists.
Playing for keeps
Moon Marble Company, in Bonner Springs, Kansas, keeps the good times rolling with its extensive marble collection (handmade, manufactured, and specialty), along with both familiar and offbeat toy brands. They have a wide variety of retro-style toys. “It’s a place to heal your inner child,” said Moon Marble employee Kati Jo, “and get the toys you never got.”
If you’re lucky, you can also catch a marble-making demonstration in the workshop from owner Bruce Breslow. Breslow started the business over 30 years ago, and is still fascinated with these glass creations.
In a recent visit, Breslow demonstrated making “end-of-the-day marbles,” put together from bits and pieces left over from other projects. He compared the swirly formations inside a newly fire-polished marble to clouds: “You see all sorts of different things in there.”
Moon Marble also might be the only place in Kansas or Missouri where you can buy squirrel underpants.
Currently, Moon Marble Company is open 10 a.m.-4 p.m., Monday-Friday, with demonstrations at various times throughout the workday. With a robust online store, they ship marbles all over the country.
Calling all players
The Learning Tree is a staple of the community at Corinth Square in Prairie Village. The store opened in 1996 and countless children have entered the store through their special half-sized door. They have an array of hands-on toy displays to delight the small fry, as well as a selection of children's books, many by local authors.
In July 2023, owners Jane and Jonny Garson announced they were looking for a buyer for the business. Though they are ready to retire, “the joy we get from helping people find the perfect toy, book or gift never gets old,” they said in an announcement on Facebook.
U.S. Toy was founded in 1953, when the Klein family started a catalog novelties company, shipping products out of their apartment. The company has changed drastically over the years, from a small mom-and-pop to its own brand of educational toys, Constructive Playthings, to a massive store that stood just off of Stateline Road for over 40 years, selling toys, party decorations, carnival prizes, and classroom supplies.
During the pandemic, the company went back to its mail-order roots, shuttering the location in Overland Park in 2022, but they’ve recently opened a new party store inside of Pump It Up, open on the weekends and during “open jumps.”
There are many locally- or family-owned toy stores throughout the surrounding communities. Toy Time, at Crown Center, has served tourists and locals alike since 2001. Fat Brain Toys is a Nebraska-based company, but opened its second physical location in Overland Park’s Prairiefire in 2014. The company specializes in building and STEM toys and has their own brand of toys, games, and brainteasers.
Founded in 1975, The Toy Store has locations in Lawrence and Topeka, Kansas and handpicks the over 17,000 items in their inventory.
Something for the kidults
The fascination with toys is global. In the City Market, you can get your fix at Yoki, which sells Japan-inspired merchandise from brands like Pokémon, Sanrio (makers of Hello Kitty and Rilakkuma) and Studio Ghibli (aka the filmmakers behind Totoro).
You can also check out Korean Gifts & Video, in Overland Park, which sells toys, cute stationary and a variety of imported household items.
Bubble Wrapp Toys is a newer addition to the Kansas City collectors’ circuit, right at the corner of Main Street and Westport Road. The sign out front reads: “more toys than your kids.” But there’s one thing to know up front: These aren’t necessarily for kids.
Much of the inventory is blind boxes: mystery objects in collections of six to 12. These collectible art figures are mini vinyl sculptures, and though they fall into the “cute” category, many of the products recommend ages 15+. Lucky (or extremely dedicated) collectors may even find “chase figures,” ultra rare editions of the collections.
Bubble Wrapp collaborates with companies in Japan to make custom collectibles, too. They also have art prints, snacks and drinks imported from Japan, and gashapon, toy vending machines. (Yes, there is massive construction currently at that intersection, but the store is accessible and also has an extensive online store.)
When we consider multi-generational appeal, perhaps no toy brand is more successful than LEGO. There is a store at Crown Center at theLegoland Discovery Center, a store in Oak Park Mall, and—if your flight is delayed—you can pick up a set at the LEGO Store in the new KCI airport.
There’s also the KC Brick Store in Overland Park, which sells used LEGO bricks and completed kits. (It’s right next to Cardboard Corner Cafe, a board game cafe, and TableTop Game & Hobby, which we featured in our beginner’s guide to RPGs.)
So whatever your age, there’s a toy shop around to suit your interest.