You know what to expect when you’re expecting. But, oh baby, nothing can prepare you to shop for all the furniture, gear and supplies.
Good news: Local baby and kids shops are here to help. Across the city and suburbs there are great places to see, feel and test out the goods, from strollers to bedding to toys. What’s more, their registries let you build your list of must-haves easily.
Also, don't forget to check out these creative solutions for organizing toys.
We pared down the shops to a reliable handful known for knowledgeable service, a cheerful atmosphere and quality products. Some spots even have extra perks, like weekly story times and seminars from parenting experts.
Galt Toys + Galt Baby
Go for the reputable favorites and stay for the new discoveries. The husband-and-wife team behind this local empire seeks out modern designs and fresh innovations from the U.S. and abroad. Expect the latest in bedding, feeding, travel and bath, as well as a huge selection of developmental toys you won’t find at the big-box shops (check out the wooden Kid O puzzles). Galt’s Clybourn Corridor location, in particular, is a must-visit. Its wall of strollers is one of the most robust in the city with more than 20 brands, including Peg Perego, Maclaren and Bugaboo. You’re welcome to take strollers for test drives around the block. Another incentive to register for wheels here is the on-site service center, where stroller repairs are done free if they were purchased at Galt.
1915 N. Clybourn Ave. (773-327-9980) & 900 N. Michigan Ave. (312-440-9550) & Old Orchard Shopping Center, 4999 Old Orchard Center, Skokie (847-329-7712); www.galtbaby.com.
Twinkle Twinkle Little One
Get the star treatment at this Roscoe Village neighborhood gem, which specializes in nursery design. For no charge, owner Rachel Glasson and her staff offer design consultations and steer you down the path less cookie cutter with hundreds of fabrics, wallpaper samples, paint swatches and rug samples. The shop itself is a design statement: The checkout counter is crafted from doors, vintage corbels and an old chemistry table; and a fanciful clock collection adorns the back wall of the store. There’s also a huge faux tree and secret playhouse (go ahead – cut your kids loose there while you shop). The fetching setting aside, Glasson’s boutique is also a practical place to buy and register for gifts, from blankets to gliders to sleep sacks.
2007 W. Belmont Ave. (773-472-3000 or twinkletwinklelittleone.com).
Land of Nod
Crate & Barrel and CB2’s kid-focused counterpart, with a smattering of Chicago-area locations and a huge online store, sells built-to-last goods for babies and big kids. In fact, everything it carries has an 18-year quality guarantee. Stores are clean, bright and inspiring. Instead of formulaic aisles, the open space is dotted with innovative room vignettes that show how to pair cribs, carpets and wall décor together. In addition to nursery design, there is a well-edited selection of toys and gifts, from wooden rockers to teethers. When you want hand holding, make an appointment with a personal shopper, who helps you select products to match your needs. Bargain shopper tip: It’s worth the trip out to the Naperville outlet, where prices can dip 80 percent below retail.
For store locations, visit landofnod.com.
Owner and mom Catharina Maerklin is from Germany and models her selection after the sleek, simple and modern gear and playthings she grew up with. This translates to toys that don’t require batteries (check out the wooden puzzles and cardboard playhouses) and streamlined strollers that are cinches to collapse (brands include Stokke and Phil & Teds). Her welcoming Winnetka shop carries only a few items from each product category, from décor to cribs to apparel. Each item is one of Maerklin’s personal favorites. This is a treat for busy mamas-to-be that don’t have time or desire to comparison-shop. Even after baby arrives, you’ll keep coming back for the monthly story time the third Monday morning of each month and regular Musikgarten classes held in cooperation with the Music Institute of Chicago.
976 Green Bay Rd., Winnetka (847-446-1100 or leoleno.com).
Sprout San Francisco
This import from the City by the Bay specializes in natural and organic goods (no pesky BPA or phthalates). Its website has a registry checklist, where you can review everything you need to get equipped before checking out the goods for yourself at the Wicker Park storefront. The small, sun-filled store has nursery nooks (aka: mini bedroom setups) where you can get decorating ideas, along with shelves full of practical items, ranging from diaper bags to infant carriers to nursing pillows. While Sprout has become a source for green goods, it’s also developed into a social hub. That’s because of its wide range of special events, ranging from music classes to breastfeeding drop-in clinics to toddler movement jams.
1943 W. Division St., (773-489-0009 or sproutsanfrancisco.com).
As its name suggests, the Lincoln Park specialty chain reminds you that shopping for baby should be fun. Oversized striped lampshades and large black-and-white photos of babies set the stage for a lighthearted shopping experience. But it’s the smart selection of products and friendly employees that will really put you at ease. Without fuss or pressure, you’re pointed to all the must-haves (bedding to furniture to gear to cleaning products) from top brands like Oeuf, Skip Hop, Bloom and Mustela. If you’re not one to hop on the brand wagon, there’s good news: Better Basics, Giggle’s private-label layette and bedding, is the shop’s trusted bestseller. One big bonus for registering here is that expectant parents receive a 10 percent off registry completion discount.
2116 N. Halsted St. (800-495-8577 or giggle.com).
Buy Buy Baby
When convenience matters, this is the ticket. The mega retailer has six locations in the Chicago area and is a sister store to Bed Bath & Beyond. It’s set up in much the same way as its wedding-registry counterpart, with segmented departments offering multiple styles and brands of the same product. There are around 20,000 products available at each location, ranging from furniture to car seats to high chairs to feeding supplies. It even stocks those little, non-glamorous essentials like wipes and diaper rash cream. Other bonuses include private feeding rooms, a computerized gift registry, home delivery and gift wrapping. If you’re going to build your list at this big box, here’s a tip: Start with the serious-investment stuff, like strollers and car seats, before heading to the toy or bath sections. This shop ignites a kid-in-a-candy-store reflex, and it’s easy to get carried away with the registry scanner at the beginning. This strategy will keep early impulses at bay.
For store locations, visit buybuybaby.com.