1338 W. Belmont
It is next to impossible to walk out of Uncle Fun without a smile, and a bag of funky little trinkets. The Uncle’s got postcards, plastic piggies,‘’50s robots, Pez dispensers, assorted gag gifts, and way more stuff stocked and stacked from floor to ceiling in his Lakeview shop. This place is what Pee Wee Herman’s dreams must look like.
2780 N. Lincoln Ave.
Now in a new location in Lakeview, Rotofugi is both a store and a gallery, specializing in “designer toys.” The store stocks an awesome selection of toys, figurines and trinkets ranging from under $10 to well over $100, with many items perfectly suited for the stuffing of stockings. Most items here will appeal to kids of all ages.
Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art
756 N. Milwaukee Ave.
Tucked away in between gallery spaces at Intuit is the outsider art organization’s gift shop. Inventory includes hard-to-find books, including some on Chicago originals like Lee Godie and Henry Darger, along with jewelry and musical instruments made from recycled materials and a variety of other quirky items. It’s worth stopping by just to check out the exhibits, and it’s hard not to leave without a few souvenirs or gifts for the self-taught/visionary art lover.
Marbles: The Brain Store
55 E. Grand Ave.
4745 N. Lincoln Ave.
Marbles may be something of a more mainstream local chain, with locations in Naperville, Old Orchard, Woodfield Mall, and two in Chicago (and even one at Mall of America), but they stock some great gift options for the braniac on your list. Games, puzzles, and software range from the cute and simple, like Pengoloo, to those requiring hours of cognitive calisthenics.
Museum of Contemporary Art Store
220 E. Chicago Ave.
Sure, the MCA is a museum, but it’s also a fantastic shopping destination and a great place to find unique gifts from creative minds from around the world. Case in point: designer Chris Collicott’s “Solar Queen” (pictured), which includes a solar panel in the handbag that acts as a power supply, allowing the Queen’s right hand to wave when she’s placed in sunlight. The store also has a wide selection of more practical items–with a contemporary twist, of course.
3448 N. Clark St.
Strange Cargo in Wrigleyville specializes in t-shirts, with a baffling array of designs to choose from. They also have a fine selection of shoes, but it’s in their “neat stuff” section where you’ll really find the fun and funky. For just a few dollars you can load up on pop culture relics from the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s that make for great gifts for friends (of a certain age, perhaps). Who wouldn’t love to find a vintage pack of Saved by the Bell trading cards in their stocking?
1429 N. Wells St.
Old Town’s Jumbalia stocks groovy gifts at good prices, with many one-of-a-kind items to pick from. The colorful inventory leans toward apparel and accessories, with eclectic and unique gift items stocked throughout.
1630 N. Damen Ave.
While the name may conjure up images of Chucky, this kiddie shop is a harmless blast of fun, especially if you’ve got a child on your list who’s enrolled in the local School of Rock. Mostly apparel for newborns through age 8, the often riotous and supercute inventory includes such items as punk rubber duckies, CDs of lullaby versions of Rolling Stones and Kanye West songs, and several less “edgy” items.
American Science & Surplus
5316 N. Milwaukee Ave.
On the geekier (or should we say, “scientifically inclined”) end of the spectrum, we have American Science & Surplus. Located in a Northwest Side strip mall, this unassuming shop stocks a wide array of adult and kid toys in addition to all manner of mechanical minutiae. How about a “Screeching Monkey Superhero” or a “Semi-Autonomous Bug Bot”? It’s all here (and it’s affordably priced).
1854 W. North Ave.
A refreshing alternative to the mega-chain bookstore experience, Quimby’s is fully devoted to independently-published and small press books, comics and zines. There’s an abundance of cool, bizarre, surreal, weird and wonderful options for the adventurous literary type on your list, with several publications in the $5 range.