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Toy Story: Shopping for Children's Gifts on the Upper West Side

By Victoria Floethe | April 25, 2013 9:56pm | Updated on May 2, 2013 9:58am

UPPER WEST SIDE — I recently got a request for a gift guide from a friend who says her greatest shopping challenge is the last-minute birthday present for the seemingly endless stream of parties her child attends on the Upper West Side.

The good news is that the Upper West Side may be the toy capital of New York City. If the shopping has to be last-minute, you'll find several wonderful go-to stores here.

The trickier part is getting over any resistance to buying multiples, which will always save you future hassle. What if the invitations dry up?" you may wonder. Not likely. What if the child ages-out of the gift category? What if, heaven forbid, you end up with a box of toys that seem impersonal or every kid already owns? Here is a range of classic presents that will please both parent and child and make good additions to your stash of secret-weapon, last-minute gifts.

Coolest Toy At The Party

American Museum of Natural History's gift shop

200 Central Park West (212) 769-5100

The first floor of the AMNH's gift shop is filled with the sounds of children bartering with their parents: "An electric eel, mom ... $25, mom." Here you'll find flying sharks, geodes, astronaut costumes and all manner of knickknacks that you won't see in an other toy stores. The shop has a website, but many items on this list aren't represented there.

Best Bets:

Geodes and crystals ($4-$40). They add to a rock collection and double as pirate treasure.

Dinosaur umbrella ($20). Little kids will dig it, and everyone needs rain gear.

Dinosaur or bug origami books ($14.95) are an especially good choice for older kids who are familiar with AMNH's amazing origami-ornamented Christmas tree.

Bobblehead Einstein ($20) thrills young geniuses.

Centurion hat ($36.99).  Don't forget that costume pieces make great gifts.

Dig a Glow Dinosaur ($7.99) lets you dig for the bones of a mystery dinosaur. Get a dozen of these.

Glow-in-the-dark nail polish ($4.99). Get a dozen of these, too.

The Amazing Squishy TRex ($35). Dissect a dinosaur for a perfect gross-out to education ratio.

Excavation kit ($14.99) offers a more sophisticated bone-digging experience for older kids.

Voice changer megaphone ($20) provides endless hilarity.

Bug face mask ($15) guarantees an impressive transformation.

Astronaut costume ($60). For that special space-lover.

Mood jewelry (5.99). Little girls love these necklaces, bracelets and rings.

Temporary tattoos ($5). Dolphins, butterflies, dinosaurs. Oh my.

DVD ($15). AMNH has a great selection of videos on various subjects, including butterflies, bugs and dinosaurs. You'll also find movies like "A Night At The Museum," and other classics.

The Color Changing Giant Rainbow Orb ($29.99). Touch the orb and it changes color. This is a crowd pleaser.

Pretty Things

Greenstones

442 Columbus Ave., near 81st Street (212) 580-4322

Greenstones offers the widest selection of European children's wear in New York City and there's cuteness at every turn. The shop sells a spiffy cloth version of the traditional paper-cone hat that boasts "Birthday Boy" or "Birthday Girl," as well as other fantastic hats, bows and headbands. Greenstones also sells fancy children's shoes, but it doesn't have a website, so be sure to pop in on a regular basis to see what's new.

Best Bets:

Apple Pie headbands ($15). These shiny and colorful headbands from an English company are incredibly chic.

Teeny Tiny Optics Sunglasses ($15) come in mini sizes but pack big designs.

Charm It Charms ($5). The popcorn, Russian doll, pretzel and ice cream cone charms are all great-looking, fun and perfect for a bracelet or necklace.

Barrettes ($10-$26) come decorated with irresistible flowers, sparkles, and bows.

Clever Concept

Cozy's Cuts for Kids

448 Amsterdam Ave., between 81st and 82nd streets (212) 579-2600

Cozy's Cuts offers a downright fun haircutting experience. A row of docile children watch cartoons on a personal screen while stylists snip away at their locks — all while their lucky siblings get their faces painted. As a VIP member, customers can stop by every day for weekly special services, including free manicures and glitter tattoos. The front of the store offers a well-stocked toy shop that carries classic gifts, as well as the cool new toys, so you can shop for upcoming birthday parties while you wait.

Best Bets:

Alex Friendship Bracelet and Bangle Making kits ($13.95, $16.95). Crafts like these are great for girls through their tweens.

Loops and Loom ($13.95) potholders make good gifts for children and grandparents alike.

Spy Gear ($25.95) allows James Bond wannabes to make-believe with lie-detector tests and see-in-the-dark goggles.

Splash Pops ($5.95). These alluring bath sponges are shaped like popsicles.

Schoenhut My First Piano ($87). Every nursery should have one.

Face Art ($7.95). The easy patterns produce impressive eye masks — and even make easy Halloween costumes for grown-ups.

Young Children

Granny-Made

467 Amsterdam Ave., between 82nd and 83rd streets (212) 496-1222

Granny-Made is known for its beautiful hand-knitted sweaters, quilts and custom children's clothes. The charming quilt maker and the designer of a New York City skyline cardigan that's sold there were in the store when I visited. So was the owner, Michael Rosenberg, who said he was inspired to open Granny-Made 28 years ago by his grandmother's designs. I bought the tiny skyline cardigan as a baby gift, but I was also tempted by the shop's small but outstanding selection of toys — the ones kids want to take to bed with them.

Best Bets:

Music Box by Kerri Lee ($68). A hand-painted music box with the lyrics on the back is perfect for a first birthday.

♦Puppet theater ($39) Soft and portable, and still a grand proscenium for finger puppets ($28).

♦Tutu ($26). A kid can never have too many tutus.

♦Soft play kits ($34). It's hard to choose between the adorable doctor kit, Noah's Ark, toolbox, makeup kit and dress-and-play ballerina bags.

♦XYZ Blocks ($39). Well-designed wooden letter blocks that stand for unusual and funny words like uvula and dentures.

♦Usborne Noisy Books ($15). A board book for small children who love pressing buttons to make sounds. (Who doesn't?)

♦Soft hand-made calendars ($45). Kids can attach weather forecasts, months or find gifts in pockets.

♦Adele's Quilts ($175). A quilt is a classic baby present. These are assembled elegantly from English fabrics.

♦The Amazing NYC Subway Car ($13.99). This miniature car talks, moves and fascinates young children.

♦Yankee or Red Sox hats ($16). These come in newborn, infant and toddler sizes.