Whether they’re buying clothes for fast-growing teens or trying to find just the right birthday present, our readers clearly gravitate toward small, locally owned businesses with staffers who really know their products.

  • TOY CASTLE: A staple at Cabin John Mall since 1979, Toy Castle always has the latest and greatest — plus enough old favorites to put a smile on parents’ faces. Readers like the store for its vast selection, its laid-back staff, and the simple joy of walking out with a wrapped gift that’s ready to go. “Great customer service, cool toys, and stuff you just don’t find online or at a big-box store,” says reader Jeanne Adams. Toy Castle, Cabin John Mall, 11325 Seven Locks Road. 
  • BARSTONS CHILD’S PLAY: This toy store at bustling Congressional Plaza is a gathering place for the stroller set, offering a comfortable atmosphere for socializing after a trip to neighboring Bye Bye Baby. Parents of older kids say they also appreciate the staff’s infinite patience and guidance. “They don’t make you feel rushed,” says reader Sharon Morris. “You can tell that they really like their jobs and playing with toys. And they’re always willing to show you how things work.” Barstons Child’s Play, Congressional Plaza, 1661 Rockville Pike. 
  • ON CLOUD 9: This small boutique at the border of Potomac and Rockville is the go-to place for little fashionistas, keeping its customers in style from babyhood through the teen years — and sometimes dressing their moms too. “They have unique things that you wouldn’t find anywhere else — clothing, accessories and special things to take to sleepaway camp,” says reader Julie Mintz. “It’s also a great place to buy small gifts for special occasions, and they come in a box with a pretty blue ribbon.” On Cloud 9, Potomac Woods Plaza, 1085 Seven Locks Road.
  • MY BEST FRIEND’S CLOSET: This Rockville shop is a favorite for on-trend girls and their budget-conscious moms. Prices tend to be reasonable — and some of the merchandise is gently used, having been recently recycled from other local kids and teens. “For my daughter, it’s easier and more attractive to shop than a large department store,” says reader Meredith Yentis. Reader Monika Woods says the store “never fails to come up with something great for my girls — every bar/bat mitzvah, homecoming and special occasion.” My Best Friend’s Closet, 9735 Traville Gateway Drive in Rockville.
  • SHOE TRAIN: People travel from all over the D.C. area to visit Shoe Train, an institution at Cabin John Mall with a reputation for expertise in orthopedic and hard-to-fit issues. Readers say they don’t mind the long waits, as they know the service will be personalized when it’s their child’s turn for a fitting. And the store keeps records on all its customers, so it’s easy to track your kids’ growth and favorite styles. Shoe Train at Cabin John Mall, 11325 Seven Locks Road.