Chauni Haslet, owner of All for Kids Books and Music, proudly notes that her store is "famous for putting the perfect book into the hands of young readers." All for Kids is equally famous -- in the face of ongoing financial struggles by many independent bookstores -- for retaining its fierce independence and continued success for more than 20 years. Located across from University Village, All for Kids has been voted a favorite for three years running. The store also regularly brings in popular authors and illustrators to talk with kids -- and parents -- about their work (2900 N.E. Blakeley St., Seattle, 206-526-2768, www.allforkidsbooks.com). Runners up: Island Books, (3014 78th Ave. S.E., Mercer Island, 206-232-6920, www.mercerislandbooks.com) and Secret Garden Bookshop in Ballard (2214 N.W. Market St., Seattle, 206-789-5006, www.secretgardenbooks.com).
Kids' shoe store
"You can never have enough shoes," the saying goes, and Sole Food in University Village takes that motto one step further: "Never enough shoes for Me and Mom!" The store's selection of women's and children's shoes drew rave review from our readers, making it the most-mentioned "Hidden Gem" in our poll. Sole Food's colorful shelves are stocked with hip, well-made American and imported shoes for both kids and moms, and they also offer jewelry, socks and purses (2652 N.E. University Village, Seattle, 206-526-7184, www.shopsolefood.com). Runners up: Shoe ZooPlum Shoes (2920 N.E. Blakeley St., Seattle, 206-525-0073) and (2913 E. Madison St., Seattle, 206-322-7011, www.plumshoes.com)
For parents on a budget (read: nearly everyone), consignment stores offer the best of all worlds: kids' and maternity clothes, plus toys and furniture, all in nearly new condition at bargain prices. Me 'n Moms, located just east of the locks in Seattle's Ballard neighborhood, was the overwhelming choice of "Hidden Gems" voters, and it's clear to see why. The store's substantial loft space has plenty of room for merchandise, including car seats and baby furniture, as well as a large selection of name-brand clothing. The store also features conveniences parents will appreciate, including a large restroom with changing table and a stroller ramp (2821B N.W. Market St., Seattle, 206-781-9449). Also note that Me 'n Moms now has an Eastside location at 975C N.W. Gilman Blvd., Issaquah, 425-427-5430. Runners up: Treehouse (15742 Redmond Way, Redmond, 425-885-1145) and Again and a Gain (4832 California Ave. S.W., Seattle, 206-933-2060).
Our readers love Top Ten Toys in Seattle's Greenwood neighborhood. The store's mission: "to keep old fashioned healthy play alive with lots of the classic and hands-on toys that inspire creativity." Here's the place to find wood toys, educational toys and arts and crafts, plus books and CDs, but no Barbie dolls, video games or toy guns and swords -- the store has a non-violence policy (104 N. 85th St., Seattle, 206-782-0098, www.toptentoys.com). Runners up: White Horse Toys (317 N.W. Gilman Blvd., Ste. 13, Issaquah, 425-391-1498, www.whitehorsetoys.com) and Toy Chest (13402 Bothell- Everett Hwy. No. 105, Mill Creek, 425-316-0981).
Kids clothing store
When you enter Kid's Club, you know you've found a hidden gem. With locations in Seattle's University Village and Crossroads in Bellevue, the store features fashionable and fun clothing for newborns through size 14 for girls and size 10 for boys, plus shoes, toys and novelty items (2676 N.E. University Village, Seattle, 206-524-2553 and 15600 N.E. 8th St., Bellevue, 425-643-5437, www.shopkidsclub.com). Runners up: Retroactive Kids (6969 California Ave. S.W., Seattle, 206-932-3154), Pop Tots (6405 Roosevelt Way N.E., Seattle, 206-522-4322, www.thecradlerocks.com) and Bootyland (1317 E. Pine, Seattle, 206-328-0636, www.bootylandkids.com).
Writer's Picks for Shopping & Buying:
Hidden Gem for Northwest treasures
A truly Northwest childhood includes memories of visiting Seattle's Pike Place Market, so grab your family and head downtown. Watch the fish fly at the Fish Market and give your child some coins to drop into Rachel, the giant brass pig (proceeds support favorite market charities). Then visit The Lark in the Morning Musique Shoppe (South Arcade Building in the market, 1411 First Ave. www.larkinam.com, 206-623-3440), which offers one-of-a-kind musical instruments from African percussion to harps. Find unique wooden toys at The Giving Tree, with a market booth in the Waterfront View Row, located directly west of Rachel the pig. Every Giving Tree purchase provides senior citizens and formerly homeless individuals a sense of purpose as they craft the logging trucks, trains, ferry boats and the other beautiful and durable toys the store offers. You can also download a coupon from the Web site -- www.ccsww.org/givingtreetoys -- good for $5 off when you spend $25 or more.
Hidden Gem for crafty, environmental and budget-conscious artists
The Creation Station in Lynnwood is a favorite arts-and-crafts resource where you can save a buck and help the environment. The store offers a huge variety of surplus or recycled goods perfect for crafting, including felt, paper, rhinestones, paint, clay, brushes, paper, magnets and even film canisters. In July, the store is open Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. The Creation Station also offers birthday party packages, drop-in creating sessions and workshops. 19511 64th Ave. W., a block west of James Village Shopping Center, 425-775-7959, www.creationstationinc.com
Hidden Gem for budding botanists
Oudean's Willow Creek Nursery near the Snohomish Golf Course offers budding botanists the opportunity to visit the nursery on Friday, Saturday or Sunday to view and possibly purchase a custom-potted carnivorous plant. Make a day trip of it and visit nearby historic downtown Snohomish and its charming antique shops and restaurants. The nursery is sometimes closed for special events, so it's best to email firstname.lastname@example.org 24 hours ahead to confirm it will be open for your visit. 7421 137th Ave. S.E., Snohomish, 360-568-6024, www.oudeanswillowcreeknursery.com
Hidden Gem for future engineers
If you have a future robot or plane designer in your house, he or she will go wild at Boeing Surplus, located in Kent. You'll find small electric motors, wood boxes, copper wire and any tool your future engineer could possibly want at low, must-go prices. You don't have to be a Boeing employee to shop there. Open Wednesday through Saturday, 20651 84th Ave S., Kent. 425-965-4400, www.boeing.com/assocproducts/surplus/retail.
Hidden Gem for fresh fruits and veggies
If your child thinks that vegetables and fruits grow in the back of your local grocery store, it's time to take them to an Eastside farmers market. The Eastside hosts a number of the wildly popular markets in the summer and most will be open until mid-October. Purchase beautiful bouquets of flowers for a fraction of the cost you'd find in a flower shop, plus organic produce and honey, handmade soaps and -- at the Kirkland market -- even giant bubble wands!
- Bellevue-downtown: 1717 Bellevue Way N.E., parking lot of the First Presbyterian Church, Thursdays, 3-7 p.m.
- Bellevue-Crossroads Shopping Center: Tuesdays 11 a.m.-4 p.m.
- Issaquah: Pickering Barn across from Costco, Saturdays, 9 a.m.-2 p.m.
- Kirkland: Park Lane East between 3rd and Main, Wednesdays, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.
- Redmond: Redmond Town Center, Saturdays, 9 a.m.-3 p.m.
Hidden Gem for instant art gratification
Rubber Soul, a unique rubber stamp store in Redmond and Poulsbo, offers moms and dads the tools for "instant gratification projects" with kids. Everyone loves getting handmade cards from a child and they are easy to whip up with any number of Rubber Soul's super-cute stamps. Also check out the store's online schedule of classes (www.rubbersoul.com), perfect for tweens or teen to learn everything from the basics of card making to creating books and boxes out of paper. Redmond Town Center, 425-882-3333, and Front Street in downtown Poulsbo, 360-779-7757.
-- Kathleen F. Miller