Uptown Westerville has long been a great family destination.

Uptown Westerville has long been a great family destination.

Children and parents could stroll through the quaint shopping district, stopping to enjoy an ice cream cone at Graeter's or Dairy Queen or a treat at Schneider's Bakery.

But the recent opening of some kid-friendly businesses has made the historic suburb even more welcoming to families.

The owners of Naturally Curious Kids toy shop work hard at creating a place where kids feel free to touch the merchandise. Jerilyn Rademacher and her mother, Linda Cullison, were inspired to open their shop after visiting toy stores with inviting play areas while vacationing on the West Coast.

"We said, 'Westerville needs this,'" Rademacher said. Their shop features a playhouse with chalkboard walls that kids are encouraged to decorate. Merchandise is geared toward newborns to 10-year-olds. The focus is on toys that "teach kids things without them knowing it," Rademacher said.

Cullison, a former teacher, leads a story hour on Wednesdays at 12:30 p.m. for preschoolers. Families must register for the weekly event.

Around the corner from the toy store, another mother-daughter team runs a business with a lot of kid appeal. Gina Crabtree and her 14-year-old daughter, Ashley, opened 2 Chicks and a Cookie in April. The pair used to bake and decorate cookies at their Westerville home. They enjoy creating custom, nut-free cookies for birthday parties, weddings and special events, Gina Crabtree said.

The bakery regularly teams up with ZenKidz Play Cafe to offer cookie-decorating classes. ZenKidz, which opened a year ago, also offers art classes and other special events, including a monthly parents' night out. Owner Marina Rozen, a Westerville resident, wanted to create a gathering place for parents and children. The play cafe, located in the basement of an old church, offers a dress-up station, a play kitchen and much more. Rozen also sells coffee and snacks.

"I wanted it to feel like you were coming to a friend's house for a play date," she said.

The new businesses have helped bring more visitors to the shopping district, which prides itself on being kid-friendly, said Debbie Bennati, president of the Westerville Uptown Merchants Association and owner of A Gal Named Cinda Lou, a store that carries vintage goods and records.

"We always have families coming around and visiting," she said.

The new businesses also demonstrate how local shopkeepers are eager to work together to promote the area, she said. Local businesses and the city often partner with the Westerville Public Library, which has top-notch children's programming.

Shop owners are eager for families to visit Uptown, which offers a mix of shopping and dining opportunities, Bennati added.

For vintage and new housewares, visit My Cousin's Closet, Abbey Rose Boutique and Edwin Loy Home/De De & Dolly Boutique (the two stores share space).

Art collectors and aficionados will enjoy browsing at the Ohio Art Market, Shift Studios and Pure Roots Boutique. The stores stock an ever-changing mix of handmade goods.

Other unique stores include A Twist On Olives, which sells imported olive oil; Captivating Canines, a pet supplies store that regularly holds adoption events, and Amish Originals, which sells furniture made by Amish craftsmen.

Uptown dining options include the new Uptown Deli and Brew, which specializes in sandwiches made with quality deli meats, and Jimmy V's Grill & Pub, which serves sandwiches, salads and other pub foods.