Not sure on shops in your area but any decent camera store should be able to allow you to handle a camera with a disc in it that they provide. BUT, they are getting hard to find. I would imagine that most shops will NOT allow you to bring your own as there are a few "folks" out there who would get their kicks out of installing viruses etc to the camera just to do harm. So the store is protecting their investment as well. The other option is to search for a camera club in your area and see if you can work with a few of the members to let you handle their equipment. If I am with someone, I have no problem letting them try my stuff. They don't take it home of course and I supply the cards.
As for VR, remember, everything on a camera is a tool. For hand held, many of the VR systems today are very good but I find that I still get much better quality pictures with a tripod and no VR. I am pretty sure by the sounds of things you can list the trade offs you must make between both styles of shooting. VR hand held, slightly decreased sharpness (if you can see it), still have to have enough light to get a fast enough shutter. Tripod, slow set up, can shoot with many shutter speeds as long as your subject allows it, etc. That said, you also must define for yourself quality. Not as easy as you think. If you are looking to put an 8x10 on the wall or id a bird from a distance, your concept of quality will be much different than someone trying to produce studio shots. I can display images on the internet that many think are super sharp but when blown up to a larger size, say 12x16, the digital noise from heavy cropping my show and not allow me to print that size. So quality is what you are trying to obtain. I for the most part do agree with the lens being more important than the camera but in today's world, that line is blurring. With the increase in sensitivity and accuracy of the sensors, it is INCREDIBLE the amount of detail and resolution you can obtain from the new cameras. With old sensors, they could rarely match the resolution that the lens could provide. Today, that is not always the case. Some of the sensors today can resolve better then the cheaper lenses on the market. I do agree all the bells and whistles are nice but not needed. So if you camera is 4-5 years old, changing may provide a good up grade if you are shooting a lenses with excellent clarity. My advise, buy the best you can afford. Learn it well.