In New York City, it is not unusual to find a day care center on the ground floor of a brownstone or high-rise, a situation that can force toddlers and tycoons to coexist side by side. In some instances, neighbors form a close bond with the business, while others might have a harder time making peace with teeter-tottering in the backyard next door.
For Wendy George-Bush, opening Weebee Kids Daycare was not only a strategic career move after the birth of her third child, it was a way to form a stronger connection to her community.
“The school crossing guard knows us, she refers a lot of people to the day care for us,” Ms. George-Bush said. “The man at the corner store — we go in there and the kids know him, they’ll purchase items,” she said, describing one of the day care’s organized neighborhood outings.
Ms. George-Bush, 46, a former school safety officer, said while there have been some in the neighborhood who didn’t like the idea of a business opening up in a residential space, most of the community has embraced Weebee Kids. She runs the facility — where on a recent day there were nine children ranging from five months old to preschool age — on the first floor of the Bedford-Stuyvesant home where her husband grew up.
“One parent lives a few blocks down, she rang my bell and said, ‘I have my grandbaby and I don’t have any Pampers.’ I said, ‘What size do you need?’ We always have them, we’re able to share.”
She said that the children also benefit from all that the neighborhood has to offer. “One time around the corner we met an African drummer, he was banging on the drums, the kids were just standing there watching him,” she said. “Then we did bucket drumming with the kids, out in the front of our building.”
One neighbor, Irene Taylor, 74, a retired New York City schoolteacher, noticed the day care and decided to get involved. “I introduced myself to Wendy, started talking to her and giving her advice. And I started to interact with the kids and talk to some of the parents. I see what she’s doing for the kids in the neighborhood.”
Ms. Taylor, known as “Mama” by the locals, has lived in Bed-Stuy since she was 16, with a foray to Georgia after she retired. “Without places like this, I don’t know what the neighborhood would be like,” she said.
A community facility like a day care is often permitted in a residential zone, said Rachaele Raynoff, press secretary at the Department of City Planning. But, she added, “regulations may differ based on the zoning district in which a building is located.”
Of course, day care centers aren’t always a welcome addition to a neighborhood. Jaime Lathrop, a lawyer in Park Slope, Brooklyn, who handles real estate litigation and transactions, said that parents, and particularly mothers, often see day care centers as appealing business ventures that make it possible to work while they have small children, and that might be eligible for state subsidies. But for some homeowners, it comes as an unhappy surprise when what they thought was a strictly residential building is suddenly home to a business that operates from early morning into evening.
“This is one of the many drawbacks to owning,” Mr. Lathrop said, as it is difficult to escape a home day care that opens in your building. “If you were renting, you could simply move without all the costs and headache and indirect taxation through transfer taxes.”
According to the state Office of Children and Family Services, any day care program that serves three or more children for more than three hours a day must obtain a license or registration certificate, and must show that it meets certain requirements related to its space and the ratio of students to staff. The state agency’s preliminary 2017 data show that out of approximately 10,500 day care centers operating in New York City, 6,720 were home-based.
In the Murray Hill section of Manhattan, Kara Turrisi Greenwood, 40, lives above Wee Ones Club, a preschool that she started as a Mommy and Me class in 2004 in the front room of the townhouse that her family owns. Initially, older community members in the neighborhood were not thrilled by the prospect of the Mommy and Me class. “They kept saying, ‘There’s an illegal day care running!’ Then the city would come in and say, ‘This is clearly not a day care, have a nice day,’” Ms. Turrisi Greenwood said.
The Mommy and Me class did not allow drop-off, diaper changing, food prep or dispensing of medication, activities that would require a license for the facility to either operate as a family day care that serves up to eight children, or a group-family day care that can accommodate up to 16 children.
Still, there were plenty of families in Murray Hill looking for the kind of services Ms. Turrisi Greenwood offered, and she had a hit on her hands. So she decided to expand, and obtained her license to run a group child care service. Then during a marathon two years of work and study, she earned a master’s degree in education at Bank Street College. Earning the degree seemed more cost-effective than hiring a salaried employee with the credentials, which allow her to enroll students from nursery school up to second grade. Soon she found she needed to expand into two neighboring townhouse buildings, which she bought. She connected the ground floor spaces by adding internal doorways.
Ms. Turrisi Greenwood has rented out the second and top floors of the buildings to other tenants. “You buy it, you mortgage it, you rent it out,” she said matter-of-factly.
During her time running Wee Ones Club, she married Kurt Greenwood, 42, a stay-at-home father to their sons, Fisher Greenwood, 6, and Hunter Greenwood, 4. Fisher graduated from Wee Ones Club, which Hunter currently attends. Living directly upstairs from the school can sometimes blur the lines between work and home life, but she wouldn’t have it any other way.
“When they were young I would run up and nurse the boys,” she said, “and then run downstairs and see, what cool thing can we do now?”
She has also formed close relationships with her tenants, including Stephanie Weldon Leimbacher, a psychotherapist and learning specialist in private practice, who occupies the top floor of the townhouse where Ms. Turrisi Greenwood lives.
“The preschool was one of the reasons I wanted to move here,” Ms. Weldon Leimbacher said. “It’s one thing if you’re in your 20s and you’re changing apartments all the time and going roommate to roommate. It’s another when you’re an adult and you need a space you can feel stable in.”
Another family, who opened an in-home day care center in their high-rise building in the Riverdale section of the Bronx, also initially met with resistance, but was eventually embraced by the community.
Jordana Levine’s landlord at first did not like the idea of her running a day care out of the apartment she shares with her husband, Glen Ross, 61, who now helps run the school, and their 10-year-old twins, Beriah and Mordechai Ross.
“He worried the neighbors might be upset,” Ms. Levine, 51, said of her landlord. There was good reason to be skeptical, since the couple lived on the third floor of the building, with neighbors above and below. “Then an apartment on the ground floor became available and he asked if we would be interested. We saw it and realized it would be great.”
The couple opened Morah Jordana’s Schoolhouse (Morah means teacher in Hebrew), accommodating no more than 12 children a day, from ages 6 weeks to 3 years old. All of their advertising has been word of mouth, and if a spot opens up, it is quickly filled. “The vision I had in mind was very warm and like a home,” she said.
Of course, this has meant making some alterations to their two-bedroom apartment. “We don’t have any adult furniture,” she said, explaining that the family uses a fold-up Ikea table that does double duty as a safety gate blocking off the kitchen when school is in session. “It’s a land of kids.”
For the first three years, Ms. Levine used her bedroom as a nap area, but now the bedrooms are no longer a part of the school. “One day it hit me, this is a crazy quality of life for me and my husband,” she said. She also stopped storing day care items in the twins’ room, reorganizing the hallway closet to suit her needs.
Ms. Levine, who described herself and her husband as “not neat,” said the day care has forced them to be more organized. Pack n’ Plays are stored in the hallway closet and brought out during rest time. When a baby fussed before falling asleep one recent day, she pulled out a large cardboard room divider to create a more tranquil area — and it worked.
The day care uses the building’s communal gated playground during the day, making sure to store all of the ride-on toys at the end of the day in an unfinished basement room that the building’s porters let them use. An older neighbor across the way often keeps her door open to feel more connected to the children, and has read to them on occasion.
Likening the operation of the day care to a theatrical performance, Ms. Levine said she and her husband set the stage each night so that they can open the doors in the morning, ready to greet their small customers. “Every day we have to be bright and create this loving atmosphere,” she said.
Getting the license to operate a day care has been life-changing for the couple as well. “This is the first time we’re self-supporting since we’ve been married. And that’s what I’ve wanted my whole life as an adult,” Ms. Levine said.
Now that her children are older, she hopes to get a commercial license to operate in a nonresidential space so she can move the business out of the apartment.
Even some young, single men see the benefits of living in a building with a day care center on the ground floor.
On the Lower East Side, Kevin Brosnan, 23, a client strategy manager at BounceX, saw the All My Children Daycare on the first floor of his six-story building as a boon. His roommates, Dennis Kennelly, 23, an analyst at Guggenheim Securities, and Matthew Killip, 24, a paralegal at Cahill Gordon & Reindel LLP, agreed. The roommates attended high school together in Manhattan and then reconvened post-college to rent their first apartment together.
“Our favorite neighborhood is the Lower East Side, and we really wanted our first apartment to be there, but we didn’t want to live above a bar,” Mr. Brosnan said.
Their balcony overlooks the backyard where the children play, so if one of them is home from work during the day, he is likely to hear the high-pitched squeals of tricycle-riding children.
For the three men, living above a day care center is just another one of those unique New York things.
“When people visit us, we tell them to look for the All My Children day care,” Mr. Brosnan said. “When the kids are coming in, it feels like being back in school. We saw the day care as a positive.”
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