Kamas daycare closes, leaving families ‘scrambling’
AristoCat Children’s Academy was one of few options in South Summit
A typical workday for Kamas resident Paul Boyle used to involve getting out of the house with his 2-year-old around 8 a.m. to drop her off at daycare, after which he’d hop on the bus headed into Park City for a day at the office.
“It was great,” he said, adding that the daycare the family used, AristoCat Children’s Academy, was within easy walking or biking distance of their home.
That comfortable routine was unexpectedly upended a few weeks ago when the daycare announced it would be going out of business.
Its last day was scheduled to be Friday.
“It was a stressful couple weeks,” Boyle said of the time after the announcement last month.
He and his wife both work 9-to-5 jobs, he said, and had a spot reserved at AristoCat for their infant, as well. The announcement left them with 30 days to find child care.
“We kind of were scrambling,” he said.
The family discussed joining with others to start a “nannyshare” arrangement that would rotate between houses, rearranging their working hours around daycare options and applying to the daycares they could afford in the Park City area.
“We were just kind of like, ‘Oh my God, we’re number 45 on a long waiting list and we have two kids that we have to get care for,’” he said. “It was just sort of like, ‘Well, we’ve done everything we can, we’re on every waiting list and we’re just going to throw our hands in the air.’”
Luckily, they found a place at an in-home daycare in Kamas, which Boyle called a “godsend.”
“That’s the most stressful part: you have no idea (what’s going to happen),” he said. “AristoCats took tens of kids. It’s one of two or three legit daycares in the Kamas Valley, we got lucky getting a spot. And there are tens of kids, I don’t know what the other parents are going to figure out.”
AristoCat founder Jacie Butters said hers was the only commercial — as opposed to in-home — child care center in the area. She started the business 11 years ago and has since expanded it to Heber. The Kamas location employed eight people and provided care for 63 children, with frequent waiting lists for younger children and infants.
“I just can’t afford the rent anymore,” Butters said in an interview. She said the monthly rent was set to increase to $6,000. When she first opened in that location, at 55 N. Main St., eight years ago, the rent was $2,400, though it had gone up in the interim.
Jeff Camp, president of the LLC that owns the building and land as well as an adjoining half-block of Main Street, declined to say how much the rent was set to rise, offering that it was “not a significant increase.” He said AristoCat had been paying below-market-value rent for years, partly because of improvements that the business made to the building.
He said it was a surprise when Butters pulled out of a rental agreement they had negotiated.
“I very much wanted AristoCats to stay there,” he said. “I think it’s much needed for this town.”
Camp and Butters offered differing accounts of the specifics that led to the daycare’s exit, but both said the fact that Camp couldn’t offer more than a one-year lease played into the decision.
Camp said he received approval from Kamas to redevelop his holdings that stretch north from the corner of Main Street and Center Street, across from the Chevron gas station and Kamas Theater.
The proposal entails a multi-story mixed-use development with restaurants or commercial businesses on the ground floor and apartments above.
He said his goal was to redevelop in phases to be able to keep the AristoCat building intact for as long as possible, but he wasn’t sure if the city would allow that, so he couldn’t offer a lease for more than one year.
He also said he had been in talks with another prospective tenant who had expressed interest in opening a daycare there.
Butters indicated she didn’t blame Camp for raising the rent, that it was a natural move for an investment property owner.
“He’s not been mean, he’s not been hateful, he’s not threatening me in any way,” she said. “He just wants his money and I can’t give it to him. That’s just where our relationship ends, unfortunately.”
It’s the second time in four months that a Main Street entity closed its doors after a rent increase. In May, the only food pantry in Kamas shut down after paying below-market-rent for years.
Butters said she was able to offer jobs to all eight of the employees at the Kamas facility and that five would be transitioning to the location in Heber, a 15- or 20-minute drive away.
Butters is from the area and said she was looking to relocate the daycare in the Kamas Valley but that the best locations were build-to-suit options, where it would take a couple of years to open.
“In that time, I would be basically starting from ground zero again. I don’t know that I will do that,” she said. “It really hurts. I have literally invested everything I have financially and emotionally into this business. It just sucks that I got stuck in the crossfire with all these families that have nowhere to go.”
She said some families whose children went to AristoCat have found in-home child care centers, like the Boyles, while others have decided to stay home with their children.
Boyle indicated the daycare was a boon for the area.
“AristoCats follows a very reasonable schedule for working families,” he said, contrasting it with Park City-area facilities that might close for two weeks around the holidays or only offer care in the middle of the day.
He also indicated that the cost was reasonable.
Butters said a month of daycare ranged from $700 to $1,080, depending on age.
Some Park City-area daycares could cost $1,800 per month, Boyle said.
Though some homes in the area sell for $800,000 or $1 million, Boyle said, the Kamas Valley is home to many people of more modest means.
“There’s actually a lot of just working families here where both parents work,” he said. “Some of the parents might work two jobs, that’s the reality of the Kamas Valley. It’s not Park City yet. … To have a resource like this be pulled out from under your feet could be really stressful.”
Correction: This story has been updated to indicate the daycare costs were monthly and not weekly.
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