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Day care shares a work site

A graphics company at the western edge of the city recently started a day-care business, kind of an odd combination but a great way to diversify, according to the owner.

"We don't make anything that is a necessity," said Paul Fintak of Telstar Graphics Inc. "We wholesale personalized (items) to gift shops. If the economy is tough . . . our business fluctuates. Day care is a necessity because families have to have two people working."

Telstar personalizes stationery, address books, daily planners and journals to be sold in various retail stores. It is in a 52,000-square-foot building at 2401 72nd St. N, part of which is a warehouse.

This is the fourth location for Telstar, which is a family business run by Paul and Carol Fintak and their two sons, Michael and Gregory. It started in their home in 1972. The current building is large enough for future expansion of the printing business, has enough room to lease warehouse and office space to several tenants and still can accommodate the four day-care rooms and the five more plus a recreation room now under construction.

Day-care regulators checked all of the work that goes on in the building, including that of the tenants, to make sure there was nothing that could harm children, said Fintak, who is 59.

What actually put the day-care idea in his mind was the difficulty his daughter-in-law had finding a place.

"She was traveling across St. Petersburg just to get to a day-care center she liked," he said.

Cozy Corner Learning Center started in August and already has 27 students in the 41 spots for which it is licensed. Additional ones will be enrolling Monday. New classrooms will be ready in January or February, and the number will increase. Another teacher starts Monday bringing the staff total to eight, including center director Chrisy Nolle.

"We are in the process of hiring people," Nolle said. That includes assistants and people licensed in day-care work. While the day-care industry calls its staff members teachers, not all have college degrees or teaching certificates, Fintak said. They must have day-care licensing, which means they have taken courses and have passed a background check by the state.

Cozy Corner takes children ages 2 months to 5 years. Kids are separated by age in classrooms, though the infant room is more of a nursery. A library features books, computers and other resources. Its users are small enough that their colored chairs are not even as large as the computers on which they work.

They have access to outdoor playgrounds also.

Already parents from nearby companies have enrolled their children, both Nolle and Fintak said.

In one corner of each classroom is an area marked off by a semicircle. Here lamps provide softer lighting than the overhead, and a overstuffed chair offers a cozy corner where kids can gather with their teacher for some quiet time. Thus, the center's name.

Parents get a log of their children's time, activities and behavior each day.

Teachers use an instruction book that gives each month a theme, prompting the crafts and other activities the children do.

"This is designed to be a learning center," Fintak said. One of his grandchildren attends. "We are not just baby sitting. We want the children prepared for preschool and kindergarten."

Fintak said he and his family, who also work in the printing business, spent about a year planning the day-care center. He got a loan of nearly $150,000 from the Small Business Administration to build out the classrooms that are decorated with colorful rugs, learning charts, student craft and artwork. The company will open a second day-care center at 3551 42nd Ave. S in mid October. Plans call for tutoring to be offered there also, probably in math and English.

"We want to open a day-care center every year," he said discussing the family's plan. "Now we are doing two day-care centers in a three- to four-month span."

He says St. Petersburg will fill his slots because it no longer is strictly a retirement haven. Eventually the Fintaks want to offer a baby-sitting service on Friday and Saturday nights so parents can get time for themselves. Parents already using the center during the week like that idea, he said.

"In the Christmas season, we can offer Saturday afternoons. People can drop the kids off here and go Christmas shopping. We had one man who said, "What about Monday night football?' "

Prices at Cozy Corner vary according to a child's age. Infants are $165 per week; 1-year-olds, $145; 2-year-olds, $105, and 3- and 4-year-olds, $100 per week. Included in the charge are breakfast and two snacks; parents pack lunches for their kids.

Fintak said if he can get enough parents interested in paying $20 per week per child, he will have the lunches catered.

He tours the classrooms frequently to allow the children to get to know him. He is accustomed to the small ones because of his six grandchildren, ages 2 to 8 years. He thinks it is good for the kids to see a man in their day-care center. One of the teachers also is male. He is what they call a floater and deals with all of the kids at different times.

Eventually, there might be some crossover between Cozy Corner and Telstar. Fintak said his wife has a lot of story lines she has used with the grandchildren that might make good books for the center. Telstar could print them.