New Day Care Copes With Love A Lot’s Legacy

First Steps Director Luz WhetstoneLaura Edwins The director of First Steps, Luz Whetstone, teaches a youngster. The daycare has struggled to attract parents in the aftermath of another preschool’s abrupt closing in the same location.

A new daycare on Clinton Street is struggling to attract parents who remain wary thanks to the previous occupant: the notorious Love A Lot preschool.

After eight months in operation, First Steps only has 12 preschool students, and director Luz Whetstone said parents and city officials are still asking questions about Love A Lot. “We still get the residuals of it, I guess,” Ms. Whetstone said. “The Labor Department came by and we had to show them our tax ID and show them that we have no affiliation with Love A Lot. We didn’t just change the name. We’re really a legit business.”

But parents still remember the mess that led to the Clinton Street location of Love A Lot closing in July due to financial struggles and a variety of Department of Health violations including the lack of an educational director, the inability to provide documentation of staff medical records, and failure to screen staff.

In October, the Suffolk Street location of Love A Lot abruptly shut down, leaving parents and employees claiming they were owed thousands of dollars by the day care’s owner, Olga Bosio.

The troubled legacy still lingers, despite Ms. Whetstone remodeling the space and hiring teachers and staff with no ties to Love A Lot.

“A lot of the parents who were coming in for tours were saying, ‘You’re sure you’re not Love A Lot? Are you sure it’s not Olga?’” Ms. Whetstone said, later adding, “By now we should have more kids.”

First Steps AcademyLaura Edwins

One of the two lawsuits Ms. Bosio faced in the wake of the fiasco has been resolved, according to court records. A Department of Labor investigation into Love A Lot is ongoing, and attempts to reach Ms. Bosio were unsuccessful.

Still, even in the immediate aftermath of Love A Lot’s closure, some bitter parents conceded that the preschool provided a great environment for their kids. In fact, First Steps actually reminded at least one parent of some of Love A Lot’s best qualities.

“To be perfectly honest, First Steps felt a lot like Love A Lot, which was really appealing, because they did do a great job at hiring good teachers who had good lesson plans,” said Isca Greenfield-Sanders, an artist (and daughter of the photographer Timothy Greenfield-Sanders) whose youngest child attended Love A Lot and now goes to First Steps. “First Steps does all of that, but they’re properly managed and transparent, which was the problem with Love A Lot. It was run by someone who was dishonest, and who did everything behind a veil.”

Ms. Greenfield-Sanders added that First Steps has already taken steps toward transparency, like hosting a meeting for parents to talk to the owner, Mike Araj, a former economics professor who also owns Friends and Family Daycare in the Upper East Side.

But even satisfied parents admitted that it would be a challenge for First Steps to emerge from Love A Lot’s shadow. “It’s unfortunate,” said Max Nova, an East Second Street resident whose son attends First Steps. “Because [Ms. Bosio] really did a lot to taint the trust of parents in the neighborhood, and made them think twice about sending their kids to these facilities.”