Like many small business owners, Lisa Montalto is doing everything she can to stay afloat during the uncertain times created by the coronavirus pandemic.
Once Upon A Time Preschool & Day Care has been serving children from six weeks to 12 years old since 2012 on Peekskill Hollow Road in Putnam Valley. Prior to being forced to shut down temporarily on March 13, approximately 60 full and part-time students were enrolled.
Since that time, through a partnership with the Putnam Valley School District, only four children of essential workers have been cared for daily at Once Upon A Time.
“I’m trying to be optimistic,” Montalto said Friday. “I’m seeing forward movement. My goal is to be open.”
Montalto, who is secretary of the Hudson Valley Gateway Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors and soon-to-be vice chair, is preparing to try to reopen cautiously following Governor Andrew Cuomo’s phased approach for children of essential workers only.
Last week, Montalto penned a letter to Cuomo offering to be “a test site for protocol and policy” since she feels the childcare/preschool industry has been lost in the shuffle of businesses adversely affected by COVID-19 and regulations being put into place by the state.
“I have set up the framework to move forward but would truly appreciate the chance to have assistance in ensuring that I am doing the best I possibly can for the children in my charge out of RESPECT for the families, the children and the community as well,” Montalto wrote.
“We are essential workers with quite an important role,” she continued. “We put parent’s minds at ease while they are on the front lines and in the trenches allowing them to have focus on the task at hand. Please understand that this by no means is a criticism but rather an observation that I believe needs to be addressed when things calm down.”
Once Upon A Time was successful in obtaining a few federal small business loans to help Montalto in the short-term but she stressed one of those loans will have to be paid back. “The equivalent of a business ventilator is what they are,” she said.
A letter Montalto mailed to parents in mid-April requesting partial payment of their annual contract was met with mixed reactions. She explained she was simply trying to receive enough funds to cover monthly expenses, such as rent, taxes, insurance and utilities that continue to be due despite the drastic drop in enrollment.
“Some places are able to close because they’re supported by a church or a synagogue. Some are corporate run. I think it was a fair way to maintain their contract,” Montalto said. “There’s no profit being made here. You have to be very creative and see how you will be able to maintain the business so you will be there when this is over.”
Another major concern Montalto has is having access to cleaning supplies on a regular basis.
“How do I maintain everyone’s safety and the same level of cleanliness?” Montalto said. “If I run out of cleaning supplies, I can’t stay open. Nobody will just be able to open their doors and say welcome back.”
Once Upon A Time normally runs a nine-week summer camp program for approximately 35 children and Montalto is planning to start accepting applications soon. This year’s theme is the Renaissance.
“Our first and foremost reaction to things is nurturing. Now we’re being asked to overlook that and not be nurturing,” Montalto said. “Make me work smarter than harder. There’s a lot to take into account.”