Tootaloo, Toddler Town

Lease squeeze forces Lake Stevens day care to close

By Theresa Goffredo

Herald Writer

LAKE STEVENS — Out of the mouth of 4-year-old Hallie came a poignant thought.

"We had better hide Toddler Town right away so nobody can find us."

But in the adult world, life’s more complicated than a game of hide-and-seek. In this instance, Toddler Town couldn’t hide from a much bigger opponent. And so the longtime child-care center, which had fought to remain in business, was forced to close Friday.

The children and parents of the 100 families who have come through the years to regard Toddler Town as their second home gathered for a somber ceremony to say goodbye after seven years at Frontier Village. Children, some of whom have spent significant parts of their young lives at Toddler Town, took dog-eared stuffed animals as mementos.

An exhausted and sad Diana Hendren, who started Toddler Town in 1994 with daughter Dana Weaver, tried to remain philosophical.

Hendren said society is going to have to make a choice to invest more in child care, whether it’s raising teachers’ salaries or showing greater respect to those in private industry who care for other people’s children.

In Toddler Town’s case, it appeared to be more important for a large corporation to make another million dollars a year in rent than to honor its lease and establish a lasting relationship in the community, Hendren said.

"It’s a sad situation all the way around," Hendren said by phone before Friday’s gathering. "Somebody is going to have to step up to the plate and answer to the parents who are asking.

"It doesn’t make sense to us," she said. "I imagine in the corporation’s scheme of things, it makes perfect sense to them."

Frontier Village is owned by CT Operating Partnership, Inc., based in Manhattan Beach, Calif. The spokesman for the company, Joe Paggi, didn’t return phone calls this week.

Five days before Christmas, Hendren and Weaver learned they were being asked to vacate the building to make way for a second Safeway food store at the north end of Frontier Village.

The women refused to relocate, saying their lease was valid until 2004. They pay $8,100 a month in rent, about $97,200 a year.

They sued in Snohomish County Superior Court, claiming Frontier Village’s owners ignored Toddler Town’s repeated attempts to renew its lease and were illegally trying to boot out the business.

After the lawsuit was filed, Hendren learned that Frontier Village owners were going to file an unlawful retainer Feb. 1, a document that would have sped the matter directly before a judge.

Hopeful for a speedy resolution, Hendren withdrew her lawsuit. But then in what appears to be legal wrangling, Frontier Village’s owners never filed the unlawful retainer.

Instead, on May 12 — just before Mother’s Day — the owners sent Toddler Town a notice to vacate by May 31.

Without a lawsuit, Hendren and Weaver weighed their options.

First, they still owed $2,000 to their attorney from the work he’d done on the original lawsuit. They could have refiled the suit, but figured it would have cost about $10,000, money they didn’t have.

The worst part about not refiling, Hendren said, is not getting her day in court. Her attorney, Matthew Green of Seattle, echoed Hendren’s frustration.

"There was no day in court where the judge had a chance to hear the evidence and ultimately rule Toddler Town, you are right, and the landlord is wrong," Green said. "And that probably won’t occur."

Because of money.

"In this day and age, to show that you’re right and the other side is wrong costs money," Green said.

Money also figured in Hendren’s and Weaver’s options to start another child care center. When they added up what it would cost to remodel another place to suit their needs, the bill came to $125,000. Also, getting permits to open a new center would have taken at least 60 days.

Hendren couldn’t trust her landlord to give her that kind of time, and she was adamant about giving her clients two weeks’ notice. She didn’t want to put parents in a position of choosing between their jobs and their children.

"I couldn’t do that to our parents. I couldn’t just put a sign on the door," Hendren said.

In the end, all 100 families have found accommodations for their children, Hendren said. Two other child care centers, Lake Stevens Christian &amp Daycare Preschool Academy, and Sherwood Learning Center, have offered to provide after-school care for some of the children.

Hendren said she has been too devastated to plan for the future. But parents know the future won’t be the same now that Toddler Town is gone.

"Thank you Diana and Dana at Toddler Town for all you did for our community," Kris Johnsen said in a letter. "We have lost something very special and, we will miss you."

You can call Herald Writer Theresa Goffredo at 425-339-3097

or send e-mail to

Talk to us

More in Local News

The Safeway store at 4128 Rucker Ave., on Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2023, in Everett, Washington. (Mike Henneke / The Herald)
Police: Everett Safeway ex-worker accused of trying to ram customers

The man, 40, was showing symptoms of psychosis, police wrote. Officers found him circling another parking lot off Mukilteo Boulevard.

Lynnwood Mayor Christine Frizzell speaks during a ribbon cutting ceremony to celebrate the completion of the 196th ST SW Improvement Project near the 196th and 44th Ave West intersection in Lynnwood, Washington on Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2023. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Jarred by anti-Semitic rants, Lynnwood council approves tax increase

Three people spewed hate speech via Zoom at a council meeting this week. Then, the council moved on to regular business.

The county canvassing board certifies election results at the Snohomish County Auditor’s Office in Everett, Washington on Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2023.  (Annie Barker / The Herald)
General election results stamped official by canvassing board

In Snohomish County, one hand recount will take place. Officials said ballot challenges were down this year.

The Days Inn on Everett Mall Way, which Snohomish County is set to purchase and convert into emergency housing, is seen Monday, Aug. 8, 2022, in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Over $130M for affordable housing set to be approved by County Council

The five-year investment plan of the 0.1% sales tax aims to construct 550 new affordable units.

Two snowboarders head up the mountain in a lift chair on the opening day of ski season at Stevens Pass Ski Area on Friday, Dec. 2, 2022, near Skykomish, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Ski season delayed at Stevens Pass due to minimal snow

Resort originally planned to open Dec. 1. But staff are hopeful this week’s snow will allow guests to hit the slopes soon.

Siblings Qingyun, left, and Ruoyun Li, 12 and 13, respectively, are together on campus at Everett Community College on Thursday, Oct. 19, 2023, in Everett, Washington. The two are taking a full course load at the community college this semester. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Siblings, age 12 and 13, are youngest students at EvCC campus

Qingyun Li was 11 when he scored a perfect 36 on the ACT test. His sister, Ruoyun, was one point away.

Edmond’s newly elected mayor Mike Rosen on Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2023 in Edmonds, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Mayor-elect Rosen wants to ‘make Edmonds politics boring again’

Mike Rosen handily defeated incumbent Mayor Mike Nelson. He talked with The Herald about how he wants to gather the “full input” of residents.

Graffiti covers the eastern side of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Snohomish County Cascade Unit on Friday, Dec. 1, 2023 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Again, Boys and Girls Club tagged with suspected gang signs in Everett

Residents on Cascade Drive say their neighborhood has been the scene of excessive graffiti and sometimes gunfire in the past year.

Pam and Ken Owens, of Granite Falls,  stop to take cell phone photos of the flooding along Lincoln Avenue on Monday, Nov. 15, 2021 in Snohomish, Washington. The couple were planing to take the road to Monroe for lunch.   (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
Brace for flooding: Weeklong storm to pummel Snohomish County

Weekend weather may pose problems as meteorologists project flooding near Snohomish and Monroe and officials plan for outages.

An STI clinic opened Friday, Dec. 1, 2023 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Free STI clinic opens in Everett after 14-year hiatus — and as rates spike

The county-run facility will provide treatment and resources for prevention of sexually transmitted infections.

Offloading ferry traffic is stopped to allow pedestrians to cross the street at the Edmonds ferry dock on Friday, Sept. 21, 2018 in Edmonds. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
2-ferry service restored on Edmonds-Kingston route — for a weekend

M/V Salish, one of the system’s smallest vessels, will fill in through Sunday after weeks of one boat on the route.

Marysville Pilchuck High School students talk with Snohomish County council members Jared Mead and Nate Nate Nehring during a Civic Engagement Day event hosted at the county campus on Thursday, Jan. 12, 2023 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
At Everett event, Mead, Nehring look to bridge partisan gap

Two Snohomish County Council members can pinpoint the day they really started talking about putting civility over partisanship. It was Jan. 6.

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.