New preschool and childcare center opens in Como

A revitalized storefront near Como Park is hopping with preschoolers these days.
The building at 1503 N. Hamline Ave., just south of Hoyt Ave., is the new home of the Como Park Language and Arts Preschool and Childcare Center. Owners/teachers Laurie Erickson and Nancy Shellum are offering year-round half-day or full-day programs, two to five days a week, for children ages 33 months to five years.

At right, Nancy Shellum and Laurie Erickson have moved from St. Anthony Park to Como Park when they opened the Como Park Language and Arts Preschool and Childcare Center. (Photo by Roger Bergerson)
“We’re really excited to get started and gratified with the reception we’ve received from our new neighbors,” Erickson said. “They’re glad to see some activity in the building. It’s become a very lively place.”
The site on the northwest corner of Hamline and Nebraska avenues originally was a grocery store and meat market. Over the years it has housed a barbershop, garage- door repair and installation shop, the Sally Marie Gallery and a nursing-staffing agency. It has been vacant in recent years.

Erickson and Shellum had offered a similar preschool program at St. Anthony Park United Methodist Church, 2200 Hillside Ave., in the St. Anthony Park neighborhood, but wanted to expand their curriculum. They needed a fenced yard and space for a children’s rest area in order to do so, things that weren’t available at the church.

They didn’t take possession of 1503 Hamline Ave. N. until Aug. 1, so with the start of the new school year looming, the entrepreneurs felt some pressure to get up and running. A change in zoning classification was required in order to operate an educational facility on the site, as well as city building and fire inspections.

But the biggest potential roadblock was with the state Department of Human Services, where a backlog of license applications was made worse by the state government shutdown this past summer.

Erickson and Shellum credit state Rep. Alice Hausman (District 66B) and state Sen. Mary Jo McGuire (District 66) for supporting a women-owned business and helping expedite a licensing process that could have otherwise taken a year.

“It was nail-biting time,” Shellum said of the period.

With the help of friends and family they were able to accomplish the necessary remodeling, including the addition of a bathroom and a breakfast/lunch preparation area, and decorating in only three weeks.

Erickson’s daughter, Ali, who will likely pursue a career in graphic design, created a logo for the enterprise.

Erickson has a master’s degree in family education and is a licensed early childhood educator, while Shellum has a degree in Spanish language and foreign studies. Besides their teaching duties, Erickson is responsible for curriculum development and Shellum functions as the center’s business manager.

They intend to make maximum use of the large enclosed yard to the north of the building for exercise, as well as nearby Como Park. Erickson, a dedicated gardener, plans to use a plot on site to involve children in hands-on learning, tending and gathering produce for cooking. There will also be language, art, music and science activities.

They love the location, across the street from Chelsea Heights Elementary School, which some of the children from the preschool and childcare center will likely attend.

Given the late start, the center’s initial enrollment will fall short of the goal of 30 students. When the enrollment reaches 20, Erickson and Shellum plan to hire another teacher.

As with any start-up business, Erickson and Shellum face a lot of work to get established. Now that the initial dust has settled, however, “We can cut back to nine-hour days!” Shellum exclaimed.

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Roger Bergerson is a former newspaper reporter and longtime Como Park resident.