Downtown Summerville day-care center closing a chapter of history

Friday is the last day this bus will pick up children after school and bring them to the Child Care Center of Summerville. The center by Azalea Park is closing after 45 years of caring for kids.

A downtown Summerville institution is closing its doors this week.

Friday is the last day of business for the Child Care Center of Summerville, which has been watching the town’s children for 45 years.

“We keep children now that we had their parents as children,” said co-director Robin Knox, a retired nurse. “And that says a lot for us, that they have fond memories and want to bring their children back.”

Parents were notified early last week, and of course they were disappointed, said Eddie Taylor, who was picking up 11-month-old twins Benjamin Edward and Levi James. He and his wife signed them up before they were born.

“We were on a one-year waiting list to even get in,” said Taylor, who lives in Gahagan and works for Charleston Exteriors. “This was the place to bring your children in Summerville.”

Barbara Smith, Knox’s mother, started taking children into her home by Azalea Park in 1967. Knox took over the center in 1993 when she retired as an operating-room nurse. Now Smith lives in the house and the children are in a building behind it, beside a playground and a garage that serves as offices.

Knox’s husband, Larry Knox, starting helping out at the center when he retired as a network manager for AT&T in 2008.

He drives a little white bus that picks up children from four local elementary schools and takes them to the center. He knows all of them by first name when they run up to him for some attention.

“We’re kind of keeping it positive,” he said. “We’re looking forward to maybe doing a little bit of traveling and just being retired.”

About four dozen children are enrolled. The center is staying open until Friday because that’s the last day of school in District 2, he said.

The center is closing not only because the Knoxes are ready to retire for real but because it’s getting too hard to compete with day-care centers backed by corporations or big churches, Robin said.

“Small private centers like ours, we are not a thing of the future, I don’t believe,” she said.

They plan to keep the property, at least as long as her mother is living in the house. They will probably take down the chain-link fence and playground equipment and renovate the two buildings behind the house into rental cottages.

Robin acknowledges that not everybody in town is sad that the center is closing. They clashed with the YMCA several years ago when they set up sale tables during the Flowertown Festival, which the YMCA sponsors.

Current zoning wouldn’t allow a business there at all; they’re grandfathered in.

“It’s very difficult to sit in Azalea Park,” Robin said. “The town would love to see us gone.”

Reach Dave Munday at 937-5553.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story misspelled the last name of Robin and Larry Knox. The Post and Courier regrets the error.