In an age when dual-income parents race between child care and jobs, Linda Mason sees her day-care business as an island of stability. With a large percentage of women working, many "neighborhoods are ghost towns," says Mason, cofounder of Bright Horizons. "Block parties, coffee klatches -- all those community-building events are gone."

Which is why Mason is positioning her centers as the "neighborhood of the '90s." Building on parents' inclination to linger at drop-off and pickup, Mason has designed each center with an inviting living room area. Saturday child-care seminars help parents deal with toddlerhood. At home parents can browse through a Bright Horizons newsletter, and there are barbecues and potluck parties sponsored by each center. And to bring parents closer to management issues, Mason created a parent advisory board. "We're trying to create a sense of community, which people miss today." Mason adds, "Plus these programs keep us in close touch with our customers."

-- Elizabeth Conlin

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