In 1989, Steve Chernicky was trying to find a playhouse for his daughter. He ended up with a completely new line of work and international notoriety.
Mr. Chernicky of Peters owns Lilliput Play Homes, which has a retail store in Peters and a shop in Union. He said the store does "between $1 [million] and $1.5 million [worth of business], which equates to about 100 playhouses" per year, which it sells all over the world. While he designs the houses, the staff of 15 builds them.
While it's known primarily for its residential playhouses, Lilliput Play Homes also offers commercial playhouses for hotels, day cares and small amusement parks -- "it could be a firehouse, grocery story, pirate ship, doctor's office" or whatever a customer wants, Mr. Chernicky said.
The retail store in Peters can host birthday parties as well.
"During the week we allow children to come in and play while Mom can socialize with her friends," he said.
Mr. Chernicky said that he wanted to encourage "creative play, imaginative play" in young children.
The average cost is between $5,000 and $20,000, but "We'll build playhouses between $50,000 and $100,000."
Mr. Chernicky has a background in masonry and worked in that field for many years.
"I had a daughter -- she was 2 years old -- and my wife and I were looking for a playhouse," Mr. Chernicky said. "My wife and I love old houses, and in the garage we built a Victorian mansion. It wasn't very good carpentry."
But "people liked it, so then I built one for my nephew."
A side venture was thus born, and in 1990 he took a house to the Pittsburgh Home & Garden Show. In 1995 Mr. Chernicky decided to build playhouses full time.
He incorporated formally two years later -- just in time for a call from Oprah Winfrey.
Her show was doing a story on celebrity houses and noted some of the celebrities' playhouses as a sidelight. "They called one [day and asked], 'Can you be here Friday?' We packed up and drove to Chicago, and we were featured."
Things blew up from there; this happened "before the days of the Internet," Mr. Chernicky noted. "The phones rang off the wall."
Since then, stories have been published in USA Today and the Wall Street Journal.
"We had a request to build a playhouse and swing set that looked like the Kremlin," Mr. Chernicky said. "We shipped it to Russia, and I think it's in a park [there]."
A few months ago, the firm caught the attention of MultiView, a Dallas-based digital publisher that is producing "Good Company," a series of Web-based documentary programs exploring the businesses of some of America's most unusual entrepreneurs. The episode featuring Lilliput Play Homes is scheduled to air this month.
"They spent two days in early October filming," Mr. Chernicky said.
"We're going to the heart of American business and highlight the American dream," said Callie Cady, communications director for MultiView. "They actually have a niche market that they see, [and] with that, they're providing jobs in the area."
The globetrotting ways are continuing.
"We just came back from Dubai," Mr. Chernicky said. "We have to go to Pakistan in a couple of weeks."
Rick Nowlin: email@example.com or 412-263-3871.
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