2015-01-09 / Front Page

Computer crash kills Head Light sales

By Duke Harrington
Staff Writer

CAPE ELIZABETH — Looking at the results of the most recent tourist season at Portland Head Light, one might wonder if the haul, or lack thereof, might be a harbinger of a wavering economy.

After all, sales at the shop fell $14,000 for the July to-October period, when compared to the same timeframe last year, while ticket sales at the Head Light museum rose $4,600. That might seem to be an indication that people are looking, but not buying.

However, the real gremlin in the sales machine was an untimely computer crash.

According to Museum Director Jeanne Gross, the hard drive for the gift shop’s computer system crashed on the Saturday morning of Labor Day weekend. Data was recovered from a backup, but a new computer had to be purchased, which meant installing a new operating system and a new platform for the gift shop sales software. That and a second closure for a separate technical problem saw traffic from at least two cruise ships come and go while repairs were made.

“We were closed for a total of three days, estimating a loss of between $12,000 and $15,000 in sales,” wrote Gross in a Jan. 5 report to the Portland Head Light Board of Directors. “Purchases by cruise ship passengers continue to dominate the sales per season.”

The museum remained open while the gift shop was closed.

According to Gross, revenue at Portland Head Light gift shop totaled $400,000 for the most recent season, from July 1 to Oct. 31. That was down from $414,000 for the same timeframe in 2013.

Meanwhile, museum admission went the other way, from $40,000 last year to $44,600 this year, Gross said.

The museum also collected $33,000 in parking fees from tour buses entering Fort Williams Park. However, that money goes to the town for its capital improvement fund covering the entire 50-acre park and does not accrue directly to the Head Light.

An annual audit of books at Portland Head Light for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2014, shows the historic site lost $11,804.

According to Gross’ report, the facility took in $564,212 for the last fiscal year, versus $568,816 in costs.

Head Light revenue for fiscal year 2014 included $1,628 in investment income, $49,992 in museum admissions, $509,824 in gift shop sales and $2,768 in miscellaneous revenue, largely in the form of coins pumped into pay-per-use binoculars at the site.

Expenses included $213,866 for operations and payroll, $277,953 spent to stock the gift shop, and $76,977 in capital improvements to the site.

With the difference between income and expense being in the red by just $4,604, most of the $11,804 loss was in the form of $7,200 transferred from the museum to the town’s general fund for administrative and financial support.

Although technically independent from the town of Cape Elizabeth, The Museum at Portland Head Light does not keep a separate bank account, according to Gross, while the town council sits as its board of directors.

On Monday, Town Council Chairman Katharine Ray was elected to lead the Head Light board, while Councilor Jim Walsh was chosen as vice president. Gross will serve as board secretary, while Town Manager Michael McGovern will continue as treasurer.

McGovern said a review of the board’s bylaws is anticipated, with an eye to putting election of officers in line with the start of the fiscal year, as opposed to the calendar year.

According to the 2014 audit, the Head Light has total assets of $617,233, which includes $115,638 in gift shop inventory and $501,595 in an interfund loan receivable from the town’s general fund. It has no current liabilities.

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