February 12, 2009

Lucy-Desi Center Layoffs Leave Only Skeleton Crew Left

As reported by Kristen Johnson of The Jamestown Post Journal, The Lucy-Desi Center of Jamestown, NY cut staff in half on Monday morning and leaves only a "Skeleton Crew" in place.

Mike Latone, the president of the center's board of directors, said the center "has basically laid off half the staff."

"It is absolutely horrible when you have to lay people off," Latone said. "The worst economic downtrend in decades finally caught up with the center and we had to respond. To be honest, the economic trends caught us behind the 8 ball."

Latone said the board has "absolutely no plans whatsoever" to close any of the center's facilities.

The decision to reduce the center's staff comes early in Latone's tenure as board president. Latone was appointed to the center's board of directors in late October and was made president after C. Edward Fagan, a local attorney, resigned from that post in mid-December.

"It's so hard when you have to come in and lay someone off and say, 'Look, I'm taking away your livelihood,'" Latone said. "But it had to be done. To be honest, this probably should have been done in November."

Latone declined to say exactly how many employees were affected by the layoffs and how many remain employed by the center. The layoffs affected employees of the center's museums and gift shop. The center's board of directors discussed the possibility of layoffs at length during a recent board meeting, Latone said, and made their decision "based on the state of our cash flow."

He described the center's financial state as "a little fragile."

"You have to look at the economics of the situation," Latone said. "Any business has to be able to pay its bills and its employees. That's just a basic business model. When the economy goes south, people are faced with a choice of paying their mortgage and buying groceries or spending money on museum visits and memorabilia. Traveling to see a museum really isn't at the top of anybody's list right now. We've got to be responsible and respond to that."

Latone said sales at the center's gift shop are down. Sales through the center's mail-order gift shop, he said, are "a third of what they have been."

"We didn't have the Christmas sales that we thought we would, and that is due to the economy," he said. "(In January, it) cost us five times more than we generated in revenue to keep the museums open. We just couldn't keep the hours and the level of staffing we had when sales had plummeted. It just doesn't make sense. Read the news - the story is the same everywhere."

The problem likely won't be solved in the short-term, Latone said. He said board members anticipate that February and March will be "very tough months."

"We really consider this a little hiccup," he said. "We will pull back a little, take a look at things, and decide how best to move forward."

In an effort to save money, the operating hours for the center's museums and gift shop have been restructured. The gift shop and mail order business will operate Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Through April 1, the Lucy-Desi Museum and the Desilu Playhouse will be open only on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., though Latone said the hours would be adjusted should any large tour groups wish to visit.

"At the end of March, we'll take a hard look at where we are and go from there," he said. "Should things pick up, we fully plan on asking those who were laid off to come back. But our goal is as it must be - to continue operations in the face of hard economic times. We will remain open, but we've got to be responsible."

Pat Smith, who had been serving as the center's interim executive director, left her post at the end of January - a decision directly related to the center's financial situation. Her contract with the center was set to expire at the end of this month, but as the center's financial situation worsened, Smith was asked to resign early.

"They asked me to resign early in order to conserve revenue, and I of course agreed," Smith said. "I know that decision, along with the layoffs, are hard decisions to make. But they just had to be made."

Lee Harkness, a member of the center's board of directors, said there is currently no executive director in place at the center.

The center has hired human resources specialist Richard A. Koerner to help the center search for a permanent executive director.

"We've gotten probably 100 applicants, and I have to say I'm pleased with the caliber of the applicants," Latone said. "They're coming from all over the United States. We really have some promising leads. I think things will look up for us in the future."

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