Fireworks have been booming across the country, as revelers with pent-up energy and spare change have engaged in their own Independence Day pyrotechnics.
With fireworks companies reporting as much as a 400% increase in sales over last year, it appears plenty of folks have purchased the means to watch bombs bursting in air — almost nightly in some areas of the country, according to media reports.
Eric Adams, president of the Brooklyn borough of New York City, said in a June 21 press release that its 311 service logged 1,737 complaints about fireworks in the first half of June — an 80% increase from the same period last year.
Capt. Greg Pixley of the Denver Fire Department said his agency has been receiving an increased number of complaints about fireworks, even though only professional fireworks displays are legal and scofflaws could be subject to a $999 fine and jail time.
“The fact that there are no public displays due to COVID is creating an issue,” Capt. Pixley said. “We are working to continue to reduce transmission of the virus by not having these large displays.”
Indeed, dozens of cities, including Philadelphia, San Francisco and Tampa, have announced cancellations or postponements of their massive Fourth of July fireworks shows and parades to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
At-home pyrotechnics can provide a recourse for celebrants to enjoy the annual spectacle in the absence of large, official displays, says William Weimer, vice president of Phantom Fireworks, a retail chain based in Youngstown, Ohio.
“It’s a release. It’s an opportunity for people to get their families together. It’s easy to do a neighborhood fireworks show with people in their own yards,” Mr. Weimer said.
Nonetheless, he stresses that his company is encouraging its customers to be safe and courteous when using its products.
“Don’t shoot fireworks late at night. Shoot them on the weekends, not on weekdays. Let your neighbors know when you’re going to shoot fireworks,” Mr. Weimer said, noting that the blasts of firecrackers and bottle rockets can be frightening to children, pets and some veterans.
Capt. Pixley said his “messaging this year has been to respect your neighbor as you have by wearing your mask to reduce transmission of the COVID-19 virus, respect your neighbor by not using illegal fireworks in the city and county of Denver.”
Sales of fireworks have been “off the hook,” says Julie Heckman, executive director of the American Pyrotechnics Association.
“Some retailers are saying they are up 200%, 400% as compared to the exact same time period last year, and we are just beginning the peak time that people buy fireworks,” Ms. Heckman said.
Last year, consumer fireworks generated $1 billion in revenue for the fireworks industry according to the American Pyrotechnics Association, which promotes safety and education in the industry.
Although the fireworks season has gotten off to an early start, retailers say it almost didn’t happen.
Mr. Weimer says his team became “a pretty frightened group” as showrooms closed and employees began working from home in the spring.
The loss of the season, which typically runs from Memorial Day to the Fourth of July, would have meant a near-zero revenue for Phantom Fireworks for 2020.
“In the fireworks business, there is no ‘Fifth of July,’” Mr. Weimer said.
In the interim, the company created an online ordering system, something it’s never offered, in just six weeks. Mr. Weimer said he thought that’s what the industry’s whole season would look like.
In mid-May, states began to lift restrictions on businesses, meaning fireworks showrooms could operate at limited capacities.
Now, Mr. Weimer said that Phantom Fireworks’ showrooms have people waiting in line to get in — and not just because of social distancing.
“The business was more than we could possibly have imagined. We didn’t get the business back. We got the business back and then some,” he said.
Mr. Weimer says this year is the strongest start to the season his company has ever had. His business isn’t the only one.
“Every retailer I talk to says the same thing, that they are crazy busy I have to blame it on the pandemic,” Ms. Heckman said.
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