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Fireworks sales sky-high amid virus

Eric and Cindy Lightner shop for fireworks at Brumbaugh Fireworks near Williamsburg on Friday. With many areas canceling municipal fireworks displays due to the coronavirus outbreak, more people are purchasing their own pile of pyrotechnics to set off their own shows at home. Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski

With widespread cancellations of community Independence Day celebrations nationwide due to social distancing mandates related to COVID-19, backyard fireworks use is expected to hit an all-time high this year.

More families than ever before are visiting the thousands of consumer fireworks retail sales establishments across the country to stock up on sparklers, cones, fountains and other varieties of consumer fireworks devices to bring the celebration home.

According to the American Pyrotechnics Association, consumer fireworks retailers have reported that sales are off to a record-breaking start.

“The APA predicts an all-time high in backyard consumer fireworks sales and use as families prepare to celebrate Independence Day at home due to the pandemic and cancellation of large public celebrations,” APA Executive Director Julie Heckman said in a statement.

Bruce Zoldan, CEO of Ohio-based Phantom Fireworks, said merchandise started flying off the shelves as soon as stores opened, with daily sales surging 200 percent to 400 percent higher than last year, The Detroit News reported. “As we opened stores, we saw this overwhelming demand for fireworks.”

Local fireworks dealers are doing well.

“Right now, I have sold 2¢ times more than last year. A lot of people have been doing graduation parties. Grandparents and parents — they are trying to do something special for the kids, “ said Gary Brumbaugh, owner of Brumbaugh’s Fireworks of Williamsburg.

“The pandemic is strange. We lost about 1¢ months of sales but it seems like (fireworks) is the new toilet paper — you have to buy before it runs out. It has actually increased our sales. Most of the big displays have been canceled. People have been buying to do displays in their backyards,” said Joyce Knepp, owner of Kylertown-based Kneppy’s Fireworks.

TNT Fireworks, which has several temporary locations in the Altoona area, has seen an increase in sales.

The uptick in sales can be attributed to a number of different factors, including the cancellation of traditional fireworks displays due to COVID-19 concerns, said spokeswoman Sherri Simmons.

“Sales are also higher when the Fourth of July holiday falls on a Saturday, as is the case this year,” Simmons said. “Customers are making their purchases earlier in many cases to avoid long lines closer to the holiday.”

Jack May, owner of Lancaster-based Keystone Fireworks, which also has several locations in the area, expects an increase in sales.

“Our expectation is that sales will be strong. The Fourth of July falling on a Saturday is the best day of the cycle for sales. People want to have their backyard patriotic celebrations. A lot of the large municipal displays have been canceled, so people are looking for an alternate way to celebrate the nation’s birthday,” May said.

Dealers running out

“Every time you turn around, supplies are out,” Brumbaugh said. “They tell you what is coming, but it can take five to eight days until it arrives. The hardest part has been keeping up with the demand.”

“We have temporary sales locations. We have to get permits to do what we do and a lot of townships have been closed. That created a challenge to get our permits and the paperwork necessary to operate,” May said.

The temporary locations can no longer sell the Class C consumer-grade fireworks such as firecrackers, Roman candles and bottle rockets that contain a maximum of 50 mg of explosive materials.

“We can’t sell anything that goes up in the air and goes bang. They have to be purchased in brick and mortar fireworks stores,” Knepp said.

Dealers are adhering to COVID-19 precautions.

“We are reminding our customers to maintain 6 feet social distancing, our clerks are instructed to wear masks, we have hand sanitizer at all locations for our clerks and customers. Depending on the size of the tent, we are only allowing 50 percent occupancy so we don’t have too many in the tent at one time,” May said.

“TNT Fireworks is adhering to all federal, state and local requirements regarding the sale of fireworks, as well as implementing COVID-19 best practices to help provide a safe work environment for employees and a safe shopping experience for customers,” Simmons said. “The TNT fireworks team has created several different shopping options to promote physical distancing and limit contact.”

Fireworks are safer today than they were years ago, according to the APA. Because of industry safety education efforts and the improving quality of its products, the fireworks-related injury rate is 56 percent lower than it was in 2000, the APA said.

“Safety is our top priority at Phantom Fireworks — particularly this year when retail indicators show that at-home fireworks use will sharply increase amid the global pandemic crowd restrictions and cancellation of public shows,” said Bill Weimer, vice president of Phantom Fireworks in a statement. “Fireworks and safety can go hand-in-hand, and we encourage all at-home users to take the time to understand how to properly use our products.”

Negative impact

Despite an expected increase in sales, the pandemic has had a significant negative impact on the industry.

According to the APA, the nationwide cancellations have created significant financial hardship for the small, multi-generational family businesses who derive their livelihood from bringing communities together to celebrate their pride and patriotism on one day a year — Independence Day.

For example, Brumbaugh, who typically does about 20 professional shows a year –including those at Lakemont Park and Duncansville Community Days — has only three events scheduled for this year.

“COVID-19 and the necessity for states, cities and townships to implement social distancing mandates has financially devastated the small family businesses who produce fireworks displays for community celebrations,” Heckman said.

Nationwide, about 150 small family businesses, many of which are multi-generational, comprise the American fireworks display industry. Unlike other small businesses, these businesses are unique because they earn their livelihood from producing fireworks displays for Fourth of July community celebrations.

“The fireworks industry is hyper-seasonal and without Independence Day celebrations, these family businesses aren’t just losing their bread and butter, but rather, their entire livelihood is severely impacted,” Heckman said.

Mirror Staff Writer Walt Frank is at 946-7467.

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