Fireworks' roar makes cash registers beep

Fireworks' roar makes cash registers beep

July 1st, 2011 by Ellis Smith in Business Around the Region

Georgia law

Residents may set off only low-power fireworks, including:

• Wire or wood sparklers with 100 grams of explosive or less per item

• Other sparkling items, as long as they are not explosive and do not fly through the air, and contain 75 grams or less of chemical compound per tube or a total of 200 grams or less for multiple tubes

• Snakes and glow worms

• Trick noise makers, including party streamers, party poppers, snappers, and drop pops containing 0.25 grains or less of explosive mixture

Tennessee, Alabama laws

Fireworks banned by Georgia law, but allowed in Tennessee and Alabama include:

• Firecrackers

• Bottle rockets

• Roman candles

• Sparklers with more than 100 grams of mixture

• Mortars or torpedoes

Source: Dalton Police Department, Fireworks Supermarket

Fast Facts

• The largest number of consumer fireworks were sold in 2005, when private buyers purchased 255 million pounds of fireworks

• Display fireworks peaked in 2002, when professionals set of 64.1 million pounds of fireworks

Source: American Pyrotechnics Association

It's Independence Day Weekend at Big Daddy's Fireworks off Interstate 24 in Marion County, and the holiday rush here is more important than Christmas for the retail industry.

Employees are a little nervous, because like most fireworks stores, they need to make enough money over the weekend to last the rest of the year.

"The recession definitely had an effect on us," manager Paul Turner said as he leaned against a bed-sized box full of bottle rockets in the quiet store.

Turner sells gas, drinks, food and gifts year-round to "keep us going through the off season," but he's still depending on star-spangled crowds to provide 60 percent of the year's revenue over the next couple days.

And he's not the only one.

The pyrotechnic industry overall rings up 75 percent of all sales over the July 4 holiday weekend, said Julie Heckman, executive director for the American Pyrotechnics Association.

That number includes professionals who also put on shows for Memorial Day and New Year's and at events of various fairs and civic associations throughout the year.

Excluding professionals, consumers buy nearly 95 percent of their fireworks supply during the Fourth of July, Hackman said.

"By and large, July 4 is the industry's bread and butter for the consumer backyard fireworks," she said.

New Law

Most of the revenue from fireworks sales has traditionally ended up in rural areas outside Chattanooga, as legal prohibitions forced urban buyers to visit one of a cluster of stores near the borders of Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama.

But that could change next year thanks to a new state law that legalized fireworks sales in East Ridge.

Beginning July 1, 2012, shoppers in East Ridge will be able to express a little explosive patriotism without the usual long drive.

East Ridge officials are tentatively planning address fireworks sales after they pass a budget on July 7. The main issues facing the City Council are whether to allow tents and how to regulate signage at the Ringgold Road exit from Interstate 75, said Tim Gobble, East Ridge city manager.

"We're looking at regional planning agency codes and are doing some research to determine exactly what we want to see," Gobble said. "The sales will go forward but they'll have to be regulated or restricted to certain areas."

The new stores, which Gobble anticipates will bring in new revenue for the city, may in some cases be the first thing motorists see upon entering Tennessee from Georgia just before Exit 1.

State Rep. Vince Dean, R-East Ridge, has been trying to get permission for the city to sell fireworks since 2004, but rural lawmakers feared it would eat into their revenue if customers were given more options.

Keith Moss, manager of Tennessee-Alabama Fireworks in South Pittsburg, isn't too happy about the new law. He said that since travelers from south of Chattanooga will go straight through East Ridge, they'll already have all the fireworks they need by the time they get to his store.

"Basically it took money from Marion County and put it in Hamilton County," he said. "A lot of our business comes directly through there."

It's especially worrisome in an industry where a single bad day can make or break a business.

"If gas prices were as high as they were a few weeks ago, we'd really be in trouble," said Moss, who has no plans to open a store in East Ridge.

"We have such a short window to make money, he added. "I'm not saying we couldn't do it, but it would be a big risk."

Weak Economy

The risks are greater in an economy that can't decide whether to follow the rocket's red glare or fizzle on the ground.

But the extent to which the pyrotechnics industry has been affected by the Greek bonds bursting in air remains unclear.

Hackman maintains the industry is "recession resistant," and has grown each year during the global financial crisis. But Todd Koebke, member of a family of professionals in the fireworks display industry, chuckled when asked about recession resistance.

"Some cities have cut back completely," he said. "I haven't seen any recovery."

One thing is sure. As long as Georgia state government disallows anything more potent than a common sparkler, there will always be a market for Tennessee and Alabama fireworks, said Susie Crabtree, manager at the Fireworks Supermarket in Jasper, Tenn.

"In Georgia, anything that spins, explodes or comes off the ground is illegal," she said.

But that hasn't stopped customers from seeking a good time at her store.

"The thing about it is, fireworks are low-priced entertainment, and theaters aren't really that cheap anymore," she said. "People that have to stay home and don't get a vacation, you can come get fireworks, grill out or something like that, and have fun. I love fireworks."