Retailers hope fireworks sales explode in East Ridge

Retailers hope fireworks sales explode in East Ridge

June 30th, 2012 by Ellis Smith and Kate Belz in Business Around the Region

John Gentry, left, store manager at Dixieland Fireworks, inventories fireworks with helper Dustin Holland as they stock up for the holiday sales rush.

Photo by Tim Barber /Times Free Press.

Fireworks stores in East Ridge

• Dixieland Fireworks, at 6703 Ringgold Road

• Exit 1A Fireworks, at 6726 Ringgold Road

• Phantom Fireworks, at 6515 Ringgold Road

• TNT Fireworks, in the former Kmart store at 482 McBrien Road

What's the law?:

• Patrons may buy fireworks in East Ridge beginning July 1

• However, they may not shoot fireworks within the city limits of East Ridge

Source: City of East Ridge

POLL: Are you planning on buying fireworks at one of the new stores in East Ridge?

East Ridge's new fireworks retailers are hoping for booming sales as they stage their grand openings tomorrow and try to make up for lost time leading up to the July 4 holiday.

This Independence Day is the first time that fireworks may be legally bought in East Ridge, following the passage of a state law to allow the practice. Formerly, East Ridge residents could only see the rockets' red glare if they were willing to buy them in the rural counties surrounding Chattanooga.

"We're hoping that the store will really be hopping this week," said David Beattie, divisional vice president of TNT Fireworks, which is opening its 20,000-square-foot location at midnight Sunday.

It will stay open 24 hours a day until the holiday has passed.

Workers at the city's four new stores -- TNT, Dixieland Fireworks, Exit 1A Fireworks and Phantom Fireworks -- have scrambled in the last several months to complete their building projects, and this week employees were working overtime to stock the shelves with the brightly colored packages with names like "Full Metal Jacket," "Red Devil Super Firecrackers" and "The Big Bang" -- a 7-foot-long variety pack of aerial fireworks and shells.

They've only had a few months to get ready for what is by far the fireworks retailers' biggest sales season of the year.

Though a state law allowing fireworks sales in East Ridge was passed by Tennessee's Legislature in 2011, the city's council had to run a gauntlet of red tape before giving retailers the green light to set up shop.

When the fireworks fight bogged down during zoning approvals, East Ridge split off from the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Regional Planning Agency in August 2011 and formed their own commission.

Then, a number of local residents and outlying fireworks retailers filed a lawsuit against the city, claiming the law was unconstitutional because it selectively authorized a type of business in one location.

Though a Hamilton County Chancery Court judge dismissed the lawsuit in February, the group filed an appeal in Tennessee Court of Appeals in March.

"We think this case presents a novel question as to whether the legislature can pick and choose whether a law like this can apply to just one area," said Jeff Yarbro, attorney for the residents and retailers.

Other residents have worried that a large number of fireworks stores along Ringgold Road and Exit 1 off I-75 will be a safety hazard and an eyesore.

The ordinance doesn't regulate the buildings' color, and a number of residents have complained that the bright green, purple, blue and red buildings are eyesores.

Tennessee's rural retailers aren't planning to disappear with the twilight's last gleaming, either. They say that in spite of their new opponents' advertising, their stores are still bigger and better.

"We've been here for 20 years, and we've established a pretty loyal customer base," said Paul Turner, manager of Big Daddy's fireworks in South Pittsburg, Tenn. "There's not a lot of truth in advertising with those guys. We've got a larger showroom and we sell other stuff too."

Brent Moss, manager of Tennessee Alabama Fireworks in Kimball, Tenn., said the new retailers can't hold a candle to the existing rural stores on price.

"I don't think they're going to hurt us all that much," Moss said. "We will not be undersold, and that's a fact."

City Manager Tim Gobble defended East Ridge's new fireworks stores, saying they added life to the retail corridor and that he expected to see an burst in sales tax revenue.

"I think the buildings are happy and cheerful, and they're not unlike other businesses that are already here," Gobble said.

The only players seemingly unfazed by the excitement surrounding their arrival, in fact, are the fireworks retailers themselves, said Beattie of TNT Fireworks.

"It's a fantastic location," Beattie said as he admired the store's new red sign flanked with two large American flags. "I think we'll do well here."