Booming business: Customers buck rain to fire up the 4th of July

Booming business: Customers buck rain to fire up the 4th of July

July 3rd, 2013 by Ellis Smith in Business Around the Region

Brett Paden, of Atlanta, looks at sparklers at Phantom Fireworks on Tuesday.

Photo by C. B. Schmelter/Times Free Press.

HOLIDAY OUTLOOK

• AAA Travel projects 40.8 million Americans will journey 50 miles or more from home during the Independence Day holiday, a 0.8 percent decrease from a year ago.

• Americans plan to spend an average of $300 on travel, BBQs and fireworks this July 4, up 58 percent from last year, according to Visa's annual Independence Day spending survey.

• The average price of a gallon of regular gas in Chattanooga Tuesday was just below $3.22 a gallon, or 25.5 cents above the same time a year ago. But Chattanooga gas prices are still 26 cents per gallon below the U.S. average.

• The average hotel rate is up 2 percent over a year ago, according to AAA's leisure travel index.

• Airfares increased 6 percent in the past year with an average lowest round-trip rate of $228 for the top 40 U.S. air routes, compared to $215 last year, according to AAA

Interstate travelers today are likely to be lured by the siren's song of cheap and plentiful fireworks along Tennessee's highways, in spite of forecasts that call for rain tonight and on Independence Day.

Following the July drought of 2012, which like this year's stormy forecast caused cautious officials to cancel municipal shows, individual consumers are stocking up for a private explosion of patriotic fervor that likely will extend into the weekend, retailers report.

"What we're finding is that a lot of them are not doing the celebrations until the weekend anyway," said Michele Privett, a member of the family that owns Exit 1A Fireworks in East Ridge. "We've had quite a few customers who say they're going to shoot a few off on the Fourth, but the big finale will happen on Saturday."

Phantom Fireworks, one of a half-dozen retailers that were allowed to open in East Ridge for the 2012 season under a special action of the Tennessee Legislature, is actually benefiting from the cancellation of several large-scale fireworks shows, said manager Jared Aponte.

"If the cities aren't doing their shows, it should bring more customers out to us. If they're thinking that if they aren't going to be able to see their city's show, then they can put on a private show for their family," Aponte said.

Sales this year "started a little slow," Aponte said, but are picking up and building toward "a big finish on the Fourth."

The big finish is already underway at Tennessee-Alabama Fireworks in South Pittsburg, Tenn., said salesman Brandon Hookay, who sees customers from all over the Southeast. Business has been brisk, he said, as Interstate travelers stock up on their way to see friends and family across the country.

"It's legal to travel with fireworks in your car, but I suggest you not try to get on an airplane," Hookay said.

Contact staff writer Ellis Smith at esmith@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6315.