Fireworks sales boomed across Tennessee, with clear skies and a long weekend igniting a blast of interest at stores from East Ridge to South Pittsburg.
Tanesia Gladden shopped the crowded aisles at Exit 1A Fireworks on Thursday, looking for combustible deals to light up the family's Independence Day celebration.
"Since my son is so small, I really don't like the big stuff," she said, motioning to boxes of rockets and mortars tucked into her shopping card.
Gladden, who planned to spend $250 on fireworks this holiday, mingled among a barrage of customers bursting into stores across East Ridge, a newly-popular hot spot for all things fiery and loud.
A handful of stores opened three years ago after East Ridge legalized the year-round sale of fireworks, which has changed the landscape in the fireworks industry.
Georgia residents, who are under stricter rules regarding the purchase of fireworks, can hop across the border into Tennessee and buy rockets and mortars that aren't legal in the Peach State.
The new stores have drained business from rural stores along the Interstate in South Pittsburg and elsewhere that once had a near monopoly in the region. Now, Hamilton County shoppers must balance the savings they get from shopping in rural areas with the cost in gas to drive the extra distance.
"A lot of people used to go up there and buy stuff, and some would come back down here and resell it," Gladden said. "It's just too far for me to go."
But there were few sad fireworks proprietors on Thursday, with perfect weather -- not too wet, not too dry -- setting up an entire weekend of explosive sales. That's important, because fireworks stores make between 70 and 80 percent of their revenue in the course of the July 4 and New Year's holidays.
At Big Daddy Fireworks, long a mainstay of the Tennessee fireworks tradition, manager Jayne Pesnell called this year "the perfect storm."
"The really good thing about this year is the way the holiday hit on Friday, so a lot of people are celebrating who normally would have to work if it's the middle of the week, or they're extending their cookouts for the whole weekend," she said. "On top of that, we've had rain, we're not in a drought, so everything is working. "
The timing of the holiday is important. When the July 4 holiday falls on a Wednesday or a Thursday that isn't adjacent to a weekend, sales typically suffer. But when it falls on a Friday, people typically celebrate all day and then go back to the store on Saturday and Sunday as well, said Jeff Locke, manager at Dixieland Fireworks.
"It's boosting our sales, because people have been able to buy through two pay periods," Locke said. "Weekends are the busiest, when the holiday falls on Friday or Saturday."
Even the brands themselves were in a celebratory mood on Thursday, with fireworks named Fist Bump, Righting Rooster, Big Kahuna and Fuego Fantastico riding the shelves alongside the Redneck Party Pack, Rip the Sky and High Voltage.
Though the region's fireworks stores are always open for business, those who are already planning ahead for next year would do well to complete their shopping early, advised Evan Booth, supervisor at TNT Fireworks in East Ridge.
"We like to do a lot of sales a couple of weeks before the fourth to get people in the stores ahead of time," he said.
Not that it's too late to buy, with everything in the TNT store marked down 50 percent, according to advertisements. Plus, big spenders -- those with $500 or $1,000 to blow -- can score special deals with a little bit of negotiation, said Pesnell.
"We have customers from several states away who fax an order to us maybe a month ahead, we put it together and they will rent a U-Haul to take it home," Pesnell said. "We love those customers, we depend a lot on those."
Big spenders aren't the only ones who can find a deal if they shop around. Though many stores carry a similar stock of fireworks which are mostly made overseas by a few manufacturers, pricing varies from location to location. Some stores offer a buy one, get one free deal. Others offer 20 percent, 50 percent or even 75 percent off. Still others go the Walmart route, offering the same low prices year-round.
Either way, there are few people happier at the end of Independence Day weekend than fireworks retailers, some of who celebrate together in predictable fashion after the rush is over. Though they compete for business, Tennessee Alabama and Big Daddy Fireworks will host a show for South Pittsburg residents as a way of saying thank-you to the community that supports them, Pesnell said.
"Our competitor across the street, the Tennessee Alabama guys, they're friends of ours, they asked if they could be a part of our show so we combined," she said. "People like to think we're all up here biting each other, but we aren't. We're all in it for the money, but we're all helping each other."
Contact staff writer Ellis Smith at 423-757-6315 or firstname.lastname@example.org with tips and documents.