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Facing A Firework-Free Fourth, Lowell Stages A Revolution Of Its Own02:00
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Because of budgetary constraints, Mayor Bud Caulfield of Lowell had planned to cancel the town's annual Fourth of July celebrations. But some local businesses stepped in to make sure that didn't happen. (Curt Nickisch/WBUR)
Because of budgetary constraints, Mayor Bud Caulfield of Lowell had planned to cancel the town's annual Fourth of July celebrations. But some local businesses stepped in to make sure that didn't happen. (Curt Nickisch/WBUR)

You can see how wealthy Lowell used to be in the grand City Hall built during fat times as a textile manufacturing center. But times got pretty thin for this mill town. And this latest recession brought foreclosures and layoffs to Lowell, followed by cuts in state aid to cities and towns.

Mayor Bud Caulfield couldn’t justify the $45,ooo price tag for fireworks this year. "We have laid off 48 employees," he said. "Had we had the fireworks, we would have had to lay off 49 employees. And morally, it just wouldn't be right to do that."

But it also didn’t seem right not to celebrate America’s birthday — at least to Rich Bolton, who runs the Lowell Co-operative Bank. He doesn’t blame the mayor. In fact, the bank’s bottom line is not where he wants it to be either. Bolton said some local construction companies went out of business recently and defaulted on their loans.

"The $45,000, I wish I was a big enough bank, I could just write the check and just make it happen," Bolton said. "Because that’s the way I felt at the time."

Bolton knew that the city, with so many people out of work, was going to miss the fireworks event.

The bank’s loan officer, Ziggy Burns, said many of his clients can’t afford even a modest vacation. The Fourth of July celebration is their time to let loose a little. "A lot of people in the city, that’s their summer," Burns said.

So Bolton, the bank CEO, did some quick math: the number of banks around town, the number of big businesses. And he made out a check for five grand and gave it to the mayor.

"Well, I’ll tell you my exact words to Bud Caulfield," Bolton said. "I said, 'Hopefully that’s enough money to get things going. We’re the smallest bank in town. Okay? Everybody else should give more.' And I said, 'That should get you there.' "

It did.

Lowell resident Nancy Crocker said people in Lowell need the Fourth of July celebration. "When I heard it was on, it was extremely exciting," she said. "I would think it would remind them of what we've got, versus what they haven't got. Even in this economy."

So this weekend, down at the pavilion by the Merrimack River, there’s going to be hot dogs and popcorn for sale. The Lowell High School Band is going to play a mix of Broadway tunes and patriotic numbers.

And the city is going burn through $45,000 worth of fireworks in 45 minutes, a blazing reminder for residents who want a better economic outlook that they still live in the land of opportunity.

This program aired on June 29, 2009.

Curt Nickisch Twitter Business & Technology Reporter
Curt Nickisch was formerly WBUR's business and technology reporter.

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