Fireworks Sellers Hope It's A 'Backyard' Fourth

Even in a scorched economy, there's still some money to burn.

Operators of the thousands of fireworks stands on Indian reservations and in parking lots throughout the country think patriotism, tradition and a strong need to party on a Saturday night will translate to a billion dollars and more smoldering in America's pockets this Fourth of July.

"I think that the way the economy is, people aren't going to be going places, so they will be buying fireworks," says Mike Dunn, chairman of committee that oversees Boom City, the collection of fireworks stands that springs up each year at the Tulalip Tribes' reservation near Marysville, about 30 miles north of Seattle.

Hard times or no, some things shouldn't change, said Jack Kletchka, a Boom City customer.

"You've got to celebrate the birth of the country," Kletchka said.

"People want a distraction from what's going on in the world," said Julie Heckman, executive director of the American Pyrotechnics Association. With a three-day weekend with the festivities smack in the middle, and the high cost of travel, "People are staying home, and that bodes very, very well for backyard fireworks sales."

Heckman said the Bethesda, Md.-based trade group for the fireworks industry is actually forecasting a slight increase in U.S. sales this year - $960 million for 2009, about $20 million more than last year, with stand sales to consumers accounting for about two-thirds of that. The figure doesn't include sales on Indian reservations, which are overseen by individual tribes.

However, in many small and midsize cities, fireworks shows are being canceled or scaled back as municipalities' tax revenue dries up with the slowing economy and falling home prices. Funding from corporate sponsorships also has fizzled as businesses deal with economic problems of their own.

The budget realities are forcing communities to decide, for example, whether they can pay for extra police and fire protection for a fireworks show - or perhaps pay an officer's salary for the rest of the year. And some organizers have concerns about seeking money for a celebration as communities struggle to take care of life-or-death needs worsened by the recession.

It's been rough for many cash-starved communities to justify traditional public firework shows, and some corporate sponsors have questioned the bang their bucks were buying.

In Seattle, Ivar's Seafood Restaurants dropped its sponsorship of the huge waterfront fireworks display, noting that the city still has its other major show over Lake Union, just two miles away. Lack of money also canceled the fireworks over Fort Vancouver National Site at Vancouver, Wash.


Still, more than 100 communities and organizations in Washington plan fireworks displays this weekend. And stand operators - many of them church or civic organizations who count on the sales for their annual budgets - were keeping their hopes up.

Not counting those on Indian reservations, more than 6,000 fireworks stands blossom nationally each summer, said Dennis Revell, spokesman for TNT Fireworks, of Florence, Ala., the nation's largest wholesaler. TNT has been heavily promoting how fireworks sales supplement money for nonprofit groups, especially in California, which has about half the nation's non-Indian stands.

Backyard vacations and barbecues with the neighbors may rescue sales, Revell said.

"I think you will see this year a lot more neighborhood and block events where people share in the event rather than trying to do it all themselves," he said.

That's the plan for Kletchka. He said he planned to spend about $400, "no less than last year," to entertain a family gathering of about 100 at his sister's place.

"We are not changing anything," Kletchka said. "We have a big family gathering. Good or bad, we're going to have it."

Same for Allan Gourlie, of Edmonds, another Boom City customer. "For my family, the Fourth of July is kind of a big deal," said Gourlie, who was going in with two or three other families to spend about $800.

"This is kind of our big thing every year," he said. "It's the one big weekend."

Crowds were sparse Tuesday evening at Boom City's 139 individually owned and brightly painted stands, with operators calling out to anyone passing to check out their deals on rockets, mortars and other colorful mayhem.

Several hundred yards away from the tightly packed grid of stands, a large cleared-off detonation area reverberated with sparkles, pops, whistles and the odd ka-boom as patrons set off firecrackers and other devices available on the reservation but not legal off tribal land.

Dunn and other vendors would only talk in general terms about sales. "We never give out figures to anybody," Dunn said.

Business is "a little rougher than usual," said Bill Carson, operator of the "Damage Inc." stand next door to Dunn's "Flaming Arrow." People seem to be spending a little less, or pooling money with friends to buy a bigger show.

"My own stand, I'm still in the hole but I have time to get out," Dunn said.

Still, Carson and Dunn said, it's just Tuesday, with a longer than usual holiday weekend ahead and plenty of time for buyers to show up.

"With Thursday a payday and Friday a holiday, I think we're just going to get slammed," Dunn said.

(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

This program aired on July 2, 2009. The audio for this program is not available.


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