Fireworks Sales Have Skyrocketed

    GRAND RAPIDS — Americans love to blow up their money.

    According to the American Pyrotechnics Association, more than six times the load of consumer and display fireworks were detonated last year compared to 1976. Back then 29 million pounds were ignited. In 2003, 220 million pounds were lit for a surge of 660 percent since the country celebrated its bicentennial and the government set fireworks safety standards.

    All that ka-boom has led to a lot of ka-ching, as fireworks sales have exploded, too.

    The industry sold $775 million worth in 2003, topping the previous sales records of $725 million in 2002, $650 million in 2001 and $610 million in 2000.

    What makes those sales figures even more impressive is real retail fireworks are limited to consumers in just 43 states and the District of Columbia. Michigan residents can only legally purchase sparklers, flitter sparklers, cone and cylinder fountains, snakes and smoke devices. Even so, the thunderous and colorful Cosmic Explorers will soon soar high above the city’s neighborhoods.

    Julie Heckman, executive director of the American Pyrotechnics Association, told the Business Journal last week that roughly 85 percent of the nation’s retail fireworks are sold for the Fourth of July. The next-best fireworks selling period is between Christmas and New Year’s Day, mostly in southern states.

    Heckman said the Fourth accounts for 75 percent of the display fireworks that are sold in a year. The display industry also gets a sales boost from the country’s minor league baseball teams that normally have fireworks after weekend home games.

    “The minor teams are doing fireworks displays every Friday night or the theatrical effects that are part of plays and conventions and things of that nature,” said Heckman of events that provide additional revenue for display firms.

    For the West Michigan Whitecaps, Saturday is their night of choice. The Grand Rapids Griffins and Rampage also shoot off a few indoor fireworks prior to player introductions.

    While sales have risen, injuries from fireworks have declined. In 1976, there were 38.3 injuries per 100,000 pounds of fireworks. Last year the injury rate was 4.4.

    Heckman gave credit to the industry for the decline in injuries to consumers. She said makers of fireworks have actively promoted safety and adhered to safety regulations for the manufacturing, storage and transportation of fireworks. Heckman also cited the American Fireworks Standards Laboratory and the National Council on Fireworks Safety for having played a strong role in the sharp drop of consumer injuries.

    “Today’s fireworks are the highest quality, safest and most spectacular ever made,” she said.

    The Fourth of July fireworks gala in Grand Rapids is a go, after overcoming potential funding problems. The annual downtown event gets underway Sunday at 5 p.m. with blues tunes from Jimmy Stagger. Other acts include Huckleberry Grove, Escorpion, Midlife Crisis and Freekbass. Just before the fireworks get going at dusk, Brian Vander Ark, of Verve Pipe fame will perform a patriotic song.

    Jose Reyna, assistant to City Manager Kurt Kimball, said that pledges to the event exceeded $70,000.

    “The city had been collecting the money on behalf of the group and radio stations and other people who had coordinated that effort. So now that money will be directed to that group which is coordinating the event, which is Grand Entertainment,” said Reyna.

    “There was some concern that people might not come through with their pledges, but I’m confident that they will. The group that is organizing this had to do some fast footwork to get everything in place and make sure that we’re doing things the right way,” he added.

    Zambelli Fireworks, a national pyrotechnics firm, is handling Sunday’s show that will likely last 20 minutes. Based in New Castle, Pa., Zambelli averages 3,500 shows each year with about 1,800 of those taking place on the Fourth of July. The firm said it would fire more than 1 million shells nationwide this weekend.           

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