Tired of being cooped up by the pandemic and hampered by the cancellation of professional fireworks shows, local revelers are buying more fireworks for their own use.
Mark Carter, who owns Fireworks Outlet in Tanner and Athens, said people are “tired of all the bad news” and ready to celebrate, which may be driving fireworks sales. “Everybody’s trying to get back in a patriotic mood,” he said.
Bruce Johnson, who has run the TNT Fireworks stand in Tanner for the past seven years, also said fireworks sales are up this year.
"I think it may have to do with the social distancing situation; we typically are a little slower than we have been," Johnson said. He said the cancellation of professional shows may increase overall fireworks sales for the season, but he thinks the spike in sales during June is attributable to the coronavirus pandemic.
Julie Heckman, the executive director for the American Pyrotechnics Association, said numbers are up for the sale of consumer fireworks nationwide.
“Some retailers are reporting that their sales are double or triple what they were as compared to this specific time last year, and we’re just beginning to approach the peak selling season,” Heckman said.
Though fireworks are often associated with Independence Day celebrations, Heckman said the increase in sales began Memorial Day weekend.
“One of our members reported that he had more sales this Memorial Day than he did the last four years combined,” said Larry Farnsworth, spokesman for the National Fireworks Association. He said three main factors have created “a perfect storm” for an uptick in fireworks sales this year.
Both Heckman and Farnsworth said the pandemic has made people eager to get outside and celebrate whenever possible.
“People have been cooped in, they want a reason to celebrate,” Farnsworth said. “Consumer fireworks, you can come out, you can shoot them off the end of your driveway, your neighbors can come out and watch. It kind of brings you together in the community, and gives you a sense of normalcy.”
The second reason firework sales are up is the cancellation of professional fireworks shows. “Anywhere from Boston and Philadelphia, their big shows, down to your local community civic association, they’re all being canceled,” Farnsworth said.
Among the canceled events is the Spirit of America Festival, a Decatur mainstay since 1967.
Heckman estimates that 80% to 85% of professional fireworks shows have been canceled nationwide.
Farnsworth said the third factor contributing to the spike in fireworks sales is the fact that July 4 falls on a Saturday this year. With potentially three days to celebrate, people are stocking up on more fireworks than usual.
Carter said they sell a wide range of products. For those who want to achieve the experience of a professional show as much as possible, Carter recommends 500 gram finale boxes. “We carry a full line of 500 gram finale boxes that come close, nothing like (Spirit of America at) Point Mallard, but they will put on a good show,” he said.
Heckman said that where fireworks are legal, the most popular types are aerial devices and 500 gram cakes.
Fireworks are prohibited within the city limits of Decatur. The Decatur Police Department said in a press release that ordinances pertaining to fireworks use and possession will be strictly enforced over the holiday.
Jeanie Pharis, the director of Morgan County 911, said they have received five firework complaints since June 21, up from two complaints for the same time frame last year.
Pharis last week said it’s tough to say how the cancellation of professional fireworks shows will impact the number of complaints the department receives this year, but that there are typically more complaints beginning the weekend prior to Independence Day.
Heckman called fireworks an “affordable family source of entertainment,” but stressed the importance of using fireworks safely. She said a safety concern unique to this season is that many families may be lighting fireworks for the first time.
“We’re very concerned for repeat consumer fireworks users, but also this year we think there will be a lot more first-time families choosing to bring the celebration home, again because of the public events being canceled,” Heckman said.
She said only sober, responsible adults should handle fireworks, and even fireworks that may appear kid-friendly, like sparklers, should not be used by children.
Although the coronavirus pandemic may be influencing people’s decisions to purchase fireworks this year, Farnsworth said part of the appeal is participating in an American tradition: “Using fireworks to celebrate the Fourth of July is rooted in who we are as a country.”