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Booming fireworks business picks up in Shelby County

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By Todd Martin

As the 4th of July holiday approaches, fireworks stands are popping up all over the state and the county.

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And it’s big business. The amount of consumer fireworks used each year has increased from 102 million pounds in 2000 to 185 million pounds last year, according to the American Pyrotechnics Association. The sales reached a peak of 255 million in 2005. However, the number of display fireworks, those used by professionals, has decreased from a high of 64.1 million pounds in 2002 to just 22 million pounds in 2011 and 2012.

And in Shelby County it’s easy to see how those consumer-based numbers continue to increase. Every year more and more stands pop up, and more and more bright, professional-looking fireworks can be seen booming over neighborhoods from Waddy to Simpsonville.

So why doesn’t Shelby County merit its own superstore, a brick-and-mortar store stocked to the ceiling with fountains, roman candles, missiles and rockets?

Much of that can be explained by Kentucky’s laws governing the sale of fireworks. Each state dictates how stores can sell and market their fireworks.

In 2011 a revision to the Kentucky statutes allowed for a much wider range of fireworks to be made available, and fireworks only can be sold from June 10 to July 7.

However, permanent locations can be open year-round, where the sale of consumer fireworks are supplementary to the primary business. There are no stores like that in Shelby County, but over the last three years a few stores have popped up across the state.

“In Kentucky, stores have to meet several regulations, like they have to be standalone, away from other stores, have so many exits and other requirements, so we rely heavily on our seasonal stores,” said Kyle Attebury, the regional manager covering Kentucky for Mark’s Fireworks, which has 40 retail centers throughout Kentucky and Indiana. “Some of stores will be mattress stores throughout the rest of the year.” The company also operates Mark’s Mattress Outlet stores in its permanent Kentucky locations in Bowling Green, Owensboro and Hopkinsville.

Attebury said tent stores, of which Mark’s Fireworks has two of in Shelby County, open around June 26 and then will close by July 5.

“The tent sales really depend on the weather,” he said. “If the weather holds out like it has been this year with a little rain and temperatures not too bad, then we’ll have a good year with the tents. But the stores and temporary stores really do about the same amount of business.”

Bill Weimer, vice president of Phantom Fireworks, which has more than 1,200 locations and supplies products to several national retail chains, said his company only does about 15 percent of its business from tent stores.

“We’re primarily a brick-and-mortar store,” he said. “Our permanent show rooms do the vast majority of our business because we can keep a much larger stock. The tent operations are a very different business. They are very valuable when you can locate an area where they are appropriate, maybe one where no buildings are available because of state law.

“But there are inherent issues, like carrying less product, security and oftentimes parking issues.”

Phantom has a one permanent store in Florence and several throughout Indiana and Ohio, and it also operates four stands in the surrounding areas, although none in Shelby County.

“Many states limit how fireworks can be sold and what can be sold,” he said. “Nevada and Oregon both have a limited sales season.”

But even with a somewhat limited season in Kentucky, fireworks companies are ready to go for the season.

Despite the dip in the pounds sold, the revenue from consumer fireworks has continued to rise during the past decade. From 2002 to 2012 consumer fireworks spending has increased from $483 million to $645 million, according to the APA, and it looks to increase even more this year.

“This is our second year in Kentucky, and last year was pretty good,” Attebury said. “But with all the dry weather, I think everybody suffered some last year. But this year, if the weather keeps cooperating, it looks like we’re going to have a great year.”