Fireworks sales, and complaints, skyrocket across US

Fireworks sales, and complaints, skyrocket across US
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The Fourth of July arrived in June this year, or at least the celebratory part of it.

Police departments across the nation are reporting huge spikes in complaints about fireworks booming in neighborhoods from Boston to Los Angeles.

In Chicago, the city’s police department says it has received more than 7,000 calls about fireworks disturbances so far this year. Police in Hartford, Conn., have fielded 200 calls a day, exponentially higher than they average in late June or July.

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Boston police say fireworks complaints are up 2,300 percent between this year and a similar period last year. Los Angeles police say complaints have quadrupled in some parts of the sprawling city.

In New York City, the apparent epicenter of late-night pyrotechnics, police have received more than 11,000 calls about illegal fireworks through June 21, compared to just 54 last year.

The uptick in complaints matches a dramatic increase in sales, fireworks retailers and industry representatives said. Last year, revenue for consumer fireworks retailers exceeded $1 billion.

The fireworks industry is hyper-seasonal, as dependent on the July Fourth holiday as the Christmas tree industry is on December 25 or the Peeps line of products is on Easter.

Companies feared that 2020 would be a lost year. The coronavirus pandemic has forced the cancellation of many municipal fireworks shows, music festivals and sporting events, leaving the industry bereft of its biggest clients. Cities and towns that host Independence Day celebrations are also facing major budget holes due to the coronavirus.

Professional display companies are still suffering; the American Pyrotechnics Association (APA) has lobbied Congress to be included in the next coronavirus relief bill.

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But for commercial retailers, the lockdowns have meant good business. Those companies are expecting new sales records after an unprecedented start to the season.

“They got off to a very brisk start, beginning Memorial Day weekend, that no one anticipated,” APA Executive Director Julie Heckman said. “It’s definitely going to be an all-time high for the consumer segment of the industry.”

In New York, summer fireworks, though illegal, are traditional precursors to the Independence Day holiday. This year, they have started earlier in the summer and are occurring more frequently, according to The New York Times. On Tuesday, New York City Mayor Bill de BlasioBill de BlasioThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the Air Line Pilots Association - Key 48 hours loom as negotiators push for relief deal Overnight Health Care: Fauci says family has faced threats | Moderna to charge to a dose for its vaccine | NYC adding checkpoints to enforce quarantine New York City adding 'key entry point' checkpoints to enforce quarantine MORE (D) announced the creation of a multi-agency task force to crack down on firework sales and usage.

After protests over George Floyd’s death and police brutality, neighborhood bulletins and social media groups have been flooded with debates over how to address the noise without involving police.

“This is a moment for rethinking and reimagining how we address issues like illegal fireworks,” New York City Council Member Robert Cornegy Jr. said in a statement. “These times demand that we stop disproportionately leaning on policing and law enforcement.”

Industry leaders and sellers attributed fireworks’ popularity to the negative social effects of the pandemic.

Mike Ingram, president of Fireworks Over America, one of the country’s largest consumer firework importers and distributors, said he’s seen a significant increase in sales since early April — much earlier than their Independence Day season typically starts. With people cooped up indoors, setting off fireworks is an outdoor activity that can be done while safely social distancing, he said.

“People are wanting to get out, and they’re wanting to celebrate the Fourth of July or whatever parties or functions it might be with their family and friends in a relatively safe setting,” Ingram said. “The best way to do that is with fireworks.”

Larry Farnsworth, who handles communications for the National Fireworks Association, said retailers began seeing an increase in sales around Memorial Day. One of the organization’s members, he said, had more sales this Memorial Day weekend than the past four years combined.

Both Farnsworth and Heckman said members are reporting heavy increases in first-time buyers. People who may have relied on parades and shows to get their summer fireworks fix are now looking to put on their own neighborhood displays, bringing new customers to stores.

“There’s a lot of shows that are being canceled across the country,” Farnsworth said. “People are trying to celebrate with consumer fireworks at home.”

Laws governing fireworks sales and possessions vary widely by state, and even between cities. But the industry is adept at placing stores just over the appropriate borders to attract residents of locked-down cities.

The booms and bangs are not expected to stop any time soon.

“People have been in lockdown mode for the past three months, and all of their activities are still restricted,” Heckman said. “You can’t go to the movie theater, you can’t go to concerts, you can’t go to sporting events. Because the weather has turned nice, people are looking for something to do, and fireworks are affordable family entertainment.”