Record fireworks sales expected as Fourth of July gets celebrated at home during the pandemic

Key Points
  • Firework sellers say they are seeing huge gains in firework sales, with some seeing jumps of 200% to 300% in sales.
  • Companies normally place orders for fireworks over a year in advance with the expectation that sales from around the Fourth of July will buoy them through the year.
  • Industry leaders say the rise of firework sales to individual consumers likely stems from the cancellation of many professional shows across the U.S.
  • However, the providers of professional fireworks displays are hurting as many local shows have been canceled. 
A shopper looks through fireworks for sale at Sky King Fireworks in Morrisville, Pennsylvania, U.S., June 24, 2020.
Lucas Jackson | Reuters

If you think you're hearing more fireworks than usual this year, you probably are.

Firework sellers say they are seeing huge gains in firework sales, with some seeing jumps of 200% to 300% in sales, and even more expected in the days leading up to July Fourth, according to Julie Heckman, president of the American Pyrotechnics Association.

"On the consumer side, sales are off the hook," Heckman said. "This will be an all-time high."

Even the earliest Fourth of July celebrations included fireworks. Firework sellers and professional show designers are quick to promote their products as the definitive way to celebrate the holiday. But this year, Covid-19 has prompted the cancellation of thousands of large fireworks displays to celebrate Independence Day. Without these attractions, more people than ever are resorting to at-home firework usage, Heckman said, leading to unexpected increases in sales.

But Heckman and others in the industry have seen higher sales since their stores and stands have opened for the summer. Reports of fireworks, used both legally and illegally, have been up in cities across the U.S. since May.

The Boston Police Department, for example, said they received 2,300% more calls to police over fireworks, which are illegal in Massachusetts, in May than a year ago. New York City, where fireworks are also illegal, received 1,737 complaints about fireworks to the city's 311 system in the first half of June – 80 times more than the same period last year, according to the New York Times. 

Residents of cities where it is either always legal or legal within a certain time period, such as Detroit, have also reported hearing more at-home fireworks than in prior years.

Companies normally place orders for fireworks over a year in advance with the expectation that sales from the summer holiday season will buoy them through the year, Steve Houser, National Fireworks Association president and Red Rhino Fireworks owner, said. The industry plans to get 80% to 90% of revenue for the year in one to two weeks, he said, so having a strong season is vital to the success of the businesses in the industry.

"Fireworks are hyper-seasonal," Houser said. "After the Fourth of July, no one cares about us. We disappear."

Macy's first night of 4th of July Fireworks on June 29, 2020 in New York City.
Jose Perez | Getty Images

Before the virus began impacting the economy, fireworks sellers were preparing for high sales already, as the holiday this year falls on a Saturday, which has historically led to better sales. But when the lockdowns started in March, Phantom Fireworks CEO Bruce Zoldan said his accounting department was sourcing bankruptcy lawyers out of fear that the coronavirus would lead to this holiday season being celebrated indoors and without fireworks.

Now, Zoldan said, this is the best year for demand he's seen in his 50 years in the industry. He said the rise in sales is likely due to the fact that because of the virus, entertainment has largely moved from going out to a movie or concert, for example, to the home and backyard.

 "As a lottery ticket to us, they're buying fireworks for entertainment," Zoldan said. "The momentum has been unbelievable."

Some of his showrooms had to close because of state lockdown orders, Zoldan said, but those losses were made up within weeks of reopening. Half of sales are to customers who have never purchased from Phantom before, he said.

Heckman, Houser and Zoldan agree that the rise in sales is connected to the shuttering of other entertainment methods. This includes those who design and execute large firework displays, as many have been canceled due to fears the coronavirus spreading in large groups.

For those who create professional fireworks displays, the news is dire, Heckman said, predicting that some may not be able to open next year without help from the government.

It is important to the consumer side of the fireworks industry that there are businesses that set up professional  displays, Zoldan said.

For this side of the industry, Houser said, it's like the holiday never happened.

"If they don't get help, they may not be here," Heckman said. "It's all about the Fourth of July – and they don't get a do-over."

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