Summer is here, along with the heat, humidity and thunderstorms and of course the 4th of July. This year, the 4th is returning to normal after numerous city fireworks displays and celebrations were cancelled due the pandemic. Because of the cancellations of those large, usually free firework displays, last year firework retailers in Southwest Missouri had a banner year. which has had consequences for this years fireworks season. KRPS’s Fred Fletcher-Fierro has more.
According to Wallethub.com 80% of community fireworks displays were cancelled in 2020 due to the pandemic, including many in Southwest Missouri. The cancellation or scaling back of these free events that draw 1,000’s of people lead to a surge in the number of people buying fireworks and having their own firework party. Last year alone, Americans spent over $1.5 billion dollars on fireworks. For the past 15-years, Dawnielle Libscomb and her brother have run Hometown Fireworks in Carl Junction, Missouri. Regular fireworks buyers might notice an increase in the cost of fireworks, but it isn’t because of the fireworks themselves.
“This year, fireworks are hard to come by, so shop early for your best selection. Prices on fireworks themselves didn’t increase a whole lot but shipping prices are a lot bigger this year. We all know the lumber industry, prices have gone up a lot in that and a lot of fireworks are shipped in wooden crates, so that price has passed on down to fireworks.”Dawnielle Libscomb
2020 was one of the strongest years, sales wise for stores like Dawneille’s as many families were forced to stay home in large part because cities cancelled those large public firework displays. During her time in the fireworks business she says products basically stay the same, year in and year out, except for one aspect.
“Firework companies are trying to get bigger and better. So we’ve seen artillery shells go from 4 inches to 5 inches, just for a little bigger boom. And then finale pieces typically get bigger each year. They are the ones that you shoot once, you used to get 20 to 30 shots in them, now they have some that are as many as 300 shots.”Dawnielle Libscomb
It’s a similar story just down Highway 171 at Big Charlie Fireworks. The family operated company has been in business for 30 years with 8 locations across Southwest Missouri, from Neosho to Nevada. Vince Hudskin has been in the pyrotechnics industry since the mid’90s, and says this year is unlike any that he’s seen in the business.
“This year has been a very unusual for fireworks supply. Covid impacted things. The world’s shipping issues have truly impacted things. Shipping containers. The price of shipping and ocean, freight and insurance on a container has more than doubled.”Vince Hudskin
Unfortunately, the increased cost of shipping and the uncertainty of whether they’re going to receive fireworks has been passed down to the consumer this year. In a normal year, getting fireworks from China, where over 90% of the world’s fireworks are made is predictable, but the pandemic, the global shipping crisis and even the friction between the US and China has made working in the fireworks industry more like a gamble, than a business. And if you think there are fewer fireworks locations, you’re right according to Vince.
“It has really cramped the whole industry’s style this year. It’s caused supply shortages. They are locations that can’t even get open, because companies have to make a decision, you know, do i have enough or not, to properly supply. So you’ll find less tents this year that have been around in the past.”Vince Hudskin
While this year is more uncertain than normal for fireworks retailers, Dawneille at Hometown Fireworks says she is already thinking about next year, and hopeful the business is more predicable.
“As we were talking with some of our suppliers earlier this year about when like the best time to order for next year was, and they said they already have several customers ordering for 2022. Especially with the shortages that there were this year, so we’re already starting to making lists of the things that we need, things that we couldn’t get this year, or things that we know we’re going to sell out of, so we’ve got stuff ready to go so that we can get our order in quickly for next year.”Dawnielle Libscomb
Down the highway, Big Charlies is also looking forward to 2022. Prior to the pandemic, the company operated as many as 10 locations in Southwest Missouri, this year, due to the shortage they are down to 7 locations. Regardless of the headwinds firework retailers face, they still have product to move before the big day. Over Vince’s time in the firework industry he says that fireworks have been larger and more specialized. He likens Big Charlies to your favorite flower shop.
“Some florists are more experienced than others. And everybody does the best they can to get your the prettiest roses, for the right occasion. We’ll our roses are in the sky.”Vince Hudskin
For KRPS, I’m Fred Fletcher-Fierro in Webb City