Bang for your buck

Roadside fireworks vendors preparing for Independence Day rush

Fireworks vendors Ray Johnson, left, and Larry Smith wait for customers at their fireworks stand Monday located in the Albertsons parking lot on Northwest 13th Street. Smith says the fireworks he has for sale are valued at about $30,000.

Doug Finger/Staff photographer
Published: Thursday, July 1, 2010 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, June 30, 2010 at 11:36 p.m.

This time of year, William Sheats celebrates two things: the country's independence and his birthday.


How far will $20 go?

If you only had $20 to spend, here's a sample:
Festival Balls are buy one, get one free: $19.99, comes with six shooting balls that burst into color
Bottle rockets called Moon Travelers: $8 each
Firecrackers: $3 each
Artillery Shell: $8 each
Pop Its: $1.50 each

Over the weekend, he'll have a cookout, a pool party with friends and family, and then he'll visit fireworks shows within a 50-mile radius of his home.

He's also shoring up his own cache of fireworks to shoot off in his backyard.

“My favorite is the mortar,” said Sheats, who bought about $25 worth of fireworks Tuesday after a thunderstorm at one of the many fireworks tents in Gainesville.

Sheats is among the thousands of customers who purchase fireworks every year the week before Fourth of July. In 2009, fireworks revenues totaled $945 million, according to the American Pyrotechnics Association.

Selling fireworks is a 24-hour job, insists Larry Smith, who is selling fireworks all week in front of the Albertsons on Northwest 13th Street.

“It's like a newborn baby — you can't leave it alone,” he said referring to the tent that holds 50 cases of fireworks valued at about $30,000.

Prices range from 50-cent smoking snakes to the $595.95 package called “The Godfather,” a towering 6-foot-tall box that contains “just about everything,” including firecrackers, bottle rockets and aerial fireworks, he said. “The Godfather” has enough fireworks to last about 2 to three hours, he said.

“For your money, you want some bangs for your buck,” he reasons. On a smaller scale, customers can buy 3-for-a-dollar sparklers and $2 smoke bombs or aerial shooters that range from $39 to $99.

With names like Sexy Rider, Voo Doo Magic, Big Island and Bootie Call, fireworks Smith sells are loud and colorful and last anywhere from five to eight minutes, he said. His most popular aerial seller is the Lock and Load, which is similar to what some cities use in fireworks shows, said Smith, who gets 25 percent of sales revenue.

The legal amount of gunpowder in fireworks that may be sold to the general public is 500 grams, says Smith. Anything over that amount is considered illegal.

“The powder is both a propellant and explosive,” he said.

Seventy to 80 percent of fireworks sales start Friday, said Smith, who has been selling fireworks with his wife for five years now.

He said he does not sell to minors, although some vendors will sell non-aerial fireworks like sparklers and Pop Its to 16-year-olds.

Vendors are required to have a business permit to operate in compliance with the Gainesville city ordinance relating to the sale of fireworks. The vendors also are required to take a safety and product information class before they are allowed to open up a tent.

Specials, such as a drawing to win a $199 package of fireworks at TNT Fireworks on Archer Road, are offered to encourage sales. The drawing will be held Saturday and customers need not be present to win, said John Miller, who is manning the tent at Butler Plaza.

Miller, the senior pastor at Christian Fellowship Community Church in Bell, said the average customer spends between $50 and $60 on fireworks, and most sales take place after 11 p.m. Twenty percent of the proceeds from his sales will go to community outreach programs his church operates, he said.

Sheats said he expects about 30 people dropping by at his weekend-long party, including friends from England, who he enjoys teasing about the nature of the celebration.

“They lost the war, so they aren't too excited about this holiday,” he said. “The bigger group of people … the more fun we have.”

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