- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 3, 2008

Abington, Mass., knows how to celebrate the Fourth of July - a day early. Since 1976, a band has played, people have danced, families have reunited with picnic blankets in hand, and the children have paraded through town on July 3. And they’ve always closed out the night with the largest fireworks show south of Boston.

But this year, rockets won’t be glaring red. The party is shelved.

“The last time we pulled the plug, you could hear a pin drop that day,” said resident Bob Baker, who heads the Abington Night Before the 4th Celebration. “It was a ghost town.”

For only the second time since 1976, funds have come up short against rising costs of fireworks, but Abington isn’t the only town missing a big bang this year. Backlogged orders from Chinese fireworks manufacturers and the spike in costs of imported fireworks are putting the squeeze on fireworks companies across the country, and some towns have canceled their displays because fireworks simply are too expensive.

Video:With prices up, fireworks sales may fizzle

Some of the bigger companies say they have enough stockpiles for the weekend, in spite of the 10 percent to 15 percent of Chinese fireworks still undelivered, though shows scheduled for later in the year are uncertain. The extra expense is proving too much for smaller communities, especially those that fund fireworks shows with private money.

Mr. Baker said the cost for a fireworks show has nearly doubled since he started fundraising for the yearly celebration in 1987 and would have jumped more than 25 percent this year alone.

In Billings, Mont., where the Yellowstone County Tavern Association has raised the private donations sponsoring July Fourth fireworks for the past decade, the cost of a show has quadrupled. This year, the association donated the money toward community charities.

“If we could do the same show that we did, if the cost wasn’t so terribly high, it wouldn’t be such a burden,” said Cam Schieno, the association’s vice president and owner of Montana Chad’s bar. “We are always proactive in the community. We’ve just decided to spend our money on a way that is more beneficial to the community.”

But skyrocketing costs and shortages of imported fireworks are giving a July Fourth boom to small American fireworks manufacturers.

The Chinese fireworks industry, the major supplier in the United States, has increased prices and cut the number of ports from which explosives are shipped because of mishaps.

Specialty European fireworks cost more, too, thanks to the weakening dollar. Because of the extra expense and delay, some U.S. retailers are turning to small domestic fireworks manufacturers.

“What we would typically buy from our European manufacturers, we are buying from our manufacturers in the United States,” said Matt Shea, general sales manager of Atlas PyroVision Productions. He said European fireworks cost 50 percent to 60 percent more this year than last and that he doubled his order from Cuba, N.Y.-based Grand Fireworks. This year, a fifth of his fireworks will be American-made.

“It’s giving the domestic producers of fireworks the opportunity to shine, and this year, they’re all coming to the plate, and I think they’re doing well,” he said.

Historically an industry run in the United States by generations-old Italian-American families, more than 90 percent of fireworks business has moved to China in the past few decades because of rising labor costs and an unrelenting pursuit of cheaper explosives. Yearly additions to government fees and regulations also have weakened the American fireworks industry.

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