- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 3, 2003

On a firecracker-hot afternoon, Melinda Alvarado sells Fourth of July paraphernalia with one hand while holding her 8-month-old son on a hip with the other. For the last 14 of her 30 years, Mrs. Alvarado has worked to earn a little money on the side by managing her family’s fireworks stand before the Independence Day holiday.

The last four years she has set up her TNT Fireworks stand at her stepmother’s garden shop at 1720 New York Ave. NE.

“Everything fountains, crackles, whistles, pops,” she tells a customer who walks the length of the stand looking at rows of fireworks.

“How about these,” a small boy asks his mother as he holds up bottle rockets that spew a fountain of colored sparks.

“We got to get some noisemakers,” his mother responds.

They settle on “pop-its,” which are small balls of explosives that pop when thrown onto a hard surface.

This week is the make-it-or-break-it time for sales at TNT Fireworks.

Mrs. Alvarado’s family opened the stand June 20 and will close it Sunday.

The first week consisted mostly of “lookers” who wanted to see what kinds of fireworks were available and compare prices.

Mrs. Alvarado describes the first week as a get-acquainted period. TNT Fireworks roadside signs alerted motorists to the stand’s presence but produced few sales.

This week, business is brisk. TNT Fireworks extended its hours from a 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. operation to 24 hours a day and hired an off-duty police officer to direct traffic.

“The Fourth is the best part,” Mrs. Alvarado says. “It all builds up to the Fourth.”

Mrs. Alvarado and her 16-year-old nephew drive to their stand at New York Avenue and Montana Avenue in Northeast each morning from their homes in Virginia.

Until the round-the-clock operation this week, they began unloading fireworks from a large shipping container next to their stand around 8 a.m. It took them about an hour to assemble all the fireworks in rows.

The daily routine was the same: Wait for customers, answer questions, ring up sales on the cash register.

A fan, a radio and her son in a playpen kept her company between customers.

“If it’s slow, we keep the tables straight and stacked up,” she says.

Other times, inattentive motorists at the busy intersection nearby provide entertainment with “almost accidents.”

Often, “lookers” want to chat as much as they want to check out the multicolored packages of fireworks.

One is a ponytailed man in his 50s whose car belches fumes like a smokestack.

After being disappointed to learn “snakes” cost $4.99 each instead of $1.99, he begins a rambling story about illegal fireworks, bottle rockets with short fuses, his mother’s death and his own diabetes.

“Some customers you don’t forget,” Mrs. Alvarado says as the man leaves.

Around 9 p.m., she starts putting the fireworks back into the shipping container beside her stand before returning home at 10 p.m.

Mrs. Alvarado worked as a law firm office manager until she became pregnant with her son. Sometimes, she helps her husband run his patent research firm. She spends most of her time as a housewife intermingled with occasional part-time jobs.

In addition to the heat, one of the pitfalls of selling fireworks is the occasional drunken reveler.

“The Fourth gets really wild,” Mrs. Alvarado says. “People get crazy.”

In previous years, the craziness included “hoodlums” throwing smoke bombs into crowds of her customers.

However, she said, the benefits far outweigh the hazards.

“We do pretty good here,” she says about her location, which is near the entrances to Route 50 and the Baltimore-Washington Parkway.

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