- The Washington Times - Monday, May 18, 2020

With Memorial Day just around the corner, Anita Brown says “it’s a scary time” to be a seller of fireworks, as social distancing protocols dampen hopes of summertime pyrotechnic displays across the country.

“There are some people who sell fireworks year-round, but the majority are pop-ups,” said Mrs. Brown, office manager of the wholesale firm Tennessee Alabama Fireworks in Kimball, Tennessee. “They’ve been doing it for generation after generation.”

Nothing brings people together like fireworks — which is why jurisdictions from Galveston, Texas, to Lake Tahoe, Nevada, to New York City have cancelled pyrotechnics displays to adhere to social distancing guidelines.

Even as states ease their stay-at-home orders and reopen their economies, get-togethers at a park, lake or parking lot for staring up at rockets bursting in air is still a no-go for many event planners.

“There is just too much uncertainty,” said Lee Tillery, director of parks and recreation in High Point, North Carolina.



Mr. Tillery said local officials had to cancel this year’s Fourth of July fireworks celebration, which typically attracts more than 10,000 people, out of an abundance of caution in accordance with Gov. Roy Cooper’s phased reopening of the state.

“We’ve had basically a positive response, but obviously there’s always disappointment,” Mr. Tillery said.

It’s a similar story in Pittsburgh, where Mayor Bill Peduto has cancelled Fourth of July fireworks to ensure residents keep their distance from one another. Officials in Racine, Wisconsin, and El Cerrito, California, have done likewise, while city leaders in Newport, Rhode Island, say they have postponed their fireworks show for later this summer.

Meanwhile, a decision about Chicago’s Navy Pier is still up-in-the-air.

“Traditionally, there are 16,000 Independence Day shows nationwide,” said Julie Heckman, executive director of the American Pyrotechnics Association. “We’re trying to remain optimistic and hopeful, but the number of displays occurring are few and far between the ones who are no longer a go.”

After cancelling fireworks in Akron, Ohio, elected leaders said they’re looking into sponsoring smaller displays around the city.

Most of the Independence Day festivities in the town of Wanamingo, Minnesota, have been cancelled, but its fireworks display will still go on as planned, officials said.

And Fourth of July fireworks are slated to return to Mount Rushmore in the Black Hills of South Dakota — with President Trump promising to attend.

“We are planning as though there will be an audience in attendance but are prepared for there not to be one — in which case the fireworks would be broadcast worldwide,” a spokesman for South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem said in an email.

Ms. Heckman, of the pyrotechnics association, said the fireworks industry is facing unprecedented stress. Before the outbreak of the coronavirus, an accident at a factory in China in December temporarily strained supply lines to the U.S.

Now suppliers have “more product for public display than we can use,” Ms. Heckman said, noting that celebrations as diverse as the Coachella music festival and sporting events have cancelled fireworks displays.

One area for hope is in the direct-to-consumer sellers who will start up in earnest Memorial Day weekend.

Tennessee Alabama Fireworks mostly sells to pop-up stand proprietors for folks who like to celebrate with sparklers, bottle rockets and Roman candles in their backyards, Mrs. Brown said.

“If things stay going in a good direction, then they’re excited because Memorial Day weekend starts on Saturday and they feel like people will be staying home this summer, more than traveling away, and we hope it works out to sell to them,” she said of her family’s business.

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