- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 20, 2021

“Bombs bursting in air” this Independence Day may be few and far between in some neighborhoods because port delays and a scarcity of global containers are contributing to a shortage of consumer fireworks, retailers say.

“There is definitely a shortage of fireworks in the U.S. this year caused by the issues that have developed with the logistics of getting the products out of China and into the U.S.,” said William Weimer, vice president and general counsel of Phantom Fireworks, a major consumer fireworks retailer.

China manufactures most of the consumer fireworks sold in the U.S. but has encountered a shortage of shipping containers. Containers have not been returned to China or its fireworks warehouses to be stocked and loaded onto ships, Mr. Weimer said.

Another complication is a lack of space on container ships, which limit “dangerous goods” such as fireworks.

U.S. ports, particularly along the West Coast, are clogged. Industry experts say container ships have to wait offshore for days before entering ports.

Additionally, ports don’t have enough workers to offload cargo, Mr. Weimer said.

“Once the products are offloaded in a port, they often sit for weeks at a time before being loaded on rail or trucks to be taken to the ultimate destination,” he said.

Phantom Fireworks said Thursday that its orders had been sitting in containers since mid-April and were waiting to be loaded onto freight trains for delivery to the company’s warehouse in Warren, Ohio.

Les Price, vice president of sales for Atomic Fireworks, said his company’s supply has diminished from last year because of a lack of space on ocean vessels and congestion at Southern California ports.

Atomic Fireworks, which has retailers in several states, including Alabama, Tennessee, Missouri and South Carolina, is selling products only to its current customers and is trying to limit purchases to last year’s supplies, Mr. Price said.

About a third of fireworks are caught up in the global supply chain mess. Julie Heckman, executive director of the American Pyrotechnics Association, noted the “struggle with movement” of containers arriving at ports. She also said fireworks are not getting onto rails and not enough truckers are available to pick up the supplies.

“The shortage is the result of the unprecedented sale and use of consumer fireworks during the pandemic,” Ms. Heckman said. “With the unprecedented demand and use and sales of consumer fireworks, which are legal in 49 states, plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, most consumer fireworks retailers exhausted their inventory, which never happens.”

Massachusetts is the only state to ban the sale and use of all consumer fireworks.

Ms. Heckman predicts that demand for backyard fireworks this Fourth of July will be higher than the 273 million pounds in 2019 but down from about 405 million pounds last year. The sale of consumer fireworks nearly doubled from $1 billion in 2019 to $1.9 billion in 2020, according to the American Pyrotechnics Association.

“We had so many first-time users of consumer fireworks that once they got a taste of that at-home celebration, they’re going to plan to do it again this Fourth of July, especially those who aren’t planning to travel,” Ms. Heckman said. “I think the demand will still be there.”

Although fireworks retailers have supplies right now, she said, restocking through July Fourth will be a challenge.

“We’ve missed the boat for products that should be here for the Fourth of July,” she said. “Anything sitting on the water or still stuck at the West Coast ports is not going to make it here in time.”

Phantom Fireworks anticipates receiving about 70% of what it has ordered, which “should be sufficient to carry us through the season, Mr. Weimer said. The company has more than 75 locations nationwide that are open year-round and more than 1,500 seasonal tents and stands.

“Others may fare worse, particularly those retailers who procure their products domestically. In prior years, Phantom generally got what was ordered,” he said.

With supplies of consumer fireworks down, prices have gone up. Skyrocketing shipping costs paired with additional transportation costs for containers have contributed to climbing prices, Mr. Weimer said. Also bumping up prices, he said, is an 8% rise in the value of China’s currency, the yuan, over the U.S. dollar since Phantom Fireworks placed orders in August.

Prices at Atomic Fireworks reportedly have risen 20% to 35% because of increased shipping costs.

TNT Fireworks, which sets up stands and tents across Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Delaware, has more limited products this year, said company spokesperson Sherri Simmons. She said customers are encouraged to buy early to get the best selection.

“We are working tirelessly to address this year’s supply chain issues and will continue different initiatives in an effort to alleviate these issues in the future,” said Ms. Simmons. “This year’s delays were primarily due to the COVID-19 pandemic and high demand for consumer products, resulting in drastic global supply chain challenges.”

Although Americans will hold fewer backyard light shows, more professional Independence Day firework displays are a go.

Professional fireworks operators are not facing shortages because COVID-19 outbreaks led to the cancellation of nearly all displays last year, Ms. Heckman said.

About 16,000 professional fireworks displays were held across the country in 2019, Ms. Heckman said, but that was reduced to only a couple of dozen last year. That means professional fireworks operators have been at maximum capacity for more than a year.

This Fourth of July, a reported 70% of those 16,000 professional firework displays are scheduled.

• Shen Wu Tan can be reached at stan@washingtontimes.com.

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