Fireworks Law Could Bring Explosive Sales to Phantom

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – From fountains to displays that fill the night sky, fireworks may be even more prevalent than usual this Fourth of July.

Changes to laws in Ohio now allow for the legal discharge of consumer-grade fireworks starting this Fourth of July weekend. Predictably this may lead to an increase in sales across the state, including generating additional business for a local company, Phantom Fireworks.

Bill Weimer, vice president at Youngstown-based Phantom Fireworks, said early in the week leading up to the holiday, sales paralleled a year earlier, when the industry saw the largest sales ever. He believes sales will pick up even more as the holiday approaches.

“This last week is everything for our business year,” Weimer said, adding the seasoned veterans traditionally buy weeks or even months ahead, but the new customers usually wait until right before the holiday. “We could see a real upswing in business the last two or three days,” he said.

Although hiring is difficult right now, Skip Mackall, the manager of Phantom Fireworks in Boardman said he hires local college students to work there in the weeks leading up to the Fourth of July, with those students making as much in a few weeks as some students make working all summer. There are longer store hours near the holiday.

“We’re really anticipating a good year,” Mackall said. “It’s one of the last American traditions almost everyone can agree on.”

Sales statistics are not yet available for most of the Phantom showrooms, but the trends show no decline in the enthusiasm for fireworks. Weimer said management has looked at figures from a new Phantom Fireworks showroom in Montrose near Akron, which has had a significant number of new buyers. Weimer said it is not known if these are new Phantom Fireworks customers or new buyers of fireworks in general.

“People love to shoot fireworks,” Weimer said, likening the thrill to the difference between going to professional baseball game and a sandlot game. “You love to go to the municipal show… wherever you go to see fireworks and see the professional, big displays. That’s not what we sell in our showrooms. We sell toned down, federally regulated fireworks for people to use in their backyards.”

Setting off fireworks displays at home grew in popularity even more than usual during the pandemic, according to Mackall. Even if the local municipal show was still happening, many people wanted to avoid crowds, leading them to setting off their own displays or watching the neighbors doing so from the distance of their own yards.

Not everyone has the space to shoot fireworks at their home, but organizations like churches or campgrounds may have the room to safely discharge them while people can watch from afar.

Mackall said some customers seek as much color as possible, while others look for the loudest bang. Although shipping costs tripled this year, the shelves at Phantom Fireworks are stacked high with a variety of items from novelty to aerial fireworks. The type of fireworks purchased may reflect the experience level of the consumer setting them off and the ages of those who will be in attendance.

Weimer estimates 70% of the customers right now are family units, sometimes with three generations of a family picking out fireworks in the showroom. They will buy two or three carts and enjoy shopping for fireworks as something to do together.

Roxanne Witherow, shopping with her children and fiancé, said this was something her extended family used to every year, all setting off fireworks at her grandmother’s house. Their tradition continues on a smaller scale at her home.

Whether it is a family with multi generations or a cul-de-sac of neighbors pooling their money together to put on a display, Weimer believes fireworks displays are “quintessential to celebrating the Fourth of July in America.”

“I love putting a little show on,” said Kevin Cline, a customer from the Pittsburgh area, who was loading up a large flat cart in the Boardman store with the help of a store employee.

“The neighborhood all gets together and have a good time,” he said, adding their gathering is on July 3 this year.

Prior to the new law, Ohio residents could purchase consumer-grade fireworks in Ohio, but had to transport them out of the state within 48 hours to legally set them off. The new law allows them to be discharged in Ohio on certain holidays starting with this Fourth of July. Fireworks can be used from 4 p.m. to 11 p.m., on July 3, 4 and 5, as well as the weekends immediately before and after this Independence Day.

Other holidays when fireworks will now be allowed in Ohio will be Labor Day weekend, Diwali, New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day, Chinese New Year, Cinco de Mayo, Memorial Day weekend and Juneteenth. With the exception of New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day the times are from 4 p.m. to 11 p.m. On New Year’s Eve, fireworks can be used from 4 p.m. to 11:59 a.m. and continuing from midnight to 1 a.m., on New Year’s Day. Fireworks then can resume from 4 p.m. to 11 p.m. on New Year’s Day.

Some caveats to the new regulations include:
– No one under 18 can handle or discharge fireworks or be within 150 feet of the discharge point of aerial fireworks.
– No use of fireworks while under the control of or under the influence of intoxicating liquor or controlled substance.
– Safety measures must be followed for distances, storage and locations.

The change in regulations could lead to additional customers, but could there be additional safety concerns with inexperienced consumers?

Weimer refutes claims by the Consumer Products Safety Commission that injuries from fireworks climbed an estimated 25% between 2006 and 2021. That report stated fireworks caused nine deaths in the U.S. in 2021, including six directly related to firework misuse and one from a firework malfunction. Additionally, the CPSC report estimated 11,500 firework-related injuries in 2021.

However, Weimer said since the American Fireworks Standards Laboratory began testing consumer fireworks for compliance, the numbers of pounds of fireworks used annually has risen by 265%. Over the same time, Weimer said the injuries are down nearly 75%.

To ensure new users know what they are doing and take proper precautions, Phantom Fireworks provides safety fliers in their stores. Weimer said knowledgeable sales staff can answer questions and show videos on tablets of how the product works. The new law requires mandatory safety tips, so the company revamped precautionary literature it already was sending out with each sale.

“Our philosophy is there’s no good fireworks show unless it’s a safe fireworks show,” Weimer said, noting “safety statistics in the industry are pretty amazing.”

Mackall agrees safety is the company’s number one concern, but additionally he also reminds people to “be good neighbors” by being considerate to others and their pets and animals.

FirstEnergy also is urging those using fireworks, not to do so near power lines, electrical equipment and substations. Fireworks, along with the foil balloons, popular for decorating for parties and parades, can cause damage and lead to an uptick in power outages in the time leading up to the Fourth of July. In Northeast Ohio, foil balloons already have caused nearly a dozen power outages this year, according to FirstEnergy.

Pictured above: Jaysen Edmond leaps for a box of fireworks on the top shelf while shopping with his parents, Mathew Edmond and Roxanne Witherow, and sister Zoanna Edmond at the Phantom Fireworks store in Boardman.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.