Sales of consumer products this year are "unprecedented," say firework store owners, as municipal Fourth of July fireworks have been canceled.
Consumer-grade fireworks are flying off shelves this year at stores throughout eastern Pennsylvania, as families plan their own Fourth of July festivities to make up for professional firework displays that have been canceled.
The lines were long at Intergalactic Fireworks in Middletown last week as people came from near and far to buy the aerial devices. The parking lot was full of cars with both Pennsylvania and out-of-state license plates.
"It’s a good social distancing activity. You could stay in your yard and other people could see it," said Anthony LoBianco Jr., co-owner of the store on Lincoln Highway.
Justin Smith of Middletown blamed the coronavirus for the need for fireworks as he loaded some of his purchases into his car.
"It’s a combination of coronavirus and the summer being warm and there's nothing to do and nowhere to go," he said.
Yet, while almost everyone likes fireworks on the Fourth, their increasing use on other days has sounded alarms in neighborhoods across the region, especially over the past couple of years since Pennsylvania adopted a law allowing aerial fireworks, called Class C fireworks, to be sold to consumers.
Anyone over age 18 can purchase the aerials in Pennsylvania, allowing them to get more bang for their bucks. But it also creates problems for nearby residents who may have young children trying to sleep or pets terrified by the noise. And there are potential safety hazards with the use of these incendiary devices if not used and disposed of correctly.
"This year, fireworks are being set off on a nightly basis, weeks in advance of the July 4th holiday." Bristol Township Manager Randee Elton wrote on an online post. "One only must venture out at night on a short walk to hear fireworks in every direction. While we appreciate everyone's enthusiasm this year, we are asking our residents to be considerate to their friends, neighbors and emergency service workers."
Lieutenant Christopher Vote of Pocono Mountain Regional Police said the fireworks complaints are coming in as they get closer to the fourth of July.
"People’s biggest complaints seem to be about the time of night and closeness of the fireworks to their residences," Vote said. "State law is clear about the 150 feet needed away from another housing structure."
Vote claims they give out a lot of warnings before issuing citations or anything making arrests. Besides the distance, he reminded people they need to be over 18 years of age and not be intoxicated when firing off fireworks.
Stroudsburg Mayor Tarah Probst complained about being inundated with complaints about fireworks going off late at night, sometimes in areas where they are prohibited for being too close to people’s homes.
"I hear them every night," Probst said.
Probst noted that in Stroudsburg, where many homes are not the required 150 feet apart, tourists who buy fireworks here may not be aware of local laws or ordinances.
"AirBnBs are full of out-of-state people that can’t do it in their own states and assume they can do it here." she said.
"People think that because they can buy them here, they can fire them here."
Monroe County Commissioner Sharon Laverdure said all major fireworks displays in the Poconos have been canceled this year.
"I don’t believe any of the (Monroe County) municipalities have gotten any requests for permits for fireworks either. My greatest concern is my people’s safety," she said.
In addition to the 150-foot rule, fireworks cannot be set off on a property without the owner’s permission. Also, they cannot be discharged from a motor vehicle or building or toward one.
Despite the complaints and requirements, Roman candles, "Bling Bang," "A Little Show in a Box" and other fireworks are selling quickly, store owners said.
"It’s a banner year, coast to coast," said Joseph Van Oudenhove, who operates several Sky King Fireworks stores. "People ... are starving for entertainment."
In the Poconos, where most tourists come from New Jersey or New York, out-of-state shoppers flock to fireworks stores that sit on the Pennsylvania border.
John Weitzel, owner of Brooklyn Fireworks in Tannersville, is seeing a boom in sales firsthand. "We are making between four to maybe eight times as much as in any other season and the season is not even over."
According to Weitzel, the most popular sellers are the 500 gram cakes, 200 gram cakes and shells, although everything is selling off the shelves. He said nearly 90% of customers are coming to him from New York, where residents are still feeling the lockdown.
"The government is giving people an extra $600 weekly in unemployment funds, which means more money to spend," said Weitzel. "I have been swiping those unemployment cards all day long."
"It is definitely helping to prop up the economy."
The Phantom Fireworks store in Delaware Water Gap is less than a mile away from the Pennsylvania Welcome Center on the New Jersey border. According to store manager Rosie Rafferty, her store is seeing a majority of out-of-state customers, from as far away as Long Island, Delaware, or the South.
"We are getting a lot of first-time customers," Rafferty said. "It has been an interesting and unprecedented year.
"Our sales are up, over ten-fold, despite the two and a half month closure."
Rafferty said empty shelves couldn’t be stocked fast enough, even as trucks bring in different waves of product daily.
Store owners felt that fireworks could help bring people together, if handled responsibly.
"People have been spending little to no money in the last couple months on things like eating out, entertainment or leisure," said Ken Shuchman, owner of Fireworks Outlet in Marshalls Creek and other locations in the Poconos, including a new store opening on Route 940 in Pocono Summit.
"With everything going on in the country, the good, the bad and the ugly, there is just a swell of patriotism, people still do love the country and want to celebrate the birth of it."
Sky King’s Van Oudenhove said that if handled safely and according to municipal regulations, fireworks will restore a sparkle to what’s been a downer of a year.
"People should use fireworks responsibly," he said.
One good thing from the pandemic, he said, is that it has brought families together.
"The concept of family has somewhat been restored. People are getting together and grilling outside. Why not barbecue and celebrate with fireworks on the Fourth?"