Huge local demand for fireworks leads to low supply just before the Fourth of July

It’s not your imagination. You’ve been hearing more fireworks than usual. Between homemade displays, and cancellations of popular city fireworks shows like the one at Navy Pier, Chicagoans have taken Fourth of July celebrations into their own hands. This has led to a huge increase in fireworks sales which, in a market hit hard by COVID-19-related factory closures, has also led to a shortage.

Robert Tomsich has been in the fireworks business for over 30 years, but he said this season is the busiest he’s ever seen. He owns Lightning Family Fireworks in Gary, Indiana. He has hired more staff to keep up with demand he thinks is caused by people feeling cooped up by COVID-19 stay-at-home orders.

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“We’ve been working harder, longer hours and probably twice a week for the past two or three weeks, we’ve been scrambling,” Tomsich said.

Tomsich said closures of Chinese factories because of the coronavirus has led to a 30 to 40% decrease in imports of fireworks. To get stock, he said he has to travel hundreds of miles to scope out fireworks and have them shipped back to Gary.

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Sale, possession and use of consumer fireworks other than small items like sparklers are prohibited in Illinois, but Tomsich said he sees many buyers from Chicago and the suburbs.

Lila Zayas, owner of Smokeshop Fireworks in Whiting, Indiana, said she saw an unexpected sales spike for the celebration of Juneteenth.

Meanwhile, sales at Smokeshop are also booming. Zayas said her main suppliers, which do most of the importing from China, are out of fireworks. Some product shipments have been delayed and won’t come in until after the Fourth, she said.

“I can’t even get sparklers,” Zayas said.

She speculated that extra money from CARES federal stimulus checks or the unemployment benefit bonus might be some of why people are buying more, Zayas said. Some of her customers are also buying in bulk because they are unable to find the fireworks they want elsewhere.

Marilyn OConnor of Boom Town Fireworks in Dyer, Indiana, said people are buying fireworks because there isn’t much else to spend money on right now. She said about half of the customers who buy from her have never purchased fireworks before.

The Fourth falling on a Saturday also factors into demand, she said. OConnor, who purchases fireworks wholesale from China, said manufacturing issues started even before the COVID-19 pandemic with the closure of some Chinese factories that were unable to sustain being open for only half of the year.

Boom Town is not experiencing a shortage, OConnor said, because the company keeps one year’s supply in reserve. She said the fireworks market as a whole is experiencing strain because the demand for product exceeds the supply.

OConnor said she feels joyful that she is able to continue supplying fireworks for people who want to “party in their backyards.”

“Look at all the losses people have sustained this year,” OConnor said. “People need happy experiences.”

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