The fireworks business appears to be booming in advance of the Fourth of July holiday.
With COVID-19 causing the cancellation of just about all of the usual big fireworks show for July 4, Americans are left with little choice but to make their own shows at home.
Joe Vanoudenhove, managing partner of Sky King Fireworks — which has 20 locations on the east coast, including in Erie — said this summer is turning out to be a strong one.
"It's a banner year coast to coast," he said. "Anywhere from 50 to 200 percent increase in sales."
Vanoudenhove laid the blame for the increased sales solely at the pandemic and its side effects. With people staying locked inside for so long with no concerts, shows or other forms of entertainment, and possibly with some extra money from stimulus checks, the drive for some fun outside is strong.
"I think it's a function of people being starved for entertainment," he said.
One aspect Vandouenhove thinks is also playing a factor is that many people are more optimistic of the state of the pandemic compared to a few weeks ago. While the virus is still prevalent, Vandeouenhove thinks people have a sense that the country is moving in the right direction in regards to the virus.
"I think a lot of people feel better now about this situation with the whole pandemic than they did three months ago when it started," he said.
He also believes people may have exhausted all of their usual at-home entertainment options from having to stay indoors for much longer.
"People have watched all of the Netflix they can watch," he said.
Brian Lipps, operator of the TNT Fireworks tent located in the Walmart parking lot in Vernon Township, is seeing a similar increase in sales.
"Our first day we sold as much or more than any first day," Lipps said.
Lipps has been selling fireworks for nine years. Usually, in his experience, the sign of whether sales will be strong or not depends on the weather and what day July 4 falls on. If it's on a Tuesday and Wednesday, sales are lower than if it's on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday.
With July 4 falling on Saturday this year, the weather looking fairly warm and dry, and with the COVID-19 pandemic canceling most standard firework shows, it would appear several elements are coming together to make this a record year.
In fact, though Lipps only just opened his stand last Wednesday, he's already seeing a significant change in what kinds of fireworks people are buying. Typically, according to Lipps, people will usually buy smaller fireworks during the first few days, with the larger pyrotechnic displays or assortment packages only drawing attention as July 4 draws closer.
This year, Lipps said he was already able to sell three large assortment packages of fireworks, some of which can run up to $100 or more.
"You usually don't see that until July 2, 3 or 4," he said.
Lipps anticipates he'll have to order in more stock to meet the demand. Usually, he said, tents tend not to run out of items until around July 3.
Alex Snyder, whose family owns Big Woodie's Fireworks in Erie County, said the stores "definitely had increases in traffic," with many customers wanting to do their own shows due to the virus canceling the bigger events.
Megan Kaliszewski, a sales associate at the Big Woodie's location on Kuhl Road, echoed the sentiments.
"There's definitely been an increase in early shoppers," Kaliszewski said. "Usually we are seeing the busiest time being the week of the Fourth."
Stan Howles, of Saegertown, was one of the early shoppers of fireworks. Howles visited Lipps' stand on Friday alongside his wife Theresa Howles and granddaughter Rorie Howles, and said it was the earliest he'd ever gone shopping for fireworks, though he noted that was more likely due to having some extra free time.
While Howles said he usually sets off some fireworks at home, he also typically attends some larger shows as well, such as one put on by the company he works for, Greenleaf Corp., during its annual summer picnic. That picnic was cancelled this year.
Not everyone is experiencing a different July 4. Kyle Greenawalt, of Conneaut Lake, said he enjoys putting on fireworks shows at his home, with this year being no different than the rest. Especially exciting for Greenawalt is that this will be the first year his daughter, Lilly-Ann, will get to watch.
"She's scared of (fireworks) though," he said. "I'm going to try and make her not."
With people looking to do their own shows and possibly looking for something a bit more spectacular than they usually get, firework retailers had some advice on what to buy.
Vanoudenhove suggested 500 gram repeaters, a popular form of firework which fire off multiple shots. Snyder, meanwhile, recommended assortment packages, that way customers can avoid having to choose just one or two kinds of fireworks.
"We have a couple of packages that include a lot of interesting mortars," he said.
For Lipps, the most obvious suggestion was the Centennial Fountain XL, a new firework unveiled by TNT Fireworks to commemorate its 100th anniversary of doing business.
"It's got big noise, big poppers, it's got a solid fountain of sparklers," Lipps said.
Sean P. Ray can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at email@example.com.