SOMERSWORTH, N.H. — The conventional wisdom is that Maine’s new law legalizing consumer fireworks would hurt New Hampshire fireworks stores because Mainers would no longer have to travel out of state to buy their missiles, Roman candles and exploding aerial displays.
But at Hilltop Fireworks, located a couple of miles from the Maine border, the owners say they’ve had more Maine customers in the days leading up to the Fourth of the July than in previous years. The company’s website says, “We welcome new customers from Maine.”
With fireworks now legal, Mainers who never gave much thought to fireworks or didn’t buy them because they were illegal are now opening their wallets.
One of them, 46-year-old Amy Harper of South Berwick, had never bought fireworks before Monday. That’s when she and her 19-year-old son picked up an assortment of small fireworks to set off for a July Fourth get-together with family and friends.
“Now we can have a Fourth of July celebration,” she said as she examined the store’s colorful selection of pyrotechnics. “If we can have a little fun and have it be legal, that’s perfect.”
This Independence Day is the first since 1949 that fireworks have been legal in Maine. Back then, fireworks were outlawed after some legislators moved to end the noisy outbursts and injuries associated with fireworks, especially around the Fourth of July.
Since fireworks again became legal on Jan. 1, a dozen fireworks stores have opened from Scarborough in the south to Presque Isle in the north.
With the approach of July Fourth, fire officials have stressed the importance of fireworks safety. State law limits fireworks to municipalities where they’re approved and requires people to be 21 to purchase and use them.
At the Atlas Fireworks Factory store in Scarborough, a steady stream of customers Monday checked out the wide selection of fireworks with names like Red, White and Kaboom and Pyro Fest. The average customer spends $65 to $100, the store manager said.
But others, like Scarborough restaurant owner John DiSanto, are spending much more. DiSanto was expecting more than 50 people at his house for a July Fourth party where he planned to shoot off more than $2,500 worth of fireworks.
The economy’s been tough for so long, fireworks gives people a chance to celebrate and have a little fun, he said. He’s also paying tribute to his brother, who died last year.
“This year I’m going over the top to show gratitude to my staff, my friends and my family,” DiSanto said. “It’s a nice way to celebrate.”
Business has been brisk, said Barbara Pelkey, who manages the Atlas store for her husband, who owns the Scarborough store and five others in New Hampshire. But it’s inevitable that Maine’s law will hurt fireworks stores in New Hampshire, she said.
“Mainers aren’t going to go New Hampshire anymore,” she said. “It’s going to cut somewhere.”
Hilltop Fireworks will feel it if a fireworks store opens in Maine close to Somersworth, said Kenneth Vincent, the store’s co-owner. For now, the nearest Maine fireworks store is an hour’s drive away.
But even then, many Mainers will continue coming to New Hampshire, he said.
“We hear the prices in Maine are outrageous,” Vincent said. “Plus, Maine has a sales tax and New Hampshire doesn’t.”