Fireworks stores banking on parties and other special occasions for year-round success

Phantom Fireworks features an arsenal of colorfully packaged mortars, firecrackers and rockets.
Phantom Fireworks features an arsenal of colorfully packaged mortars, firecrackers and rockets.
Posted July 06, 2012, at 7:27 p.m.
Phantom Fireworks in Scarborough had as many as 50 employees working at the store during the weeks leading up to the Fourth of July, but that number was down to about 20 just two days after the holiday.
Phantom Fireworks in Scarborough had as many as 50 employees working at the store during the weeks leading up to the Fourth of July, but that number was down to about 20 just two days after the holiday.

SCARBOROUGH, Maine — The Independence Day crowds were gone Friday morning from Phantom Fireworks in Scarborough, along with about half of the store’s work force, many of whom were hired temporarily to manage the Fourth of July rush.

Fireworks have been legal in Maine since Jan. 1, and Gov. Paul LePage has said the new market will create jobs and economic growth in the state.

But it remains to be seen whether the demand for fireworks, supplied by a number of stores that have cropped up from Scarborough to Presque Isle, will sustain the stores and their employees throughout the year.

Steve Marson, owner and CEO of professional fireworks company Central Maine Pyrotechnics, owns Pyro City, a chain of five commercial fireworks stores that have opened since March, with locations in Manchester, Winslow, Ellsworth, Edgecomb and Presque Isle.

Marson said while he expects sales at his stores to drop off after Labor Day, there will continue to be a demand for fireworks.

“There’s a million different reasons people want to use fireworks,” Marson said.

But the demand for fireworks during the period from June 15 to July 15 dwarfs the rest of the year. Marson said the business plan for the stores anticipates 75 percent of sales to take place during that monthlong period and the other 25 percent to come in the next 11 months until next year’s peak season.

And already there appears to be a steep drop-off in demand for fireworks after the Fourth of July.

Just days ago, lines of people stretched out the doors of Phantom Fireworks, with the store at capacity. On Friday, however, about 10 customers wandered the aisles as a small crew of employees stood chatting near the cash registers.

“It was hectic, to say the least,” said store manager Jarred Falls of the holiday crowds drawn by the store’s arsenal of colorfully packaged mortars, firecrackers and rockets.

Falls said the massive demand for consumer fireworks around the Fourth of July — especially in Maine, where they are a novelty for many, thanks in large part to their recent legalization — will help sustain the store year-round.

“Most of our business is in the weeks around the Fourth of July,” said Falls, who has worked at Phantom Fireworks for more than 10 years.

But with the peak season for fireworks purchases behind them, the employees had just been discussing their employment situation with Falls. As many as 50 employees were working at the store during the weeks leading up to the Fourth of July, but that number was down to about 20 just two days after the holiday. Falls said it would go down further, to a maximum of eight full-time employees and as few as four, depending on how robust a business the store does in the following months.

Derek Tarbox, who has worked at Phantom Fireworks since early June, laughed nervously with some of the other employees as their manager discussed the drastic cutback of the store’s work force.

“I’d like to keep working here,” said Tarbox, who, along with most of the employees, was hired with the knowledge his position most likely would be seasonal or temporary.

According to Marson, the five Pyro City stores throughout Maine currently employ 45 full-time workers. He said five of the employees are seasonal and 40 will remain full-time throughout the year.

“Our stores are year-round because we’ve got mortgages and leases to pay; we’ve got employees to pay,” Marson said.

Even with the holiday passed, people are buying fireworks, even if not in droves. Tom Manderson, 46, of Gorham perused the shelves at Phantom Fireworks on Friday, looking to celebrate a birthday with a fireworks display.

Manderson said he intends to continue buying fireworks throughout the year for special occasions, not just around the Fourth of July.

“I’m pretty enthusiastic about it,” Manderson said. “I think people are pretty into it.”

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