Sales of fireworks to Maine consumers shot up when the Legislature legalized them in 2012, but even with the big July 4 weekend coming, sales have been on the decline in recent years, shrinking state tax revenue as well.
Industry experts attribute the sales falloff to the day of the week July 4 falls on and the rising number of municipalities that either ban or limit fireworks’ sales and use. While the state approved sales to and use of fireworks by consumers, each municipality or plantation can set its own rules for local use.
“Our sales have been off the last couple years by 20 percent compared to three years ago,” said Steve Marson, owner of eight Pyro City stores throughout Maine.
“Last year, July 4 was on a Wednesday,” he said. “This year it is on Thursday, so hopefully people will take the time off and have fireworks in their backyard.”
Marson said he expects to benefit next year as well, when July 4 will fall on a Saturday because 2020 is a leap year. State and federal governments will observe the holiday July 3, making it easier for families and employees to manage a long weekend.
The closer to the weekend July 4 falls, the more likely people are to take a long weekend holiday and spend more on fireworks.
“Sales are picking up some this year,” he said. “I’m hoping to have a spectacular year.”
He has 16 full-time staff and takes on about 200 seasonal employees. Sales are strongest around July 4 and Labor Day.
He also attributed the sales drop to municipal ordinances. One of the Pyro City locations is in Windham. A few years after it opened, Windham became one of 59 Main e towns with an ordinance restricting the use and/or sale of consumer fireworks.
Another 49 Maine municipalities and plantations prohibit consumer fireworks. They include Portland, Bangor and Brunswick.
Consumer fireworks sales in Maine were highest during the first year they were legalized. Sales hit $6.96 million but fell 29 percent from 2012 to 2018, according to Maine Revenue Services figures. Sales fell close to 11 percent from 2017 to hit $4.94 million in 2018, the most recent year sales figures were available.
Likewise, tax revenue slipped close to 23 percent from $350,000 in 2012 to $278,000 in 2018. It declined 10 percent from 2017 to 2018.
Sales slid down from 2012 to 2014, but rose to $6.52 million in 2015 before they decreased again for three consecutive years.
Maine’s slide runs counter to national sales, which have been on the rise since 2012, according to the American Pyrotechnics Association in Bethesda, Maryland.
Consumer fireworks sales nationally rose from $645 million in 2012 to $845 million in 2018, the association found.
Maine is one of 49 states, plus the District of Columbia, that allow consumers to buy and use fireworks. Only Massachusetts bans their sale and use, including fireworks purchased legally in another state and brought into Massachusetts.
Experts disagree on whether ordinances have dipped into consumer fireworks sales.
When Maine legalized consumer sales and use in 2012, 16 retail stores were licensed, according to the state fire marshal’s office. At the time, there were 56 towns with ordinances.
In 2018, there were 22 licensed stores, up five from 2017. However, the number of towns with ordinances also grew from 107 in 2017 to 112 in 2018. The latest number is double the figure in 2012.
Stores pay $5,000 for their initial license and $1,500 for each subsequent year.
There were 21 licensed stores in 2019. According to the fire marshal, six stores have closed since 2015, the most recent two within the past year.
AAH Fireworks, which has a store in Oxford, closed its store in West Paris in 2018.
“We closed the West Paris location because it is too close to Oxford,” owner Andre Vandenbulcke said.
He said his sales are strong this year, though he would not comment on exact numbers.
“I’ve been selling fireworks since I was 14 years old in New Hampshire,” he said. “My sales have grown every year since. My customers come from all over. People travel two hours to get here.”
He said ordinances are affecting some stores, but they are not the reason he closed the West Paris store. That location is not listed among the towns with an ordinance that prohibits or limits consumer fireworks sales or use.
His fastest selling fireworks this season is called “United We Stand.” It releases 30 rapid-fire shots that rise up to 15o feet, shoot out multicolored stars and make crackle sounds. Three of the fireworks sell for $130.
Julie Heckman, executive director of the American Pyrotechnics Association in Bethesda, Maryland, said municipal ordinances have not affected fireworks sales nationally.
“People will purchase their fireworks elsewhere,” she said. “Revenue from and consumption of fireworks has soared year after year.”
She said this year will be another record breaker because July 4 falls on a Thursday.
“Most families have the weekend off and will have multiple celebrations,” she said.