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HOLDEN, Maine — Ken O’Donnell was shopping at Phantom Fireworks on Saturday figuring that between the frustrations imposed by the coronavirus pandemic work stoppage and his family’s usual requirements, he’ll spend $1,800 on fireworks this Fourth of July.
This year, he really wants to blow stuff up.
“This will be my chance to get out for a weekend,” O’Donnell said. “I haven’t done that yet this year.”
The 48-year-old lobsterman from Princeton is not alone. Local fireworks store owners said that they are seeing more shoppers this year. Like O’Donnell, Big Bang Boom store manager Greg Spencer attributed the increase at his store in Holden to coronavirus.
Spencer also thinks that Maine’s lack of town-sponsored, professional fireworks shows — almost all canceled in observance of coronavirus social-distancing requirements or for lack of funding — is encouraging more people to try launching fireworks on their own. Augusta, Bangor, Bar Harbor and Portland are among the municipalities that have called off shows.
It’s no secret that fireworks can be deadly.
“We’ve had a lot of new customers coming in,” Spencer said. “People want to get out of the house: They want to celebrate. Everybody’s been cooped up and with the big shows being canceled, they want to get their families together. They want to be with their loved ones and they want to enjoy time together.”
The Holden store has seen about 35 percent increase in traffic so far this year compared to last year, even with three months the store spent closed due to the pandemic, Spencer said.
Sean MacMillan, the owner of two competing stores, Big Bang Boom Fireworks in Holden and Lincoln, said that his sales are up by about 20 percent compared to last year’s.
“People want something to do,” MacMillan said. “I think people have maybe saved some money, not going out to dinner and all these other things that people normally do in the summer, you know, like travel.”
Nationally, fireworks retailers have reported 100 to 200 percent increases in sales before the Fourth of July holiday. Most expected to be sold out of fireworks before the holiday weekend, according to the Portland Press Herald.
Spencer’s customer counts last week ran almost double the number who came in to the Holden store the year before. On Friday, the store had 136 customers compared to 62 in 2019; Thursday saw 92 customers, compared to 42 last year; Wednesday, the difference was 65/40; and Tuesday, 62/37, he said.
“I am working about 100 hours a week,” Spencer said.
But fireworks aren’t just a Fourth of July thing in some Maine locales, particularly around the state’s lakes, said Christopher Reese, 32, of Dedham, who lives off Phillips Lake, Lucerne-in-Maine. He said he expected to see a lot of fireworks this weekend.
“You see fireworks all around the lake all the time,” said Reese, a Georgia native. “It’s nice that they’re legal. I shoot off only on Friday and Saturday nights unless it’s on the Fourth.”
Reese said he expected to see a show this weekend that could rival the efforts of the professionals who, with coronavirus, have taken the holiday off.