No bucks, no boom for the Fourth
As many folks pack up picnics and head to see the fireworks this holiday weekend, the skies over a couple-dozen cash-strapped communities will be missing the spectacular crackle of color that Americans associate with the nation's birthday.
Blame the economy.
Cities and towns including Antioch, Calif.; Louisville, Colo.; Akron, Ohio; Stamford, Conn.; and Jersey City, N.J., were forced to pull the plug on their local fireworks shows because of tight budgets.
In Antioch, Mayor James Davis said it was a tough call to cancel the city's nearly $80,000 fireworks show and festivities. It's a celebration he and his wife brought back to the area 15 years ago. But even more difficult, he says, is laying off 18 people this year.
"You get to know a lot of these employees on a one-to-one basis," said Davis. "How can we spend money on the fireworks when we're making these cutbacks?"
It is the same story in Clayton, N.C., where Mayor Jody McLeod says he can't remember a year the town of 16,000 didn't have fireworks — until this year. Clayton is facing layoffs and spending $30,000 for fireworks just didn't seem right.
"It's devastating," said the mayor. "But because of the economy, this is just what the town has to do."
McLeod has received a few letters and e-mails asking how he could cancel the fireworks — "a piece of Americana," said one; "insane," cried another. But most residents "understand that you can only spend what you have, just like a family," said McLeod.
Dallas almost lost its fireworks when organizers couldn't find enough corporate sponsors. After they canceled, a last-minute donation from a scrap metal recycling company, Gold Metal Recyclers, saved the show, although it'll be held on July 5.
Gold Metal and Dr Pepper are contributing $80,000 for the fireworks show and a performance by the Dallas Wind Symphony.
Donations from a father-son team saved fireworks from fizzling in Cedar Grove, N.J., where Mayor Robert O'Toole and his son, State Sen. Kevin O'Toole, are splitting the $7,000 cost.
"People always seem to step up in times of need," said Township Manager Thomas Tucci.
In Boston, Liberty Mutual Insurance Company ran an online contest complete with a history quiz and then awarded $10,000 grants to 10 cities, including Cincinnati and Montclair, N.J., to help them continue their July Fourth celebrations.
While some communities struggled to find donors or had to cancel altogether, the fireworks industry itself is ... well, booming.
"The fireworks industry tends to be recession resistant," said Julie Heckman, executive director of the American Pyrotechnics Association. "I think that's because these community celebrations are so important."
Industry sales last year were just under a billion dollars, at $945 million — with steady annual increases over the last decade.
About two-thirds of the revenue last year was for consumer fireworks, said Heckman. Consumer fireworks are sold most commonly at neighborhood stands versus the display fireworks that are used at large community events by licensed professionals.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission urges people this holiday weekend to play it safe with sparklers, firecrackers and aerial fireworks.
The agency knows of two deaths and nearly 9,000 emergency room visits for injuries from fireworks related incidents last year. Most injuries were to people younger than 20 and in many cases resulted in the loss of a limb.
Last updated: 2:34 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012