FORT MILL, S.C. -- Even a 14-day streak of rain that dampened July Fourth plans across the Charlotte area couldn’t mangle one patriotic pastime: backyard fireworks shows.
Consumer firework sales are up this year, two owners of Fort Mill, S.C., firework stands said Saturday. And it’s the bad weather – much of which has caused flooding and damage across the region – that has been the reason for the boost, they said.
For the past two years, Mecklenburg County was crippled by drought that slowed sales of personal fireworks. Last July was marked by “moderate drought” conditions, according to the N.C. Division of Water Resources. In 2011, Mecklenburg County was classified as “abnormally dry.”
But as water levels increased this year, so did consumers’ confidence that there were slim chances for fires, the stand owners said.
Help from the rain
Despite the holiday’s end three days ago, they said sales have continued throughout the weekend for people who plan to continue feting the nation’s birthday. “The early rain we’ve had actually helped us because people were more confident that they wouldn’t have big, dry fields to contend with,” said Kim Pyles, manager of Red Rocket Fireworks store on Carowinds Boulevard.
More than 9 inches of rain has fallen since June 1 at Charlotte Douglas International Airport, while some reporting stations have received more than 13 inches during the same time. That’s about four times the average precipitation during that period.
That rain has translated into more customers and a 7 percent increase in sales, said David Smith, manager of Phantom Fireworks in Fort Mill. “On July Fourth last year, we had 1,300 customers,” Smith said. “This year, we had 1,800 customers.”
Smith said this year’s lack of burn bans – a mandatory order that restricts outdoor burnings – made the holiday a success.
“Because of the burn bans in North Carolina and South Carolina last year, our $400 customers were only a $150 customer,” he said. “Weather does play a big impact.”
Hey, big spenders!
But store managers said two other factors – the recovering economy and the holiday’s proximity to the weekend – also sent consumers flocking to the South Carolina stores.
North Carolina firework laws are more restrictive than those in South Carolina, sending many residents over the border to purchase materials for their personal light shows. But even possessing explosive or projectile fireworks is illegal in N.C. Those that are legal: sparklers, fountains and novelty items that do not explode or leave the ground.
But strict N.C. laws didn’t stop many in the Carolinas from their plans to buy big this year. Nationwide, more than 40 percent of Americans were estimated to buy fireworks this year, with Southerners slated to spend $35 per person for fireworks, according to a study by Visa. In all Fourth celebrations, people were expected to spend $300 – a 58 percent increase from the $190 last year.
Those estimates can translate to hundreds of millions of dollars spent on consumer fireworks. In 2012, consumers bought $645 million worth of fireworks, according to the American Pyrotechnics Association, down by about $4 million from the prior year.
But some customers Saturday at Red Rockets Fireworks said they plan to spend considerably more than the $35 average.
Jackie Capezio said she plans to spend between $400 to $500 on fireworks.
“I’m buying everything and anything big,” Capezio said. “We’re trying to beat what we bought last year.”
Ricky Blythe, who bought fireworks Saturday for the first time, said he has no limit on what he plans to spend. But he said what he would spend wouldn’t be cheap.
Anthony Colagross, a salesman for Red Rocket Fireworks, said Friday that one customer purchased $10,000 worth of fireworks. The week before, someone spent about $13,000, he said.
Not good news for all
Not all vendors saw a jump in sales. Despite not seeing an increase in sales, Big Daddy’s Fireworks Castle owner Sharon Huckeba said she’s already looking forward to next year.
“July Fourth will be on a Friday next year,” Huckeba said. “We think that, more than anything, will help us.”