Meridian Star

December 31, 2012

Fireworks sales not popping

By Brian Livingston / blivingston@themeridianstar.com
The Meridian Star

MERIDIAN —     For the past four years Steve Jensen has watched as fireworks sales in Lauderdale County have slowly fizzled.

    Of course, he is always hopeful for the days like he used to have in years past.    

    "I can remember standing behind the counter for eight solid hours, needing some water and needing to go to the bathroom but not being able to because a line of people were buying fireworks and I was the only one here," Jensen said from his Collinsville location. "But in the years since, we've not had the success we had in the past."

    Blame the economy.

    Jensen said Hale Fireworks owns fireworks stands in Collinsville, just outside Meridian on Highway 19 North and at the North Hills Street, Highway 39 North crossroads in Marion.

    Jensen said the Christmas and New Year's seasons are the best, with the July 4 sales period way behind in sales. In those days when he was doing $18,000 a day in sales, Jensen thought it would last forever.

    "You get used to one thing and then when it changes, especially for the worse, you dream of the old days," Jensen said.

    And the old overall economy.

    Still, children, young and old, come underneath the big yellow and orange tents to look at the latest in fireworks. Consumers try to mimic the huge fireworks shows they see in bigger cities and with the range of items sold by Jensen, it isn't hard to put on an awesome display of your own. But it will cost you.

    "Mortars are big because they give you a big bang and a lot of wow factor for the least amount of money," Jensen said.

    Another added benefit with the mortar setups, Jensen pointed out, is they are much safer than people lighting the fuses of multiple rockets.

    "With a mortar you light one fuse and you get a dozen or more shots that are really impressive," Jensen said. "You get to just stand back with everyone else and enjoy the show."

    Meridian residents will have to go outside the city limits to put on their personal fireworks display. The City of Meridian has an ordinance banning the use of fireworks in the city.

    "The concern was over the chances fireworks might start a fire, either of a home or of a wooded area," said George Thomas, Ward 1 city councilman. "We talked to officials with the fire department before we decided to pass the ordinance and they felt fire prevention was a logical reason to ban fireworks."

    Thomas also said liability issues were discussed among council members 20 years ago when the ordinance was passed.

    "We have so many houses so close together that a major fire event could happen," Thomas said. "We don't even burn vacated homes anymore because of the liability issue so we felt then, as we do now, the ordinance was warranted."

    According to the City of Meridian Municipal Code, Sec. 1-9, being arrested for violating the fireworks ban is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine not to exceed $1,000 or six months in jail or both.

    In the county, however, fireworks can be shot without restraint.

    "The only time we cease fireworks in the county is if there is a burn ban in place," said Joe McCraney, chief administrator for the county. "Usually during the Christmas and New Year's holidays those bans don't exist because we seem to get enough rain. The Fourth of July is when a ban is more likely."

    Despite the city's ban on fireworks, Thomas said he will likely go to bed on New Year's night to the sound of firecrackers going off.

    "You know some people will do it anyway," said Thomas. "I'm just concerned given the number of shootings we've had in Meridian over the past several months there will be a huge increase in calls to 911. I'm sure the police officers who will be working that night will be very busy."

    Jensen said he has no special sales scheduled for the end of the year.

    "Whenever I sell fireworks, it is always special," Jensen said.