Make us your home page
Instagram

A decade later, Florida's fireworks industry is stuck in neutral

Sharon Hunnewell-Johnson is the President of Galaxy Fireworks in Tampa which has four fireworks stores and over 100 seasonal locations in the state of Florida.

JAMES BORCHUCK | Times

Sharon Hunnewell-Johnson is the President of Galaxy Fireworks in Tampa which has four fireworks stores and over 100 seasonal locations in the state of Florida.

TAMPA — For a cutthroat industry built on big bangs, bright lights and the occasional lawsuit, local fireworks sellers have been quiet this year.

Court cases between fireworks retailers and area governments sputtered out or were closed, and no new industry-related lawsuits were filed in Hillsborough, Pasco or Pinellas counties.

The reason: a decade-old state law that essentially froze the industry by preventing new fireworks businesses from selling to consumers and restricting existing businesses from opening new locations or applying for new permits.

"We have whatever we had prior to March of 2007," said Galaxy Fireworks president Sharon Hunnewell-Johnson. Her business, and that of her competitors, has been restricted to the same number of seasonal tents and permanent storefronts.

She's in favor of the freeze. Some judges aren't.

"Everybody expected the freeze to be temporary... inactivity has created confusion" Hillsborough circuit judge Paul Huey wrote in a 2015 judgement in favor of Phantom Fireworks. The Ohio-based fireworks chain was suing the City of Tampa for denying it a permit after it relocated a Clearwater store to Gandy Boulevard in South Tampa.

The state law also prevents local governments from passing new regulations that interfere with "the right to purchase, sell, use, or possess consumer fireworks in this state."

The catch: The only legal reason consumers can buy fireworks from a Florida retail store is for agricultural purposes — like scaring birds away from their crops. (Hunnewell-Johnson said there are some exceptions for religious or ceremonial events.)

"We know the real deal is most of the customers who are purchasing the fireworks are not using them for agricultural purposes," said Tampa fire chief Tom Forward. But his office only responds when things go wrong.

Locally, fireworks retailers comply with the state's fire marshal regulations, Forward said. And except for neighborhood squabbles over fireworks use, he rarely hears about problems with the fireworks industry these days.

There hasn't been a major fireworks incident in the Tampa Bay region since an arsonist set off a chain reaction in a Pasco County fireworks tent in 2007.

Maybe that's because fireworks technology is improving, said Hunnewell-Johnson. Maybe people are being more careful, Forward said.

Both sides are urging people to stay safe this holiday season, which could give them another year of stability in the industry.

Hunnewell-Johnson rattles off the rules: "Don't allow children near the fireworks, always keep a bucket of water or a fire extinguisher nearby, do not mix alcohol and lighting fireworks."

Ultimately, she said, it's up to the consumer.

"We can't control stupidity."

Contact Alli Knothe at aknothe@tampabay.com. Follow @KnotheA. Times senior news researcher John Martin contributed to this report.

A decade later, Florida's fireworks industry is stuck in neutral 12/29/16 [Last modified: Thursday, December 29, 2016 2:22pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. FBI warns of spreading W-2 email theft scheme

    Personal Finance

    The IRS is warning businesses about a sharp increase in email phishing scams involving employees' W-2 forms — scams that can put staffers' Social Security numbers and other critical information in the hands of thieves.

    The IRS is warning businesses about a sharp increase in email phishing scams involving employees' W-2 forms.
[McClatchy DC/TNS file photo]
  2. Walmart expands grocery delivery service in Florida markets

    Retail

    TAMPA — Walmart is formally launching its grocery delivery service in Tampa, the company announced Monday, as it expands its delivery test into Orlando and Dallas. Five locations around Tampa are offering delivery for online grocery orders.

    Walmart is expanding its grocery delivery to Tampa, the company announced Monday. | [Times file photo]
  3. Marina at Hudson Beach poised to become 24-unit condominium-hotel

    Business

    HUDSON — One of the mainstay businesses at Hudson Beach is poised for redevelopment into a 24-unit condominium-hotel.

    The owners of Skeleton Key Marina in Hudson have filed preliminary plans with Pasco County to redevelop the site into a 24-unit condominium-hotel.
  4. Have your say Tampa Bay on the region's future transit options

    Mass Transit

    TAMPA — It's time, yet again, for Tampa Bay residents to tell officials what kind of transit options they want for their region.

    The Cross-Bay Ferry docks at the Tampa Convention Center on its maiden voyage on Nov. 1, 2016. A regional premium transit study will determine whether a ferry, or other options such as express buses or light rail, would be a good addition to Tampa Bay. [SCOTT KEELER  |  Times]
  5. SOCom seeks civilian drone pilots to develop new technology through ThunderDrone

    Macdill

    TAMPA — For the last three years, Nicole Abbett has been using drones as part of her photography business, with clients like the city of Tampa and construction companies.

    Josh Newby, 31, Palm Harbor, of Tampa Drones fly's a drone in England Brothers park, Pinellas Park, 8/25/16. As drone popularity increases as a hobby and business, local governments are navigating a legal grey area- where, when, and how should drone flights be allowed?