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 [email protected] 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. Sen. Nelson urges FEMA to examine high number of denied flood claims

    Banking

    Sen. Bill Nelson urged FEMA on Tuesday to ensure fairness, proper oversight and transparency in processing Hurricane Irma aid following a report by the Palm Beach Post that 90 percent of Irma claims under the National Flood Insurance Program had been denied.

    Sen. Bill Nelson is calling for FEMA to ensure the flood claims process post-Hurricane Irma is fair and ethical following reports that 90 percent of claims under the National Flood Insurance Program were denied. | [Times file photo]
  2. Amazon expands in Tampa with Pop-Up shop in International Plaza

    Retail

    TAMPA — A new retailer known largely for its online presence has popped up at International Plaza and Bay Street.

    Shoppers walk past the new Amazon kiosk Tuesday at the International Plaza in Tampa. The kiosk, which opened last month, offers shoppers an opportunity to touch and play with some of the products that Amazon offers.
[CHRIS URSO   |   Times]

  3. Study: Florida has fourth-most competitive tax code

    Banking

    Florida's tax code is the fourth most competitive in the country, according to a study released Tuesday by nonprofit group Tax Foundation.

    Florida has the fourth-most competitive tax code, a study by the Tax Foundation said. Pictured is  Riley Holmes, III, H&R Block tax specialist, helping a client with their tax return in April. | [SCOTT KEELER, Times]
  4. Trigaux: On new Forbes 400 list of U.S. billionaires, 35 now call Florida their home

    Personal Finance

    The latest Forbes 400 richest people in America was unveiled Tuesday, with 35 billionaires on that list calling Florida home. That's actually down from 40 Florida billionaires listed last year when a full 10 percent listed declared they were Floridians by residence.

    Edward DeBartolo, Jr., shopping center developer and  former San Francisco 49ers Owner, posed with his bronze bust last year during the NFL Hall of Fame Enshrinement Ceremony in Canton, Ohio. DeBartolo remains the wealthiest person in Tampa Bay according to the Forbes 400 list released Tuesday. 
[Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images]
  5. Clearwater attorney accused of condo foreclosure trickery fights back

    Real Estate

    The Clearwater lawyer accused of tricking a bidder into paying $458,100 for a gulf-front condo now plans to contest a judge's order tossing out the sale.

    John Houde, left, looks in the direction of Clearwater lawyer and real estate investor Roy C. Skelton, foreground, in August during a hearing Sixth Judicial Circuit court Judge Jack St. Arnold at the Pinellas County Courthouse. The judge agreed with Houde's allegation that he was duped by Skelton in thinking he bought a Redington Beach condo for $458,100 out of a foreclosure auction. Now Skelton is fighting back. 
[DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD   |   Times]