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Fourth of July fireworks still a must in some consumers' celebrations

“I want this one,” says Cameron Destache, 4, while dad, Josh Destache of Carrolwood, loads up on $267 worth of fireworks.

MELISSA LYTTLE | Times

“I want this one,” says Cameron Destache, 4, while dad, Josh Destache of Carrolwood, loads up on $267 worth of fireworks.

TAMPA — Josh Destache is a fireworks stand owner's dream.

Though the 28-year-old's wallet has felt the effects of this downturn economy, Destache has no intention of omitting explosives from his Fourth of July celebration.

"I'm looking for stuff to blow up," the construction worker said as he and his two children filled his cart with $267 in pyrotechnic supplies at Galaxy Fireworks on Martin Luther King Blvd. Tuesday.

While rising costs and shrinking governmental budgets have led some municipalities like Plant City to cancel their night-time displays of patriotism, Galaxy Fireworks president Sharon Hunnewell-Johnson expects the individual desire for sparkles, glitter and things that go boom to override concerns about rising gas costs this weekend.

"People like to celebrate their Independence Day," Hunnewell-Johnson said. They'll be staying home, she said, looking to make their own fun.

There's no question consumers are seeing a difference in the prices of their festive explosives. Hunnewell-Johnson said per container shipping costs are up $4,000 to $5,000 in some cases due to fuel prices.

Beyond that, an explosion that destroyed 20 fireworks warehouses in China in February created a shortage that sent wholesale prices up about 30 percent this year, according to the New York Times.

And sales do seem a little slow now compared to this time last year, according to vendors. But Hunnewell-Johnson said the day-to-day comparison is hard to blame solely on the economy. Last year, June 30 fell on a Saturday and the Fourth on a Wednesday. Things may pick up considerably as the three-day weekend begins.

But don't mention prices to 4-year-old Cameron Destache, Josh's son, who sees nothing but potential fun in the brightly colored packaging of explosives like the Triple Whammy, Patriot Dream and Excalibur.

"Real big firecracker?" he asked as he pointed to a $129.95 box of pyrotechnics called "The Big Dog."

"Real big," store clerk Pam Schimmelpfenning confirmed with a smile.

If only every customer were so easily wooed.

Sheri Buxton decided to downsize her fireworks show. In years past the 33-year-old spent about $200 on fireworks. This year, she said, "We took a $20 bill and said let's see what we can do."

"We'll still have food and a party at my mom's house and relatives are coming," said Buxton, who was visiting St. Petersburg from Kansas, with her 6-year-old son. "But we've toned down the fireworks and extravagance."

Extravagance is another consideration altogether. Due to sales restrictions in Pinellas County, many shoppers travel east to Hillsborough County to get the higher powered explosives that are banned on the west side of the Bay.

Sure you can get sparklers and spinners. But not the 500 gram Raging Inferno with 42 shots, for example, the one that offers gold, lemon and purple fireworks with glitters, pastels and a powerful "whoosh" sound.

Stephen Morack, 16, and three other friends, all 16 and under, decided to drive across the Courtney Campbell Parkway on a half-tank of gas after hearing radio ads for the fireworks that make noise.

"That's the only place you can get the good ones," his friend Brad Stephens, 16, said.

Unfortunately for them, Galaxy sells only to customers 18 and older. The four defeated would-be buyers piled back in Morack's Volkswagen Passat and headed back home.

Fourth of July fireworks still a must in some consumers' celebrations 07/01/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 2, 2008 9:47pm]
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