Florida skies may not be as bright as expected this Independence Day.
A national fireworks shortage has left Tampa Bay shops with fewer bottle rockets, ball shells, Roman candles and more. Local showrooms say they stocked for the busy month ahead, but are encouraging fireworks fans planning private Fourth of July celebrations to buy early.
“Remember, we all deal with the same factories,” said Tampa’s Galaxy Fireworks president Sharon Hunnewell-Johnson. “So we’re all running short.”
The shortfall is driven by supply-chain issues and global shipping delays sparked by the COVID-19 pandemic. Since the beginning of the crisis, those obstacles have tempered the supply of domestic goods and imports such as personal protective equipment, computer chips and, famously, toilet paper.
Fireworks manufactured in Chinese factories are similarly difficult — and increasingly expensive — to transport overseas, sellers say.
“Like many other industries, the fireworks industry has also experienced delays due to shipment challenges facing the global market,” said Alan Zoldan, executive vice president of Phantom Fireworks, in a statement. Phantom operates 11 showrooms in Florida.
Inventory at Galaxy Fireworks is “in pretty decent shape” to satiate July 4 demand, said Hunnewell-Johnson, who runs four stores.
She expects consumers to flock to sellers as they did last year, when the cancellation of city displays, ongoing racial justice protests and a law legalizing fireworks on the Fourth had Tampa Bay residents buying at an exceptionally high rate.
The American Pyrotechnics Association said the industry saw the highest consumer revenue of two decades in 2020, bringing in $1.9 billion.
Galaxy Fireworks shelves are stuffed with multi-shot aerial fireworks and reloadable mortars. But for how long, Hunnewell-Johnson wonders. Fourth of July customers likely will find what they need, she said.
The same cannot be certain for New Year’s Eve in six months.
“It’s a domino effect,” Hunnewell-Johnson said. “It’ll keep getting worse.”
Before the pandemic, she budgeted from $11,000 to $13,000 to ship a freight container from China. Today, she pays upwards of $30,000.
Hunnewell-Johnson scaled down operations to cope. Galaxy opened 80 seasonal tents for the summer, rather than its usual 120. She turned away dozens of calls for wholesale deals with chain retailers and mom-and-pop stores. Employees eliminated many buy-one, get-one-free sales across Florida.
“A lot of items we had in our tents are buy-one, get-one. We had to take them off because we don’t have them,” Hunnewell-Johnson said.
One Phantom store finds itself with a “good variation but limited quantity” of fireworks, said Bryan Narvaez, the store manager at the Fowler Avenue location.
Sky King Fireworks managing partner Dustin Luer estimates that a fourth of company orders for 10 Florida locations have not arrived.
The sellers’ plight is exacerbated by factors beyond freight prices.
The exchange value of the American dollar is dropping. Some retailers say wholesalers doubled prices to meet target profit margins. And fees tacked onto shipping hazardous goods grew by almost 200 percent during the pandemic, according to Jessi Dragoiu, the purchasing and product development manager at Phantom.
That makes buying Chinese goods “a complicated nightmare,” she said.
City officials putting on public fireworks displays are lucky by comparison. The shortage means little for these shows — most of which were cancelled due to the coronavirus last year.
Clearwater, St. Pete Beach and Treasure Island contracted July 4 displays months in advance and avoided the shortage. Tampa’s “Boom by the Bay” and its popular Independence Day festivities are on, too, according to the Tampa Downtown Partnership.
“Although we have heard some anecdotal accounts of shortages impacting others, we haven’t been notified of any issues as of yet,” Treasure Island public information officer Jason Beisel wrote in an email.
But for customers, issues abound.
“If sales trend the way they have, we’ll probably run out of quite a few things,” Luer said. “Get ‘em while you can.”