Tampa Bay fireworks buyers seek more bang for buck

Published July 1, 2013


The Fourth of July is Danny Harris' Christmas.

For years, Harris has been setting off fireworks for family and friends in Mulberry. Big ones, small ones. Things that turn bright colors or shimmer gold and silver. Explosions that whizz and pop and bang.

"I always get something new," Harris said Sunday as he picked through piles of boxes with names such as "Let Freedom Ring" and "Phandemonium" at Phantom Fireworks on E Fowler Avenue "Whatever looks good to me. A lot of shots. A lot of color."

"A lot of smoke," friend Rhonda Thomas added.

Starting in June, the store keeps 30 workers on staff to handle the influx of fireworks enthusiasts prepping for July Fourth, manager Rocky DiRoma said. July 2 and 3 are the busiest days, he said, and this year has already seen higher sales than the past couple of years.

Part of that, he said, can be attributed to an increase in promotions and marketing.

"We looked at how to appeal to lower-income budget families who are suffering from the economy and how to reach the community in general," DiRoma said.

Jason Fields said his family held off from buying fireworks for several years because it couldn't afford them. But he said stores like Galaxy Fireworks on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard run promotions that allow the Brandon family to select some for a decent cost. His wife, Shannan, said they often pick out several assortment packs.

"I prefer the family friendly ones that just pop, but he likes to light them and do the lighting and running, and I just stand by with a bucket of water," she said.

Under a blue-and-white striped tent near a Home Depot on 22nd Avenue N in St. Petersburg, Galaxy sales agent Brian Ruiz waited for a customer. And waited. For nearly an hour Sunday, no one came. Ruiz busied himself with unfurling tent flaps to release sheets of water that collected in Sunday's showers.

"We do 90 percent of our business in the last two days before the Fourth," said Ruiz, 42.

Pinellas County bans fireworks that shoot into the air and explode.

"If it goes up and blows up, it's illegal," said Lt. Joel Granata, spokesman for St. Petersburg Fire and Rescue.

But Ruiz said most of his customers are looking for more family friendly fare: sparkling fountains and smoke bombs.

"They're not going to drive to Tampa unless they're looking for something more specific," he said.

Pat Cook, a Galaxy manager, said customers are required to fill out a form identifying their name and address and verifying that they understand Florida state law concerning fireworks.

The rain the last couple of days will make conditions safer for families setting off fireworks this year, Cook said. The store hands out a safety pamphlet with each purchase. Some of the main tips include never leaning over the fireworks and never relighting a fuse that hasn't gone off.

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After searching for a big enough explosion fitting for their finale, Harris and his wife, Vickie, wheeled two full carts to the checkout counter. Everything from sparklers to repeaters that would fill the sky with colors and sounds and explosions.

"It's a tradition," Vickie said. "It seems to get bigger every year."

This year's total: $1,117.91.

Caitlin Johnston can be reached at or (813) 661-2443