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North Augusta retailers monopolize on firework sales

Some folks spend hundreds to get really loud bang

Posted: July 3, 2014 - 12:57pm
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Sparklers, which are legal in Georgia, are displayed at Rodney's Rockets, a fireworks store, in North Augusta, S.C., on Wednesday, June 25, 2014. Fireworks that produce an airborne projectile or have a report are not legal in Georgia but are in South Carolina. JON-MICHAEL SULLIVAN/STAFF  Jon-Michael Sullivan
Jon-Michael Sullivan
Sparklers, which are legal in Georgia, are displayed at Rodney's Rockets, a fireworks store, in North Augusta, S.C., on Wednesday, June 25, 2014. Fireworks that produce an airborne projectile or have a report are not legal in Georgia but are in South Carolina. JON-MICHAEL SULLIVAN/STAFF

The approaching Fourth of July holiday is once again providing booming business for North Augusta fireworks retailers.

“Most people for the Fourth, they spend anywhere from $150 to $300,” said Mitzi Creel, the manager of Rodney’s Rockets off Interstate 20 in North Au-gusta. “You do have those people that come in and spend $500 to $1,000, but usually it’s between the $100 and $300 range.”

The store, open seven days a week since Memorial Day weekend, has seen most foot traffic on weekends, but Creel said retail sales tend to pick up during the week of the Fourth. With easy access to Interstate 20, the business attracts a lot of travelers who see signs for fireworks stores along the interstate.

One of those shoppers, Monty Neal, stopped at Rodney’s early in the week to make some quick purchases on his way back home to Jones County, near Macon, Ga. Neal had been in Augusta for work.

“I just said, ‘Hey, while I’m here, I might as well go ahead and get some, because next week’s the Fourth,’” he said.

Neal, who is planning a beach trip along Florida’s Gulf Coast with his daughter and three young grandchildren, had tallied up about $26 worth of firecrackers and was still looking to purchase a few bottle rockets. His concern wasn’t price, but family memories to be made at the beach.

“I just pick up some stuff to play with and entertain them for a little while,” he said. “Can I put a price on the happiness of my grandchildren?”

Rodney’s carries rows of fireworks. Some, such as small party popper novelty items, are just 25 cents, while a 5-foot-tall assortment box will cost $499.99.

The most popular fireworks, Creel said, fall somewhere in between. The top sellers at Rodney’s are 500-gram aerial cakes ranging between $59.99-$69.99, as well as loud artillery shells, which cost about $80.

A few minutes away from Rodney’s, at Wacky Wayne’s Fireworks, store manager Skip Playford expects to benefit from Independence Day falling on a Friday this year, making it a three-day weekend for most people.

“I think it’s very possible that Saturday the fifth could be busy, even though it’s the day after,” he said. “Being the weekend, I think things could definitely pick up this season, maybe even over last year.”

Wacky Wayne’s, which has two stores in North Augusta and one in Aiken, also has fireworks varying in price from a quarter to $600.

“We’ve got something for every budget,” said Playford, who estimated the average purchase price was about $100 to $150. “I’ve had people walk in here with pocket change and buy something.”

According to the American Pyrotechnics Association, revenue generated from the fireworks industry has been on a steady incline. In 2013, the trade association attributed about $662 million to consumer firework sales and expect retail sales to rise again this season to about $675 million.

Locally, only businesses east of the Savannah River reap the bulk of profits from firework shopping.

In Georgia, the majority of fireworks are outlawed for personal use and can’t be sold to the public. A movement to legalize the consumer sale of fireworks made waves in the state legislature last year, but stalled before reaching voters.

The two pieces of Senate legislation would have given local municipalities the option to allow and regulate firework sales, set aside firework sales tax revenue for trauma care and firefighter services and create an excise tax that would be split between the Georgia Trauma Care Network Commission and the Georgia Firefighter Standards and Training Council.

The amount of revenue from fireworks sales Georgia is missing out on, though, is difficult to calculate, said Jeff Humphreys, the director of the University of Georgia’s Selig Center for Economic Growth.

“The big question is how many sales are going across state lines, and we just don’t know, unfortunately,” he said.

Neighboring states, such as South Carolina, Florida, Alabama and Tennessee, sell fireworks, but Humphreys said he believes the retail impact to be minimal for many reasons.

The big boon from firework purchases, he said, goes not to the retailers but to the manufacturers, many of whom are located overseas.

Fireworks shopping, he added, also doesn’t typically result in people making overnight trips where they’d stay in hotels or dine in restaurants.

“It’s a very small proportion of household spending,” he said. “Even though people might like to buy fireworks, most people don’t go out of state to do it. They find a substitute.”

Still, stores such as Rodney’s Rockets and Wacky Wayne’s along the state border will gladly take the business.

“It does make a huge difference,” said Creel, of not having to compete with Georgia retailers. “There’s people that travel three or four hours just to buy fireworks.”

Playford agreed, adding that location means everything for a business such as his.

“A lot of firework stores are near the state line, and there’s a reason for that,” he said.

“And I’m right by the interstate, which is doubly good because we get a lot of travelers. We get people from all kinds of states, not just Georgia.

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