PENINSULA — The kids like the smoke and the sparks, but the adults often want the big booms and the best grand finale that money (and Washington state law) will allow.
Each year temporary firework stands set up shop along the Long Beach Peninsula, eager to meet the pyrotechnic demands of the July 4 holiday.
Firework-sale season is short lived, with each day leading up to the July 4 holiday more lucrative than the last. Most spend $50 or less, retailers say, while others invest thousands to put on a memorable show.
Washington fireworks regulations attract Oregon buyers
While many Washingtonians routinely shop in sales tax-free Oregon, the reverse is often true when it comes to purchasing fireworks.
For the past 42 years, Jack Marsh has operated a fireworks stand on the same lot in Chinook, the first that drivers along Highway 101 see upon entering Washington from Clatsop County, Oregon.
The red and white striped tent is one of three Marsh operates in Chinook, Long Beach and Ocean Park.
“Ninety percent of the people who come here are from Oregon,” Marsh said. “That’s why it’s here.”
Restrictions on fireworks in Oregon — namely a ban on Roman candles and aerial mortars — create an artificial demand that Marsh is happy to fulfill.
“They’re crazy to ban them — people can go buy them anywhere,” Marsh said. “Better off to legalize and tax them. But we’re happy.”
Marsh, who alternatively sells herring and anchovies for salmon fishermen during the summer months, commits each July 4 holiday to carrying an array of fireworks from China.
Mortars are among the most popular fireworks, he explained, adding that they’ve increased in weight over the years while cakes — also known as repeaters or multi-shot fireworks — have remained relatively unchanged.
Marsh carries an assortment of mortars that meet the 500-gram legal maximum limit permitted for consumer fireworks and an abundance of Roman candles, a cylindrical firework known for producing several flaming balls and sparks.
“We’ve got about 15 different varieties of candles,” Marsh said.
All of Marsh’s fireworks come from China, which he prefers to domestic manufacturers because of their cost, quality and rich history producing fireworks since the 9th century.
“They invented gun powder,” he said.
Marsh said his goal each year is a sell-out, but conceded that he always has some left over.
“We do quite well,” he said.
Chinese tariffs could raise future prices
Now in his eighth year of selling fireworks on the Peninsula, Fireworks Superstore retailer Don Lee is well aware of the 4th of July sales trends.
“In the beginning, it’s all the kiddy stuff — sparklers and show starters,” Lee said. “As it progresses people start buying the bigger items — the cakes and artillery, etc. The artillery is always popular.”
Lee carries a wide selection of fireworks for kids and adults at two stands located in Long Beach and Ocean Park.
“Where are your mortars?” is the most common question he’s asked.
The fireworks are a summer segment of Lee’s other seasonal business ventures that includes selling Christmas trees in Oregon and California.
“We use a lot of these tents for Christmas tree lots also,” Lee said.
Lee said wholesale prices of Chinese-made fireworks continue to climb annually, and he fears a significant jump from ongoing trade tariffs could result before next season.
“Everybody has to have a margin to stay in business,” he said.
Kaboom Fireworks retailer Mark Oman is among the newest Peninsula firework proprietors, setting up shop for the first time this season near 1801 Pacific Ave. in Long Beach.
Oman is stocked with more than 200 packs of mortars, equal to more than 3,000 shells.
“I try to specialize in bigger stuff, stuff that will put on show, but you’ve got to have a little bit of everything,” he said.
One package containing multiple mortars and cakes is selling for $400, but Oman is offering local, senior, military and bulk discounts to soften the costs.
“The first few days have been slow, the fourth is the day that you sell all of them apparently,” Oman said. “So far the average sale has been $53.”
His Excalibur canister shell mortars have been among the most sought after by customers.
“They’re the biggest and best that the legal limits will allow,” Oman said.
Running a fireworks stand singlehandedly has been a tough endeavor for Oman, who mans the stand 14 hours a day.
“I sleep in a tent on a cot,” he said, adding that his wife and mother have been bringing him fresh-cooked meals each day.
“I go home for 30 minutes to an hour each day to shower.”
The exhaustive work schedule is well worth the potential payoff, according to Oman.
“My cousin used to do it and stopped,” he said. “But he told me how much money he made.”