Make or break sales week for Fort Mill fireworks retailers

jmarks@fortmilltimes.comJune 25, 2013 

— Few people rely more on bang for their buck than Frawna Peterson and Kim Pyles.

Peterson manages House of Fireworks on Hwy. 21, just south of Carowinds and, perhaps more importantly, the state line. Pyles manages Red Rocket Fireworks across the road. Both run businesses whose entire year can go boom or bust in the coming week.

“It is the biggest,” Peterson said of the July 4 rush. “It’s always been the three days around the Fourth of July. The second, third and fourth, usually.”

And not just the biggest by a little bit. Reba Gambrell, who began working at Red Rocket in 2001 but worked at their Rock Hill location for years prior, estimates 75 to 80 percent of annual sales come on or near July 4. Already busy last week, Gambrell said she couldn’t pinpoint which day will be busiest.

“We think that,” she said, “but they fool us every year.”

Both stores sell anything from dollar poppers to ammo crates at more than $100, and on up from there. Both say customers range from the family-and-friend set to smaller scale commercial use. Both say recent rain – people can be leary of fireworks with dry weather – and the economy show promise.

“People are feeling a little more comfortable with the economy,” Pyles said.

New Year’s Eve is a distant second in firework sales, but right after Thanksgiving and Christmas people aren’t always wanting to spend too much, Gambrell said. After New Year’s, House of Fireworks shuts down the rest of January and February.

This time of year, both stores have 20 or more seasonal employees. That’s compared to no more than three the rest of the year. Firework sales aren’t allowed in North Carolina, which brings in some business off I-77. But mostly, it’s families and neighborhoods getting together and shopping.

“We depend on our local business,” Peterson said.

Pyles points to one group as typical. A gathering of friends makes an annual tradition of fireworks shopping prior to their Fourth, down to the snacks and meal they eat before entering the store.

“Lots of tradition,” she said of firework sales and the holiday. “We have people who come in year after year after year.”

With significant sales coming this week, the firework stores aren’t the only ones banking on a big holiday return. On Lake Wylie, there’s no date that comes close to July 4 for boat traffic. Restaurant decks fill up for the annual firework show on the lake and travelers fill up trucks and boats at local gas stations.

Carowinds begins its summer of fireworks on the Fourth. The Charlotte Knights have their biggest fireworks show of the year, this year on July 3. Smaller firework stands that pop up throughout the county are required to pay the same sales tax as the big stores, too.

Beth Latham, finance director for the county, said there’s “not really any way to quantify” the July 4 tax boost, since revenue goes to the state and comes back as a check without per-business listings. But, she said, even with people travelling during the summer the quarterly tax check covering this time traditionally “flip-flops” with the Christmas shopping season for the year’s biggest.

“The check that we get in October, which would be for sales during the summer, is usually our highest check,” Latham said.

Yet some who rely on the July 4 season the most say they can’t look at the holiday entirely in shades of green. They see red, white and blue, too, and hope customers will as well. Without feelings of patriotism and national pride stirred by the holiday, they say, there wouldn’t be any annual rush they’ve come to expect.

“It’s a good expectation,” Gambrell said.

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