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Holiday business booming for fireworks retailers

Founding father John Adams, in a 1776 letter to his wife, Abigail, once said that “illuminations” should always be a part of the country’s celebration of Independence Day. He had no way of predicting what a major industry illuminations, now known as fireworks, would become.

Fireworks sales have increased every year since 2000, when the industry’s revenue was $610 million, to a record $775 million last year, said Julie Heckman, executive director of the American Pyrotechnics Association. She said in terms of pounds, figures show 161 million pounds of fireworks were sold in 2001. In 2003, that number increased to 221 million pounds of pyrotechnics.

“It is a major industry,” she said.

The owners of Dixie Lee Fireworks, reputed to be the oldest fireworks stand in the state of Tennessee, see the Independence Day holiday as a time to greet old friends as well as to be a part of this major industry.

“My daddy started this place in ninteen forty-eight,” said Deanna Sharp. “It was an open-air trailer back then.”

Sharp, who runs the store with her daughter, Dottie, said her customers come from a long-term relationship with the Farragut and Lenoir City communities.

“We’ve got people who will come from other states to buy from us because of our low prices and because they’ve known us for so long,” she said. “We’re probably open about six months out of the year.”

Sharp said the business generally is open in December, January and May through August.

“Money is something we don’t talk about in this business,” she said. “We don’t talk about average sales or anything like that.”

While she declined to say how much income was derived from sales and the volume of sales, Sharp said they made money from their sales.

“We make a little money,” she said. “We’ve got black powder in our veins. I will say this. We couldn’t do this if my mother and dad hadn’t given me this piece of land.”

Other competitors sprang up to take a piece of this explosive pie, such as the fireworks business out on Watt Road. The owners, however, were unavailable for comment.

Ed Boling, one of the owners of Bimbo’s Fireworks in Lenoir City, owns several outlet stores dedicated completely to the sale of fireworks. He said the outlets couldn’t survive strictly on the sale of fireworks.

“That’s one of the reasons my family believes in diversification,” he said.

Boling said he and his wife, Charlotte, his parents, Bert and Jeanette Boling, sister, Carrie and her husband, Eddie Simpson, started Bimbo’s in 1980. The partners expanded to combine their love of fireworks with a convenience store. They also own a construction company and a development firm.

“This is actually the forty-ninth year we’ve been in fireworks,” Boling said. “It started in 1957 and we just fell in love with them. We sold fireworks out of everything we could. Eventually we invested in land and built Bimbo’s.”

Boling declined to say how much he makes in sales per year from fireworks, but said 90 percent of his fireworks sales come from sales over the Independence Day holiday.

Boling said he and his partner decided to open relations with China several years ago, so his market for fireworks increased because he became a wholesale distributor as well as a local vendor of the product.

“We went over there and opened up relations with Chinese distributors,” he said. “They were very receptive to doing business with us.”.

The public, Boling said, uses fireworks for other opportunities of celebration. He said sparklers are popular for weddings and other occasions.

“I have one customer who likes to celebrate every time a child loses a tooth,” he said. “We’re here to make them happy.”


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