Business booming for 4th of July at commercial fireworks tents

Every year, Priya Sharma and her family host a Fourth of July party at their State College home.

On Tuesday, she visited a local fireworks tent at the Hills Plaza in College Township to buy some fireworks. Her husband is a professor at Penn State and often invites his students for the family’s annual Independence Day barbecue.

“It’s just something we like to do,” Sharma said. “We invite people and have a nice time, but no fest is better than 4th Fest.”

It’s customers like Sharma who help the commercial fireworks business.

“No doubt this is our best week for business,” said Kory Boothe, owner and operator of the TNT Fireworks tent at the Walmart plaza on North Atherton Street.

Boothe said TNT Fireworks has three tents in the Centre Region from the last week of June to July 6. The company has some of its wares in local retail stores, but with limited fireworks items.

“The tent is where you can get larger fireworks, but no ones that are illegal,” he said.

State College police Capt. Matthew Wilson said Pennsylvania law prohibits the use of consumer and display fireworks without a permit.

According to state police, the state law does not currently regulate items defined as “ground and hand-held sparkling devices,” “novelties” and “toy caps” so sales and use are permissible. The “non-fireworks” are the only types allowed to be sold from tents, stands, convenience stores, retail establishments and other outlets not licensed by the state Department of Agriculture.

Fireworks tent managers said following the law and advising buyers to be safe is key to their operation.

“They know fireworks are not safe in general, but we can give them some tips to minimize any harm,” said Sierra Ghaner who has worked at the Keystone Fireworks tent at the Hills Plaza for more than five years.

Boothe said it is illegal to sell fireworks to anyone younger than 18. His tent has a sign at the checkout that indicates the minor’s law.

“We go through a training so we become a little bit of an expert when it comes to safety and the law,” Boothe said. “If someone has a question, we tell them the proper way to light the firework or best way to use the firework while not hurting someone.”

Before operating the tent, Boothe said he had to attend a daylong training session in Indiana, Pa. He said the two biggest safety tips he learned are to light a firework away from others and not to light a firework in dry areas.

“No one wants a fire, but people may also want an extinguisher handy as well,” Boothe said.

Despite weather that has been far from dry in central Pennsylvania, business is still soaring for the fireworks tents.

“With the rain, we’ve been closing the tent just so it doesn’t destroy our fireworks, but people are still coming out,” he said. “I guess they’re getting more of an arrangement of fireworks than what they can get in the stores.”

Boothe said his biggest sellers are the assortment packs and the “Opening Show” — the biggest set Boothe’s tent sells. The “Opening Show” looks like a large popcorn bucket at a movie theater, and allows the buyer to light it and have about a two-minute display.

Wilson said in recent years the State College police have had no major problem with residents abusing fireworks laws.

But arrests and citations do go up on the 4th of July and the days after. The majority of incidents, Wilson said, involve noise violations, disorderly conduct or criminal mischief.

“We don’t get a lot of injuries or fires,” he said. “When we enforce fireworks laws, we usually enforce the noise part of it. A lot of people have to get up the next morning for work.”