Local fireworks sales heating up as July Fourth holiday nears

On the corner of Asbury and Carter roads in Dubuque sits a sprawling white tent, but it won’t be there for long.

The BK Fireworks tent full of tables stacked with fireworks, is one of many that will pop up around the tri-state area as the Fourth of July nears. Local permanent businesses selling fireworks likewise are in the midst of their busiest season.

While the high-demand period for fireworks sales is short lived, these businesses take full advantage of the spike in interest.

BK Fireworks owner Spencer Kohn said he has been doing seasonal fireworks sales from the tent for two years now and has performed fireworks shows for six years.

“I feel like it was a hobby that just turned into a profit,” he said.

Kohn offers a range of products, from sparklers to major fireworks, and his most popular item is usually fountain fireworks. Kohn is hosting a block party from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. June 30 at the fireworks tent, with a DJ, bounce houses, food trucks, giveaways and other activities.

It is not his full-time job, but Kohn said he works about 15 hours a day selling fireworks during this time of year. It’s a short season, though, lasting only about 15 days.

Even for year-round fireworks sellers, summer is the busiest time of year. Hayley Peacock, a store manager at Marty’s Fireworks, said the family-owned business is open year-round in Hazel Green, Wis., but is typically only staffed from May through part of August. During the rest of the year, customers can call the business to schedule an appointment.

Peacock said a lot of work goes into getting the store ready for the surge in customers during the business’ busy season.

“It’s a lot of pricing, a lot of stocking, just reviewing products,” she said. “We love to help people shop and give people recommendations.”

Marty’s Fireworks opened in 1987 and remains a family-run operation. That focus on family spills over into the customer experience, Peacock said, with an emphasis on giving customers the best experience possible.

“We’re not just another fireworks store,” she said. “We want to make you feel like family.”

Russ Koeller, owner of Platte River Fireworks, said his store in Dickeyville, Wis., relies on extra family members to help out during the busy season, but it isn’t too hectic.

Koeller’s store operates as a retailer for customers looking to shoot off their own fireworks but also offers wholesale fireworks sales to other retailers — including BK Fireworks. The business also offers smaller wholesale options for people buying large quantities for private use.

He said sales to Iowans dropped off slightly when the sale and use of fireworks in the state was legalized in 2017, but he still sees a considerable draw from across the tri-state area.

In Wisconsin, state law prohibits the sale of fireworks unless it is to a municipality, to a non-Wisconsin resident, to someone with a valid fireworks permit or to be used for certain industrial or educational purposes. However, communities also can set more stringent regulations. In Illinois, nearly all fireworks are restricted except for novelty fireworks.

While selling and using fireworks is legal in Iowa, regulations vary by community.

In the city of Dubuque, “novelty fireworks” such as party poppers, snappers, drop pops, snakes and some sparklers are permitted for use inside city limits. While the sale and possession of larger fireworks is legal, the discharge of consumer fireworks is prohibited in Dubuque.

Dubuque Police Department Lt. Luke Bock said police increase their presence in the days around the Fourth of July, but it can be difficult to enforce fireworks laws. However, officers have several options when someone is caught shooting off fireworks in town.

If officers can pinpoint the person who shot off the fireworks, police can issue a citation with a $250 fine and seize the fireworks.

If police can’t determine who shot fireworks off but know the location, they can issue a municipal citation to the property owner for allowing them on their property and violating the city’s prohibited noises ordinance. That infraction can come with a fine of up to $750, which is set at the city attorney’s discretion, Bock said.

He said charges also can be filed against individuals for setting off fireworks on a property without the owner’s consent.

“We understand fireworks are out there, but we strongly encourage people to refrain from setting them off within city limits,” he said.