A BOOMING BUSINESS
Sales skyrocket at Pa. store
Monday, June 30, 2008
BY LISA RICH
MORRISVILLE, Pa. -- They're firing off "motherloads" of fun for the whole family, or so the store brags.
Stationed less than a mile from the border of New Jersey, Sky King Fireworks resembles a pyrotechnic haven for out-of-staters who can legally purchase the explosives in Pennsylvania before sneaking them over state lines, where setting them off is a no-no.
Despite heightened criticism in recent years and proposed legislation to ban fireworks companies in Pennsylvania from selling to non-residents, business at Sky King appears to be booming.
"We're stocking up for this weekend and the Fourth," smiled Brendan Kinney, standing in a nearly packed Sky King parking lot on Pennsylvania Avenue. "They've got great deals here. You can get really powerful fireworks for not much money."
Kinney, 19, said he's a Pennsylvania resident. By law, he isn't allowed to purchase fireworks or shoot them off in his state. Waiting outside while his New Jersey friend purchased the goods, Kinney said he doesn't think setting off the devices is a big deal -- so long as people are safe.
"If you get hurt from fireworks, it's probably because it was your own fault," he said. "I can't tell you where we'll be setting ours off, but I can tell you it's going to be a good time."
Since Sky King opened in 2006, manager Joe Van has taken a lot of heat for selling the explosive wares.
A loophole in Pennsylvania law allows Van to only sell fireworks to out-of-state residents, including people from New York and New Jersey, where transporting or using the explosives is illegal. The loophole was created nearly four years ago when the Pennsylvania General Assembly modified a 1939 statute that allowed business to ship fireworks out of state.
Politicians have proposed rescinding those changes and local residents have voiced their own ire over what they say is an aggressive marketing approach toward young adults and children.
But that doesn't seem to bother Van, nor his customers.
"Independence Day without fireworks is like celebrating Christmas without Christmas trees or Thanksgiving without turkey," Van wrote in an e-mail. "There is nothing more strongly associated with the tradition of Independence Day than fireworks."
Weeks leading up to the Fourth of July, Sky King puts more gusto into advertising its array of fireworks, sending Garden State residents a 30-page brochure of the store's thousands of offerings, ranging from mortars and shells to larger explosives called "Fighting Force" and "Pyro's Playhouse."
Offering stock at buy-one-get-one deals, the brochure encourages patrons to "Tell 'em where you got it!"
But where -- and why -- people are "getting it" is exactly what irks some people who are annoyed by Sky King's advertisements.
"Sky King shamelessly markets to little kids and to people who aren't just looking for a picnic fireworks display," said former Hamilton, N.J., mayor Glen D. Gilmore. "The fireworks we saw in their store included many that were made to look like children's toys and others that had names boasting about their destructive power."
Federal law allows fireworks to contain 500 grams or more than a pound of pyrotechnic material.
Sky King offers consumer fireworks, meaning they contain more than 50 milligrams of explosive composition -- the material that makes fireworks go boom.
But before anyone can enter Sky King's doors, they first have to show an out-of-state identification or state-issued permit. They then have to sign a form stating transport to certain states is illegal.
Once granted access, patrons can walk among ceiling-high stacks of explosives and combo packages coined as "Loud and Rowdy" to "Crazy Exciting on Steroids."
Gilmore said these kinds of labels are enticing to kids, and has called for legislation to put Sky King out of business to New Jersey residents, "since what they're doing is encouraging people to break the law."
Pennsylvania Rep. John T. Galloway has attempted to nix the legislative loophole, so far to no avail.
Galloway, a Democrat representing a portion of Bucks County, introduced legislation in 2007 called the "Good Neighbor Bill" that would forbid stores to sell fireworks to out-of-state residents. The bill has sat idle for nearly a year, as it's still under review by the agriculture and rural affairs committee.
New Jersey State Police said they're beefing up patrols from Camden to Easton along the Delaware River where several fireworks stores have opened shop.
At this time last year, State Police arrested 28 people within two weeks for sneaking fireworks into New Jersey. Figures on arrests this year are not available.
State Police Sgt. Stephen Jones said efforts will continue this season to curb the transport of fireworks.
"Our patrols and details have been at the river crossings and that does include some undercover work," Jones said. Last week, he said, a man was arrested with $500 worth of explosives.
Van has argued since the store's opening that he's not breaking any laws, and cited national figures that show injuries resulting from fireworks are declining.
According to the American Pyrotechnic Association (APA), based in Maryland, consumption of fireworks has grown nationwide from 132.9 million pounds in 1997 to 265.6 million pounds last year.
Injuries across the country spiked to nearly 11,000 in 2005 but declined to 9,800 last year. Since 1992, injuries per 100,000 pounds of fireworks used have dropped by 76 percent.
Julie Heckman, executive director of the APA, said her organization focuses on promoting fireworks safety.
Despite national media reports, which stated recent changes in federal fireworks laws have allowed the devices to contain more power, Heckman said the only changes to fireworks is the number of consumers.
"Over the past four years, we've seen unprecedented growth in the industry," Heckman said. "That has to do with newer kinds of fireworks that have really revolutionized backyard fireworks. And, at the same time, it's when more states started relaxing their laws."
The federal government did make its own standards more lenient in 1998 by allowing fireworks to contain 500 grams or more than a pound of pyrotechnic material. Heckman said these devices now make up 25 percent of industry sales.
Contact Lisa Rich at firstname.lastname@example.org or (609) 989-5692.
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