Monday, June 30, 2008

Fireworks expected to cost more next year

Reduced supply in China, fuel costs said to create ‘perfect storm' in industry
By Jason Morton Staff Writer Tuscaloo News

Published: Sunday, June 29, 2008 at 3:30 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, June 28, 2008 at 10:52 p.m.

The storm is occurring in China, the main supplier of fireworks to the U.S. Bruce Volensky, vice president of sales for Pyrotechnico, which does display fireworks shows, said he's not seen anything like it in his 20 years in the business.

'It's quite unusual,' Volensky said. 'It really is the perfect storm in the industry, as far as price is concerned.'

The fallout, Volensky said, is already beginning to manifest itself in small ways.

'Next year, possibly, the costs could go up dramatically,' he said. Volensky said prices could range from 30 percent to 50 percent higher.

China began decreasing its shipments of fireworks overseas in anticipation of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing later this summer.

Then, about four months ago, an explosion in the Chinese port city of Sanshui destroyed 20 fireworks warehouses. The explosion rattled homes miles away and set off fireworks for more than 24 hours.

Add rising fuel costs — which increase shipping costs as well as the price of the chemicals used to launch the type of fireworks used by the large display fireworks companies — and the Chinese government's recent decision to stop subsidizing fireworks manufacturers, and the forecast points to smaller supplies and higher prices.

Tuscaloosa's fireworks spectacle planned for Friday at Sokol Park should not be affected, Volensky said. The company he works for is providing the fireworks for the Tuscaloosa County Park and Recreation Authority's annual celebration.

The cost of the show will range between $18,000 and $20,000 — about $11,000 of that on the fireworks show alone — paid for primarily through sponsor donations.

But next year's fireworks display could be a scaled-back version.

'I don't think that would stop us from having it,' said Gary Minor, superintendent of recreation for PARA, 'but it could be possible that we would have to find more sponsors or pare back a little on the fireworks.'

Charging admission to view the show would be a last resort, he said.

'We've taken it on our shoulders to do this for the community,' Minor said. 'But unless [the price increase] really became extreme, we likely wouldn't do that.'

Pam Palmer, president of Fireworks of Alabama, which supplies about 100 fireworks stands in the state, said her company is also seeing price increases but does not think it will prove a serious problem to future supplies.

This year, though, she said people intending to buy fireworks for personal use should do so early.

'There is definitely a shortage in fireworks,' she said. 'We won't run out of fireworks, but we may run out of the type you want.'

The main reason is the cost of shipping, she said. Last year, a shipping crate full of fireworks cost $4,800 to ship from China. Today, that same shipment would cost $11,800.

Increases for individual fireworks, from Roman candles to bottle rockets, vary depending on the size of the product. She said consumers can expect to see fireworks going for 10 percent to 50 percent more per item than last year.

'The larger the items,' she said, 'the larger the price increase because they take up more space on the [shipping] container.'

Local stands, though, said they haven't seen any changes in the fireworks supply.

'We've got more than we ever had,' said Brad Hill, 31, of Brookwood, who operates the TNT Fireworks stand in Northport on Lurleen B. Wallace Boulevard.

Hill said he's been operating fireworks stands for about four years now to benefit his church, Apostolic Pentecostal Church in Cottondale.

So has Erick Johnson, 35, of Cottondale. He said the proceeds from his stand, located on U.S. Highway 82 next to Wal-Mart in Northport, go toward The Sanctuary in Bessemer.

The friends were working together on Thursday to get Hill's stand stocked in time for the weekend's anticipated sales rush. Both men said they had seen no effects of the fireworks shortfall, except for some increased prices.

'But that's nothing new,' Hill said. 'They do that every other year, anyway.'

Reach Jason Morton at or 205-722-0510.

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