Fireworks retailers fuse Fourth business

By Thomas Wilson

   With the Fourth of July holiday only days away, a tent community of fireworks retailers has set up shop to prepare for much festivity.
   "It has been so long since it fell on Friday," said Richard Hyatt who works with Green and Green fireworks located on U.S. Highway 19E in Carter County near the Sullivan County line. "I'd expect it to be pretty busy the whole week."
   The Elizabethton City Council at their June 13 meeting passed on first reading an ordinance legalizing the sale and discharge of fireworks within city limits.
   While the ordinance is coming too late for the Fourth of July season, tent stores of retailers are popping around the county where kids of all ages, with a penchant for seeing things blow up, may shop unencumbered.
   "They've graduated from firecrackers and Roman candles to artillery shells because they are more exciting to 'em and more beautiful to 'em," said Larry "Moonshine" Malone who operates Moonshine's Fireworks on Highway 19E.
   With names like "Unleash the Beast" and "Sky Warrior", artillery shell fireworks rank among the most popular types of fireworks. Artillery shells are set up as round discharges inside a vertical launching pipe. When ignited, the shells blast into the air and create multicolored explosions after discharging.
   "The patterns are usually 25 to 35 feet wide exploding at 150 to 200 feet in the air," said Malone who has been in the business for more than 35 years. "A lot of people don't realize how beautiful they are."
   Most fireworks retailers also move volumes of traditional sparklers, missiles, Roman candles and other fireworks novelties featuring sparks, lights and noise.
   Rebecca Miller, manager of Fireworks World in Valley Forge, said this was her first year managing a fireworks operation.
   "It's just a different adventure -- and I like adventure," said Miller, who added she took on managing the outlet at the coaxing of her husband.
   The sale of fireworks is legal within Carter County, a marketable status that draws customers from Northeast Tennessee, North Carolina and beyond. Miller's son Joshua Hodge said travelers from North Carolina, Florida and Virginia had purchased fireworks in past days of the tent.
   "Most people have kids with them," said Hodge. "They are probably our biggest buyers."
   Elizabethton City Council members will consider the ordinance on second reading at the July 10 meeting. However, given the time constraints of holding a public hearing and when the ordinance went into effect, the earliest date a retailer could have sold inside the city would have been July 3.
   The ordinance permits seasonal retailers to sell and the public to discharge fireworks from June 20 to July 5, and Dec. 10 through Jan. 2 annually. Fireworks could not be discharged between 12:30 a.m. and 8 a.m. - a time frame taking into account the New Year's Day holiday.
   The ordinance passed by council prohibits the discharge of fireworks within 600 feet of a school, church or other inhabited structure and a 50-foot boundary between a fireworks retailer's business and the nearest structure.
   Mayor Sam LaPorte, Mayor Pro Tem Sam Shipley, and council members Richard Sammons and Nancy Alsup voted to pass the ordinance on first reading. Pat "Red" Bowers along with fellow councilman and former city fire chief, Bill Carter, voted against the ordinance. Councilwoman Janie Smith McKinney was absent.
   Elizabethton Fire Chief Mike Shouse opposed the ordinance altogether, but presented a regulatory ordinance to the council to make the selling and discharge as safe as possible. "We didn't like the fact that the distances were changed," said Shouse.
   The ordinance passed on first reading by the council requires a structure where fireworks are sold to be at least 50 feet from any other structure. The fire department had requested a structure be set back 75 feet to comply with new International Fire Code regulations, which are expected to be adopted by the state later this year.
   "It was a nationally recognized code, not an alternative thing we just came up with," Shouse said. "What the state is going to adopt, we can't make any less stringent in our code."
   Miller said she and her husband were thinking about expanding a new location into Elizabethton if the city OK'd legalizing fireworks.
   "I probably would go into the city next year," she said. "If they pass it."