City welcomes fireworks retailers   

By Thomas Wilson
star staff

  The first Fourth of July holiday granting retail sales of fireworks through city permit has seen only two fireworks tents pop up around the city of Elizabethton.
  Fireworks World, based in Batesville, Ark. set up shop in the Save-a-Lot store parking lot on Broad Street less than one week ago while TNT Fireworks currently sells bottle rockets and Roman candles from a tent in the Wal-Mart store parking lot.
  Elizabethton City Council passed an ordinance in July 2003 legalizing the sale of fireworks during seasonal periods between June 20 to July 5 and Dec. 20 and Jan. 2 within city limits. The ordinance established a permit acquisition process for retailers and set demands of liability insurance and boundaries for retail locations.
  "They want to try it and see how well it goes this year," said Rebecca Miller, an Elizabethton resident who manages Fireworks World's Broad Street location. "There was a lot to go through before you can set up."
  To sell fireworks within Elizabethton city limits, a retailer must acquire a permit from the city clerk's office. The application fee costs $300. An applicant must show a valid state-issued license to sell fireworks, proof of insurance totaling $2 million in product liability and $1 million in public liability. The ordinance requires product liability insurance policy to name Elizabethton city government as a protected party.
  The city granted two permits to TNT Fireworks based in Florence, Ala. to operate two sites at Wal-Mart and the Winn-Dixie on U.S. Highway 19E in Elizabethton. Scott Simerly who operates the TNT Fireworks tent at the Wal-Mart store parking lot said one of the two TNT sites was shut down after only two days when a lease conflict agreement between the property owners and Winn-Dixie's corporate headquarter arose.
  "They look for people to run the stand and we get a percentage of gross sales," said Simerly. "A lot of people have wondered how we were able to sell in the city."
  The ordinance sets a boundary keeping a retailer's selling site 50 feet away from any standing structure and 75 feet from any inhabited structure. The ordinance also prohibits a retailer from holding more than 1,000 pounds of product in the location at one time.
  The city's fire marshal, building official and police chief inspect and sign off on a retailer's site before an application is approved and a permit is granted.
  "You really have to have your ducks in a row to meet the ordinance and be in operation," said Simerly.
  TNT Fireworks has contracts with numerous retailers including Wal-Mart permitting seasonal retail fireworks sales. The company sets up the tent, provides the products, pays the permit fee and provides necessary insurance. A location manager receives a portion of the profits earned at the site.
  "TNT says 90 percent of our sales happen on the second, third and Fourth of July," said Matt Katras, an employee at the TNT tent.
  Longtime Elizabethton fireworks dealer Charles Edens still operates his location on West Elk Avenue. A fireworks dealer since 1952, Edens kept his business through grandfathering after the city banned fireworks sales several years ago. He noted the fireworks business, like many retail industries, is becoming the playground of massive companies.
  "We are getting inundated with out-of-state and out-of-county people," said Edens who opposed the ordinance when initially passed by the city last year.
  The permit cost plus the cost of liability insurance may have deterred individual businesses not backed by a large company capable of handling the overhead. Edens said property owners that might have allowed a fireworks tent in previous years shied away based on their own insurance premiums covering potential liability.
  "How can you afford to have that much insurance?" said Josh Hodge, Miller's son who works the Broad Street location.