Nation's largest fireworks dealer may set up shop in

By Thomas Wilson
Elizabethton's status as the newest legal town to buy fireworks hasn't gone unnoticed by one of the nation's largest fireworks dealers. "When a new city opens up, everybody wants to test the water," said Jerry Stocksett, Tennessee Area Manager of TNTO Fireworks based in Florence, Ala.
Stocksett talked to the Star this week about the company's plans to establish a presence in Elizabethton in the next Fourth of July season. Elizabethton City Council narrowly passed an ordinance by a vote of 4-3 in July permitting the seasonal retail sale of fireworks by retailers.
Stocksett said he had attempted to contact city of Elizabethton government officials in recent weeks regarding the specifics of the ordinance, but had met with no success through Tuesday.
TNT Fireworks operated over 6,000 retail locations nationwide during the past Fourth of July season, including 17 super-center locations, according to Stocksett. Tennessee is home to two TNT super-center stores at Cleveland and Caryville.
TNT also enjoys a contractual partnership with Wal-Mart Inc. The contract grants a TNT-contracted organization to sell the company's merchandise in any Wal-Mart store parking lot where seasonal sales are legal. "The Super Wal-Mart would be a retail location for a set up," said Stocksett. TNT has similar contracts with over 100 retail stores including grocery and discount retail stores, he said.
"We know they're building; we'll have a facility on the Wal-Mart parking lot this coming season," said Stocksett. "We will probably ship $30,000 to $40,000 of product to that facility on the first shot."
A Wal-Mart Supercenter store is planned for construction on the former North American Rayon Corp. property on West Elk Avenue. The company purchased more than 20 acres of the property in May.
Stocksett said the company targeted not-for-profit organizations such as church groups, athletic teams and volunteer agencies to sell TNT brand fireworks as a fundraising tool for their organization. The company provides advertising signage at the sales tent, pays the permit fee, and covers the sellers with liability insurance, Stocksett said.
TNT offers more than 300 exclusive items and uses a full-time company sales associate to help an organization plan, guide and assist selling their products.
After the ordinance took effect, Elizabethton joined Mountain City as the only two cities in Northeast Tennessee where seasonal fireworks sales are permitted.
The ordinance was strongly opposed by a few Elizabethton residents who did not cotton to the idea of legalized fireworks in the city.
The ordinance allows seasonal retail sales of fireworks from June 20 to July 5, and Dec. 10 through Jan. 2. The first test of the new ordinance will come in December when retailers are permitted to set up shop for the New Year holiday season.
Wholesale fireworks dealers are prohibited from selling under the ordinance and year-round sale is also prohibited. However, the ordinance does not specifically limit the discharge of fireworks on the same seasonal time periods.
The ordinance demands a $300 city-issued permit to sell fireworks. A seasonal retailer would also be required to carry current insurance of at least $2 million in product liability and $1 million in general liability with the city named in the policy as an additional insured party.
Admittedly biased as a member of the largest fireworks retailer in the world, Stocksett said cities that maintained higher permit fees for fireworks retailers saw fewer out-of-state dealers coming to a town.
"When a city opens up, the last thing you want to see is a city flooded with tents," he said.
Stocksett said he took part in several discussions with Murfreesboro city government officials when that town reevaluated their existing fireworks ordinance. After talking with public safety officials and citizens, the town ultimately banned bottle rocket types of fireworks and amended their ordinance to keep the seasonal sales date in tact while narrowing the legal times for shooting fireworks around the Fourth of July holiday.