Booming fireworks business in Eastern Iowa leads to expansion plans
Linn County had more licensed retailers than anywhere in Iowa
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CEDAR RAPIDS — Donnie Moore started last week with a 53-foot trailer filled with fireworks.
By the end of the day Tuesday, he estimates he sold 90 percent of his stock.
Moore, operations manager of a Bellino Fireworks tent in Cedar Rapids, said business was steady the entire week the tent was open in a parking lot near the corner of Edgewood Road and Williams Boulevard SW. Sales peaked last weekend.
Leftover product that didn’t sell by the Fourth of July — the last day any of Bellino’s 40 Iowa locations were open this season — is to be shipped back to a Bellino warehouse or sent to another state with a longer sales period, Moore said.
Many area fireworks retailers are calling their first season of fireworks sales a success and some already are looking forward to the prospect of increasing their retail footprint next year.
Bellino hopes to establish nearly 100 fireworks retail sales spots in 2018, Moore said.
And Jake’s Fireworks wants to triple its Iowa presence, said Rusty Watson, Iowa retail operations manager for the Kansas-based company, which operated 28 locations this year.
Fireworks retailers were given the green light to sell in Iowa when now former Gov. Terry Branstad, on May 9, signed legislation permitting the possession, sale and use of consumer-grade fireworks from June 1 through July 8 and Dec. 10 through Jan. 3.
Matt Blake, co-owner of Superior Fireworks, which operated tents in Cedar Rapids, said he didn’t know what to expect, but said he was pleased with sales. Many customers returned to shop time and time again, he said.
Though they are allowed to continue selling through Saturday, many retailers began packing up operations on Wednesday to avoid a post-holiday sales lull.
There were a few challenges along the way, said Watson of Jake’s Fireworks.
For example, Cedar Rapids prohibited tent vendors from keeping more than 500 pounds of stock in a tent at one time. This meant that many Cedar Rapids locations had to hire extra staff dedicated to restocking fireworks as customers purchased them, he said.
Moore, of Bellino Fireworks, said he had to hire four employees just to fill empty shelf space since he could only keep a few of each large product in the tent at one time to stay within the weight limit.
It was a pain, he said, but he thinks it helped business because the constant restocking attracted attention to products customers may have otherwise missed.
But, he added, “It’s not about the money. For me, it’s about the kids and how fun it is for them to be with their families, setting these fireworks off.”
The State Fire Marshal Division reports there were 645 licensed fireworks retail locations in Iowa. Of those, 334 were classified as permanent structures and 311 as temporary structures.
Linn County had more licensed locations than any other county with 58. Following a new state law regarding the sales and use of consumer fireworks, Cedar Rapids officials chose to allow use from June 1 through July 8 and between Dec. 10 and Jan. 3. However, officials said this week they plan to revisit the policy after a slew of negative feedback from residents during the initial window of use.
Johnson County, where the cities of Iowa City, Coralville and North Liberty all continued bans on the use of fireworks, had 17 licensed retailers, according to the State Fire Marshal Division.
Other counties with the most licensed retailers included Scott (55), Black Hawk (43), Polk (31) and Woodbury (25).
Eight counties — Butler, Clayton, Decatur, Grundy, Palo Alto, Pocahontas, Van Buren and Wayne — had no licensed retailers.
Counts for other Eastern Iowa counties include Benton (3), Buchanan (4), Cedar (3), Delaware (1), Iowa (4), Jones (6), Muscatine (12) and Washington (2).
A look across the state shows that popular sales locations were clustered in bigger cities. Large clusters also were found along the Illinois border in cities like Davenport and Dubuque. The sale, possession and use of consumer fireworks is banned in Illinois.
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