As the Fourth of July draws near, people throughout the region will have a handful of places to go to purchase fireworks for their private celebrations.
But it may surprise some people that — in spite of the commercial center of the county having banned fireworks in 1982 — Yankton County had a thriving fireworks sales climate with many stands positioned around the county as recently as a decade ago.
Yankton Deputy Fire Chief Larry Nickles told the Press & Dakotan that the county used to be dotted with many pop-up fireworks stands in the lead up to the Independence Day holiday.
“When I started the job as fire marshal 24 years ago, I used to inspect 15-18 fireworks stands,” Nickles said. “Some of them were portable. None of them were really permanent at that time, except for one out west of town — which was South Dakota Fireworks — and then I think there was one on Highway 50.”
Around that same time, Dam Fireworks began operations along Highway 52 in the lake area.
“We started off in a tent in 1997,” Owner Cole Blom told the Press & Dakotan. “Before we opened, we would ride our bikes and go to the different (fireworks) stores and do our shopping. There were a lot of different places to go to.”
While there may have been a lot of places to go at the time, there was a tradeoff — variety of available fireworks.
Jeff Koster is the vice president of operations for the Northern Region of Premier Pyrotechnics. He also owns and operates a number of fireworks stands throughout the region, including the newly-built Bullzeye Fireworks store east of Yankton.
Koster told the Press & Dakotan that a more limited selection in decades past made it easier for more people to get into the business of consumer fireworks sales.
“You used to go to a stand and you basically bought bottle rockets, firecrackers, smoke balls and spin wheels and that was pretty much your selection,” Koster said. “There wasn’t very much to pick from. So there were a lot of people that got into the fireworks business because they didn’t need a big building — they could just set up a small stand and try to make a buck.”
But it wouldn’t be a business that was easy to stay in forever.
Blom said he’s noticed the decrease in places to get fireworks and a decrease in places to discharge them as well.
“Over the years, quite a few people have decided to stop selling fireworks for various reasons and it’s certainly cut down on the amount of places that are selling,” he said. “They used to allow shooting off at the dam, and that was always something that the general public was able to do and a really nice thing for people to be able to go there to light off fireworks. Unfortunately — and I totally understand — they no longer do it. Without something like that in place, it does make it really difficult for most people that live in city limits to find a place to be able to legally light off fireworks and enjoy themselves.”
Nickles said a few factors started working against the number of fireworks stands over the last decade, including additional regulations, licensing, unsightliness and increasing costs of moving stands around.
“The city limits expanded, so where some of those people had those fireworks stands, those places were no longer available,” he said. “Along the Highway 52 corridor, an ordinance was enacted and the two fireworks companies that are in permanent buildings out there are all we’ll ever see from now on because of that ordinance.”
He said that, in 2020, he’s inspected five in Yankton County — two near Lewis & Clark Lake and two east of Yankton and one at the intersection of Highway 46 and Highway 81 north of town.
But perhaps the biggest factor in the downfall of many of Yankton’s firework stands came in the form of a realities faced by industries big and small — the evolving global business climate and the ever-changing American consumer.
“China has really come a long way in the last 10 years in marketing and producing items for the consumer market,” Koster said. “Now, instead of having 20 items that you need in that little fireworks stand that you used to have, you need 400 items. The public wants diversity and they want cool new stuff. They don’t want the same thing they had last year. So it takes a lot more buying networks and a lot more investment for a guy that’s got a fireworks building than it ever used to.”
He said this was only further exacerbated by the other risks that come with the business.
“We only get a 10-day window to sell, so the risk to the smaller guy having to buy that inventory (is that) it could be too dry or rain for five days,” he said.
Koster said that quality of the product has risen greatly over time as well.
“If you’re buying name-brand stuff, the quality and the effect they have created in the last 10 years just keeps getting better and better and better,” he said.
While there may not be as many places selling fireworks in the Yankton area as there once were, those who are still selling say that 2020 is already looking like a big year for the business.
With the Fourth falling on a Saturday and weather conditions seemingly supportive of safe shooting, Blom said he’s also noticed brisk sales so far in the short sales season.
“Most folks are ready to have some sort of fun,” he said. “Everybody’s been pretty cooped up and have felt like they missed out on Easter and Memorial Day and haven’t gotten to celebrate like they normally would and are looking forward to doing a fun outdoor activity with their family.”
Koster said this will be a big year to celebrate with their families.
“The openers were as strong as they’ve ever been,” he said. “People are tired of not working and tired of not getting out and want to do something with their family. This is one thing they can do together, so I think that fireworks sales are going to be very, very strong this year.”
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