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Booming Business: West Virginia fireworks sales soar

By JIM McCONVILLE

The Journal

MARTINSBURG, W.Va.  — A steady flow of motorists pull in and out of the retail store parking lots with business-like efficiency.

However, instead of corner convenience store offering instantly consumable goods, these stores sell fireworks — at a lighting clip.

Alvin McCastell shops for fireworks at the Hedgesville Church fireworks tent by Foxcroft Towne Center Monday afternoon in Martinsburg. The church is raising funds for an addition to their Church.
(Photo by Ron Agnir)

On the day before the 4th of July, customers moved in and out of fireworks spots in Berkeley County.

To say business is booming for West Virginia’s fireworks vendors this time of year would not qualify as hyperbole.

“We have seen an uptick — there’s been a lot of excitement in fact, now that it’s legal to buy fireworks in West Virginia,” said Ethan Sakin, whose family owns “Fireworks Now” on Winchester Avenue in Bunker Hill. “It’s nice to see people getting to celebrate our fine country on the 4th of July.”

The Sakins, which operate a “Fireworks Now” location in Leesburg, Virginia, spent an estimated $100,000 to open their West Virginia store

West Virginia is now home to 56 fireworks vendors, along with 191 temporary locations, such as tents, according to the West Virginia State Fire Marshal’s Office. Sparklers and other novelty fireworks items are sold at 149 locations in the state.

As a result, licenses for the sale of fireworks in the state jumped 8 percent compared to last year, according to the WVFMO.

“West Virginia residents are loving no longer having to go to Pennsylvania and other places to get their fireworks,” Sakin said.

The licensing fees generated $171,000 in 2016 and $187,000 this year, said Tim Rock, public information officer for the WVFMO.

The state’s surge in fireworks sales is the direct result of House Bill 2852 passed by the state Legislature in 2016, which allows residents to legally buy consumer fireworks and broadens the types of fireworks that can be purchased.

Fireworks now legal for sale in West Virginia include hand-held and ground-based sparkling devices such as sparklers, novelties and toy caps; bottle rockets; missile-type rockets; helicopter and aerial spinners; Roman candles; aerial mine and shell devices; aerial shell kits with reloadable tubes; and firecrackers.

Based on the ordinance passed by the Berkeley County Council on June 29, area residents will also have a newfound freedom for when they can set off that new assortment of fireworks. In addition to time windows on New Year’s Eve and July 4th, county residents may use fireworks each evening between 5 and 10 p.m. starting July 9.

Based on national statistics, there’s no doubting that Americans love to set off fireworks.

Since 1994, there has been a 59.3 percent increase in use of fireworks in the U.S. measured by imports that grew from 117 million pounds in 1994 to 186.4 million pounds in 2013, according to the Kansas City, Missouri-based National Fireworks Association.

West Virginia’s new found fireworks freedom did, however, come with additional cost to both vendors and customers.

West Virginia’s fireworks vendors must now pay an annual fireworks fee to the FMO. Temporary retailers pay a $500 fee and permanent vendors pay a $1,000 fee.

State fireworks retailers are also required to provide proof of insurance with a minimum coverage of $1 million to cover losses, damages or injuries that might result from selling consumer fireworks.

In addition to state sales tax, customers’ fireworks purchases include an additional 12 percent safety fee. Seventy-five percent of the fee goes toward the state’s Veterans’ Facility Support Fund, and the other 25 percent goes to the Fire Protection Fund, which the state treasurer allocates to volunteer fire departments.

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