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Every year just before Fourth of July, fireworks businesses sprout up just outside the city limits of Louisiana, providing a brief period of employment and commerce for the area.
This year is no different for the legal sale season that runs from June 20 through July 10.
It is illegal to sell or shoot off fireworks in Louisiana, hence the locations. They cater to the needs of locals, travelers and the all-important Illinois clientele, which can’t legally purchase fireworks in the land of Lincoln.
On the south end of town on Hwy. 79, Jumpin’ Jack’s Fireworks Stand sets up a tent every year. David and Viki Cadwallader of Louisiana own it.
David Cadwallader has been selling fireworks on and off since he was a teenager, either by himself or for someone else.
“It’s a hobby,” Cadwallader said Monday, July 1. “I even collect fireworks from 30 and 40 years ago. Fourth of July was a big thing at our house growing up,” and fireworks were a large part of it.
The legal fireworks purchased in Missouri are made in China, Cadwallader said. He buys them from a company in Odessa, Mo., and makes trips to restock the tent through the season.
Cadwallader has been at the site just before the Hwy. D turnoff for 10 years. Like many businesses, each year is different.
“Last year was horrible, we didn’t make any money because of the burn bans,” due to the drought, Cadwallader said. This year has been slow and unusual because Fourth of July falls on Thursday, he added. It’s better for business when the annual holiday falls on or closer to the weekend.
Niece Marla Geeson works at the Cadwalladers’ stand.
“It’s been slow so far with the economy this year but the second, third and fourth (of July) will be crazy,” Geeson said. “Most people wait right up until the fourth,” to buy.
Some repeat customers drive one to two hours to get to Jumpin’ Jack’s, she said.
“A lot of people have in mind what they want depending on if they have kids or not,” she said.
On Hwy. 54, Hale Fireworks, MCD Fireworks and Fireworks City set up shop within several hundred yards of each other.
Hale Fireworks, out of Buffalo, Mo. is being run by Michael Gann and Beth Worsham of Buffalo. The couple will make 10 percent off of what they sell under their arrangement with the company.
“I teach school and I know one of the owners, so it was an easy segue into a summer job,” Horsham said.
Gann does it simply because he loves fireworks. There are two distinct types of customers, he said.
“The majority of them are with children and they’re looking for smoke bombs, firecrackers, bottle rockets and sparklers,” Gann said. “Then there are guys who come in here who really like fireworks and they ask for artillery shells.”
Artillery shells are a euphemism for fireworks similar to what one sees at professional shows like Louisiana’s on Fourth of July, but on a smaller scale.
Down the highway a bit, Louisiana High School agriculture teacher Bill Capps has been selling firecrackers, bottle rockets and a variety of aerial delights for a decade at Fireworks City owned by a company out of Arnold, Mo.
Business is never good early in the season but it was better this year in the first week because of last year’s drought, Capps said.
“Last year we had burn bans everywhere, so no one got to shoot them but they’re coming out this year,” Capps said. “I bet 90 percent of our business is from Illinois.
Customers come in asking for sparklers and poppers for their children. For themselves “They ask for something that makes the biggest noise,” Capps said.
A lot of customers are vacationers who are just passing through, Capps said.
Across the road at MCD Fireworks Stand it’s a bit of a different setup. To begin with, the building is stationary and can sell fireworks all year long because of that, according to manager Tara Cook. Non-permanent tent stands have to stick to the June 20-July 10 season, she said.
The stand opens for seven days a week during the Fourth of July season.
“For the rest of the year, people can call and we’re allowed to sell to them,” Cook said. “One guy from close to Chicago came here in March to get fireworks for his son’s first birthday and he bought about $300 worth,” Cook said. “People spend anywhere from $10 to $1,000. I’ve had people in here from Oklahoma and Pennsylvania.
“We haven’t done too bad this year but people like to buy closer to the fourth because if they don’t, the end up shooting them all off,” before the holiday.
Cook also has a theory on why fireworks are popular.
“It brings back youthful memories,” she said. “It’s American as hot dogs and baseball. I couldn’t imagine a summer without fireworks.”