Keywon Demus said he had never seen as many fireworks tents in Lexington as he has this year. The reason? Vendors can sell pyrotechnics that they couldn't before in Kentucky.
Until this year, fireworks that shoot into the air, including bottle rockets and Roman candles, were illegal. But a law that just took effect after being passed earlier this year by the General Assembly allows the sale of those aerial fireworks.
This will be the first Fourth of July weekend that Kentuckians may buy those relatively newer, and perhaps more impressive, fireworks. And Demus and other vendors are trying to figure out ways to capitalize on selling them.
Demus, a Lexington resident who owns and manages Boom Fireworks, said he sees it all as a "double whammy."
"All in all, I'm very pleased with the new law," Demus said. "But some of these sellers come from outside the state, and sell and take the money back to their state. Then you have guys like me who buy and sell in-state, and pay taxes in-state to help boost our state economy."
Demus says legalizing aerial fireworks was a "common sense" move for Kentucky because it was losing potential revenue from fireworks sales.
He said he noticed that too many people were leaving the state to buy fireworks in Indiana or Tennessee, where they have been legal for a while.
But despite the fears that Demus has with bigger companies "stepping on their ground" and taking potential state money, Fred Andrews, an employee at a Lexington outlet of the national Big Fireworks chain, based in Lansing, Mich., said not so fast, at least not this year.
"My concern is that people don't know they can buy aerial products now," Andrews said.
Even if customers aren't looking to buy the aerial fireworks that are now legal in Kentucky, Demus, the smaller vendor, said, he's still at a disadvantage. Andrews has six Big Fireworks locations in Lexington compared to the two locations Demus has. (Andrews' Big Fireworks also has two stores in Covington and one in Florence.)
Demus said that's the nature of a big company, and that Big Fireworks benefits from being a name brand. "How do you compete with something like that?" he asked.
Demus seemed to have answered his own question. He said he tried new approaches this year to get the word out about his company to counter the pull of customers toward name brands. That included radio advertisements and opening a week earlier than usual.
"We want people to see that we want to become 'the leader,'" he said. "We're down-to-earth people that deal with our customers. But my biggest worry is these big corporations ruining local business. If we have to sacrifice profit and sell something cheaper to hang with a big company, we'll do so to keep the profit here in Kentucky."
A majority of a fireworks company's profit is made in the first days of July, vendors said. Many sellers won't be able to get a grasp on sales increases with aerial fireworks until later.
Big Fireworks' Andrews said he couldn't quite figure out why aerial fireworks were banned in Kentucky for so long. In his opinion, they're not much different than the ones that were allowed.
"The only thing different is one goes up in the air," he said. "There's no real difference in safety. If both aren't properly handled, they can harm you. The only time you'd harm yourself is if you don't use them properly."
Lexington fire Battalion Chief Marshall Griggs disagrees. A news release from the fire department said fireworks caused an estimated 22,500 fires nationally in 2008, resulting in $42 million in property damage.
He said the fire department will do all it can to make sure those numbers don't increase this year with the availability of what Griggs called "dangerous" fireworks.
"Our concern is that people here only bought what was legal and may not realize how dangerous these fireworks are," he said. "So we worked in conjunction with public safety and building inspection to get the message out."