Econ 919 — Fireworks

Jul 2, 2021

Credit Photo: Wesley Early/KOTZ

Personal fireworks are largely illegal on the Kenai Peninsula. That rule goes for most of Southcentral, too, though each municipality is responsible for its own rules.

But there is at least one place in Southcentral where fireworks are legal on private land: the city of Houston, between Willow and Wasilla. Houston is also the home of Gorilla Fireworks, which says it's Alaska’s biggest fireworks store.

Samantha Bouma is the manager at Gorilla Fireworks. She said ahead of July 4, the store is open 24 hours a day.

KDLL: Of course, we've just hit solstice. We're getting almost 19 hours of daylight a day here. I imaigne that puts some of the kibosh on fireworks for you. Is Fourth of July still a really busy time for fireworks?

Samantha Bouma: Yeah. We see a lot of families coming out, wanting to celebrate with more of the novelties. You know, the sparklers, the smoke bombs, the tanks, the snakes, fountains, parachutes — some of those things that maybe don’t get as much attention in the New Years but bring a lot of excitement on the Fourth of July.

KDLL: There are regulations that differ across Alaska. How do you navigate that set of rules that varies per location?

SB: Our number one priority is to make sure that people are celebrating responsibly and safely. So we ask them to check their local regulations, depending on where they’re gonna be, make sure they know the rules of the road where they are.

KDLL: You guys ship to a lot of villages, a lot of cities across Alaska. It sounds like you help cities do their own local fireworks displays. What does that usually look like, when a city comes to you and says, ‘We want to do a fireworks display for the Fourth of July, can you help us figure that out?

SB: We’ve got various packages, kind of pre-packed items. We’ve got one called a Village Celebration that really kind of puts together their own little show. It’s the same fireworks they can show up at our stand and get, but we help them figure out in which order they should shoot it and make sure they get the best bang for their buck.

KDLL: How much does that tend to cost for a city-wide, or village-wide demonstration?

SB: You know, we really have something to fit every budget. So you can go anywhere from $250 to thousands, depending on what the budget is they’ve got.

KDLL: I read that there are some shipping challenges holding up firework stock in some parts of the Lower 48. Is that something that you guys are experiencing here, as well? 

SB: Yeah. I think across the country, we’re seeing challenges getting fireworks. I mean, I think just with a lot of inventory, it’s not necessarily unique to fireworks. Shipping delays and inventory supplies are definitely something that we’re feeling.

KDLL: So are you guys lower on stock than you’d like to be at this time?

SB: I think we don’t have probably some of the things, or as much of the things, is probably a better way of saying it, as we’d like to have. But that being said, we’ve got a lot of really great stuff that we’re excited about getting in customers’ hands to celebrate with.

KDLL: What are your most popular fireworks?

SB: This time of year, really the sparklers. I was just going out to kind of count how many different versions of sparklers — probably 10 or more different versions of sparklers, which is exciting. There’s something new to try to an old classic.

We’ve got ones that are neon, we’ve got ones that last almost four minutes. We’ve got ones with glow sticks on them. We’ve got whistling ones. So it’s super fun to see all the different varieties we’ve got. We’ve got chickens that blow balloons and flashing signals. Obviously, firecrackers. And we’ve got a really cool little dynamite setup that keeps the mess clean from the firecracker side. 

So those are all a lot of really fun things for the summer.

SB: And then the last thing I’ll ask is: What do you think makes a good firework show?

KDLL: Whatever makes the kids smile, right? So, everybody’s got their own tastes. So we’re here to help you figure out what you like and what you want to get to make sure that your family’s smiling at the end and having fun.

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That was Samantha Bouma, manager of Gorilla Fireworks in Houston, Alaska.

A reminder that fireworks are not legal to buy or use on the Kenai Peninsula, with the exception of Seward, which just discourages them within city limits. If you want to get your firework fix, there’s a show at 12:01 a.m. on July 4 in Seward. It’s part of the city's 2021 Fourth of July Festival.