Fireworks stands report booming business despite fee increase
Lori Peterson and her son, Paul Peterson III, of Bonner Springs, browsed the fireworks stand in downtown Bonner Springs on the Fourth of July, just looking to pick up a few things.
Lori said they only wanted to buy a few small items for the evening, rather than put on a larger pyrotechnics show of their own, having been satisfied with last week’s city show.
“We’re cutting back compared to what we usually buy,” she said. “We did see the Bonner Blast — that was awesome. We were glad they brought that back.”
Many of the 11 fireworks stands in the city this year reported the same findings — customers more interested in purchasing smaller items than in buying larger explosives or kits worth several hundred dollars. Stand operators in Bonner Springs felt the pinch in their pockets, as well, as they paid $1,000 for their permit fee, an increase of $250, in addition to a $25 tent fee and $35 electrical fee.
The increased permit fee didn’t appear to greatly impact the number of stands locating in the city compared to last year, but the number of stands has been decreasing as fees rise.
In 2009, when the fee was $500, 16 permits were issued in the city, generating $8,000, and last year, when fees were raised to $750, the city had 12 permits, generating $9,000. So even with the second increase and one less stand, the permits generated more funds for the city this year.
Increasing the fee gradually was a goal for the city. When the city increased its fee from $500 to $750, city staff suggested it be increased to $1,000. A survey of 18 cities from the Kansas Association of City/County Management found the average fee to be $3,000. The Bonner Springs City Council approved the second increase in November 2010.
Among nearby cities, the increase puts Bonner near the top in fees, just under Kansas City, Kan., which charges $1,060. Edwardsville, which had just one stand this year, and De Soto charge $500, while Tonganoxie charges just $150.
Basehor, which had four fireworks stands this year, charges $500 as a permit fee, but stands in Basehor also must pay a $500 fee to the township fire department.
Some stand operators didn’t seem to mind the fee increase as much as the limitations on the days the sale of fireworks is permitted, July 1-4. Rachel and Malachai O’Brien, who operated the Grand Patriot stand downtown in the Thriftway parking lot, said they would have appreciated it if sales were allowed at least one day earlier.
“I wanted to sell so bad on the 30th because there was a parking lot full of people watching the fireworks show,” Malachi said.
The O’Briens have had stands the past several years in either Ottawa or Bonner Springs. They said the permit fees and other costs were a concern, but their bigger concern was finding the right fireworks distributor.
They said they would make 15 percent of their total sales with the company they were working with this year, and they decided to have a stand in Bonner rather than Ottawa because the stand locations were more accessible and had greater visibility to traffic on main thoroughfares.
Peter Barber, who operated the Sal’s Fireworks tent off the Price Chopper parking lot, said that perhaps the charitable organizations operating stands in years past had realized how much a challenge a stand can be when they ran into problems with the weather or fireworks distributors.
Sal’s gets its fireworks from the Bonner Springs-based company Power Source and the tent has occupied the Price Chopper spot for five years. Barber said sales had been good this year, and his tent had sold some of the bigger items, though by midday on the Fourth, they were starting to run out of smaller items.
“The first day we were open, it was the pyros, buying the bigger stuff,” he said. “Then the next day it was more families buying smaller things, and it’s been sort of a mix of the two since then.”
Jesse Wallace, who had 14 “Crazy J’s” stands across the area this year including four in Bonner Springs alone, agreed that novelty and less-expensive items had sold best this year, though the big kits tended to sell as it got later in the day on the Fourth.
Having operated stands since 1992, he said the increased permit fees did hurt because the cost had to be made up elsewhere.
“Unfortunately, one of the repercussions of that is you have to pass that cost on to the customer,” he said.
But Wallace, who used to live in Bonner and sponsors the Bonner Springs High School Project Grad fireworks tent, said the higher fees weren’t keeping him from having tent locations in Bonner yet.
“We love the community here; we’ve raised four children here,” he said. “We do this for the love of it, not for the profit.”