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For the fireworks industry, business is booming

By ALLISON MILES
June 26, 2010 at 1:26 a.m.

Alamo Fireworks, fireworks mega store,  carries Big Shot Fireworks. The store opened on Thursday.

The fireworks industry has seen continuous growth through the years. Here's a timeline of industry revenues:

2000: $610 million

2001: $650 million

2002: $725 million

2003: $775 million

2004: $815 million

2005: $880 million

2006: $900 million

2007: $930 million

2008: $940 million

2009: $945 million

Source: American Pyrotechnics Association website

Profiting from pyrotechnics

Victoria native John Svoboda has been in the fireworks business for more than 10 years now and said it's been a learning experience.

He started out when a wooden stand near his home went up for lease.

"I thought it would be something to pick up some extra cash," he said.

That first year included a learning curve and about $3,000 in losses, since he didn't know how to properly manage the business, he said. He continued on with it, however.

It soon grew to two stands and business grew so quickly that traffic became a problem. In 2004, Svoboda said he spoke with Alamo about opening a mega store, something they'd only recently begun, and the rest is history.

Today, he operates the store two seasons out of the year. The supplemental income - he works in lawn care for the rest of the year - helps.

And he said he enjoys what he does.

"The mega store is more like running a regular retail business than the stands," he said. "I miss some parts of running the stands, but I like this, too."

Things outside the Alamo Mega Store off Beck Road seemed fairly calm. A warm summer breeze swayed the brown and green grass while cars whizzed past the metal building.

Inside, however, was another story as people maneuvered past stacked-up boxes and unpacked colorful containers, one after another, of sparklers, firecrackers and the like.

The summer fireworks season began Thursday and industry pros say they think this season will come in with a bang.

Fireworks spending totaled $945 million nationwide in 2009, according to data from the American Pyrotechnics Association website.

Statewide, the industry is expected to fare better than last year, said Joe Daughtry, president of the Texas Fireworks Association. Weather plays a key part in that.

During 2009's summer fireworks season, much of Texas was in the grips of a major drought, which meant burn bans and, in some places, bans on aerial fireworks. Many customers decided against shooting off as many fireworks as they usually did, simply because it was so dry.

"It was probably one of the slowest seasons I've ever seen," Daughtry said.

Sales were slow locally in 2009, too, said John Svoboda, who runs the Alamo Mega Store. But, with recent moisture throughout the Crossroads, 2010 looks to be profitable.

"I'm not worried about it this year," he said.

Svoboda bases his inventory on what typically sells well and said he tries to keep a variety. Small firecrackers and sparklers tend to be popular among the kids, but others enjoy bigger artillery or mortar items.

"Fireworks have come a long way in what you can buy," he said, explaining he has people who enter his shop and purchase $2,000 or $2,500 in merchandise. "Now you can almost put on a display like you'd see at a community display."

It isn't just children taking part in the booming, blasting pastime either, Svoboda said. Whole families take part in it.

"I have some men who come in who are probably in their 80s," he said. "They'll come a few times throughout the season."

It is illegal to shoot off fireworks within city limits, said Ron Pray, Victoria County fire marshal. They are legal in certain areas of the county.

Fireworks always come into the mix when Joseph Ureste and his family celebrate Independence Day. It's become a tradition.

"I pop fireworks every year," the Victoria East High School junior said, explaining the family meets up at his grandmother's house. "A lot of them."

Ureste, 16, said he isn't picky when it comes to his fireworks. He likes them all because they look cool and, well, they're fire.

And he said his family will likely continue to shoot them off, regardless of economic conditions and the like.

"We'll always do them," he said. "No matter what."

That's good news for Svoboda and others in his industry who, for now, will continue preparing their shops and stands for the busiest time of the season, the last day or so before the Fourth of July.

"That's when we get our rushes," he said. "We anticipate a huge influx of people. And it's good to be busy."

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