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Stand operators call fireworks business enjoyable but unpredictable

By ALLISON MILES
July 2, 2011 at 2:02 a.m.

John Svoboda, operator of Alamo Fireworks, prepares the store Thursday for its Friday morning opening.

TIPS ON FIREWORKS SAFETYFireworks can be fun, but it's important to celebrate safely. Here are some tips from the National Council on Fireworks Safety:

Only use fireworks outdoors.

Observe local laws. If fireworks aren't legal where you live, don't use them.

Keep water handy with either a hose or bucket.

Use fireworks as intended. Don't combine or alter them.

Never relight a "dud." Instead, wait 20 minutes and soak it in water.

Use common sense. Spectators should keep a safe distance from the shooter and the shooter should wear safety glasses.

Alcohol and fireworks don't mix. Always have a "designated shooter."

Only people age 12 and older should handle sparklers of any kind.

Don't use homemade fireworks made of illegal explosives. They can kill you.

Source: National Council on Fireworks Safety website

Ronnie Carlile's tie-dye T-shirt stood in stark contrast to the white roadside stand where he busied himself Monday. He wiped down empty shelves, situated the soon-to-be-activated cash register and mentally ticked off the rest of the day's tasks, all in preparation to sell fireworks.

"There's still some left to do," he said from the shade of his stand. "But it'll get done."

The 11-day summer fireworks season began June 22 statewide, giving residents a chance to celebrate Independence Day with a bit of bang and sparkle.

Crossroads stand operators say that, while the seasons might be short and sweet, they enjoy them.

Carlile got his start selling fireworks at least 10 years ago, he said. It began as a way to give his children experience working with the public and dealing with money.

"Now, the reason I've stayed with it, is for the money," he said with a shrug. "It helps."

Nationwide, display fireworks brought in $316 million in 2010, according to data from the American Pyrotechnics Association. Consumer fireworks revenue was more than double, at $636 million.

Weather plays a major factor when it comes to local sales, Carlile said. Burn bans, for instance, mean sales are restricted for certain items that could burn dry grass and the like.

This year, aerial fireworks with sticks and fins are banned in Victoria County.

"It will probably be a slow season for us," Carlile said, adding that the winter season typically results in more sales. "We expect it to be slow."

The business owner's income doesn't come solely from the patriotic pyrotechnics, however. The oilfield worker also owns a T-shirt company in Port Aransas and the Flying J RV Park.

The fireworks business is fun, but always a bit unpredictable, said John Svoboda, who owns the Alamo Fireworks Megastore, 29 Beck Road East.

What's popular one year won't necessarily be popular the next, he said, and business doesn't pick up until the last few days before the holiday.

Other factors affect business as well, Svoboda said, explaining that gas prices play a role in sales.

Much of Svoboda's business comes from highway traffic, because he's located just off US Highway 59.

"When gas prices are high, I'll sometimes see business drop as much as 50 percent over the holiday," he said. "About four or five years ago, when prices were up, you wouldn't see a car out there."

But even in the years he loses highway business, Svoboda said sales to residents increase. High gas prices mean fewer people travel out-of-town for holidays, he explained, and they still want to celebrate.

"It evens out," said Svoboda, who also works at other jobs throughout the year, doing yard work, repairing fences and the like.

Victoria resident John Martinez said he and his family typically celebrate Independence Day with a firework or two, but said he wasn't sure how the 2011 burn ban factored in.

"If the smaller ones are legal, we'll probably do them," he said. "Just to hear the noise. It also gives the kids a chance to experience something they're going to be seeing for the rest of their lives."

Victoria stay-at-home mother Lynn Martin said she and her brood plan to watch the city's fireworks show, rather than shoot off their own. If anything, they might light sparklers.

"We've never really done the firecrackers," Martin, 30, said. "The city's show is easier, and we all enjoy it."

As for Carlile, although he expects a slower-than-ideal season, he said he isn't worried.

Whatever doesn't sell goes back to Alamo Fireworks, he said. And, regardless, he enjoys what he does.

"I'm satisfied," he said.

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