reWorking Michigan: Bigger Fireworks, Bigger Profits?

Jun 18, 2012

Michigan law governing the sale of fireworks has changed since Independence Day last year. It used to be illegal to sell anything that exploded or left the ground. Such products can now be sold here, despite opposition from those with safety concerns. WKAR's Scott Pohl reports on what the change means to one Lansing business known for its fireworks.

At this time of year, vacant lots begin filling up with tents where you can buy fireworks. But when it comes to a store selling fireworks, the American Eagle Superstore in Lansing has long been known for catering to people who enjoy celebrating the 4th of July with a bang.

This is one business where folks are happy that Governor Snyder signed the law allowing sales of bigger and more explosive fireworks in Michigan.

“We’re really excited about being able to sell this stuff this year, and I know a lot of our customers are as well,” says Justin Morris, manager of American Eagle. He recently showed me some of the products he can sell this year that he couldn’t a year ago, starting with a 500-gram cake of shells.

 “When I say cake,” Morris explains, “that’s a series of pre-loaded artillery shells that are all together on one fuse. When you light this firework, it’s like a fireworks show in a box. It’s 30 consecutive shots of pre-loaded artillery shells. Each shot is going to vary in color and effect, and it’s really impressive. It’s going to end with a finale as well.”

Another example is a kit of pro shells.

“Now, what this is, is 24 canister shells,” Morris continues. “This is the number one artillery shell for consumer grade in the United States, fantastic shells. They go higher, break bigger, very vibrant colors. It’s definitely one of our top sellers, and our customers are really excited to be able to buy them this year.”

The fireworks display here is taking up more floor space than the sparklers, snakes, poppers and fountains did in the past. American Eagle is still selling those products, but this display is now dominated by pallets loaded with the stuff that will fly and bang.          

It’s attracted shoppers like Matthew Kyes of Wacousta. In the past, he’s shopped out of state to get the fireworks he wants.

“The past few years,” Kyes says, “we’ve been getting mortars, things that go up in the air. We’ll usually buy a few hundred dollars of those and set it up for our whole neighborhood and have a show.”

Another customer calling himself J$ says not being able to buy more powerful fireworks in Michigan legally didn’t make sense to him. “I never really understood why we just couldn’t have it here,” he states. “If everybody’s going to go somewhere else and take their money somewhere else, why not spend it here in Michigan?”

J$ says he plans to spend $200 or $300 on fireworks between now and the 4th of July.

Store manager Justin Morris says sales of the low impact fireworks are steady, but he expects the change in state law to lead to an increase in overall sales.

“We’ve been real impressed and pleased with the sales numbers so far,” says Morris. “It’s been looking really good, and we are really optimistic about the next few weeks leading up to the 4th.”

In addition to the Lansing store, American Eagle has a fireworks distributorship called Big Fireworks. They supply outlets across the country, and now in Michigan, with fireworks. Along with a Lansing facility, they opened a distribution center in South Carolina last year.

Buying more powerful fireworks without breaking the law used to mean a trip to Ohio or Indiana. Supporters of bringing Michigan to the same standards are pleased that some of those sales are now happening here rather than across the border.

On top of the state’s 6% sales tax, Michigan adds a 6% Fireworks Safety Fee. That money goes to the Bureau of Fire Services and firefighter training in Michigan.

reWorking Michigan examines our evolving economy, as citizens of the Great Lake State explore new ways to make a living and build a future for their families. A project of WKAR NewsRoom, WKAR-TV and WKAR Online