For a business that mostly takes place over the course of a few weeks, fireworks are kind of a big deal in the Region.
Northwest Indiana's highways are lined with billboards for Krazy Kaplans, Phantom Fireworks and other fireworks stores. Giant inflatable King Kongs and hot air balloons beckon to passing motorists. Fireworks stores pull out all the stops: driving mobile billboard trucks around town, staying open 24/7, putting out dozens of yard signs, offering deals like buy-one-get-six-free and doing pyrotechnic displays in their parking lots.
Fireworks sales have boomed with explosive growth nationwide, with consumer fireworks sales skyrocketing from $284 million in the United States in 1998 to $945 million last year, according to the American Pyrotechnics Association. Northwest Indiana has been a huge hub of fireworks stores largely because neighboring Illinois is one of only four states nationally to ban aerial fireworks and Michigan had banned them up until only a few years ago.
Northwest Indiana is home to about 100 retailers that sell fireworks, with many just off the highway or clustered along the state borders, according to the Indiana Department of Homeland Security.
Local fireworks retailers say many of their customers come from out of state and most of their business takes place in the weeks leading up to the Fourth of July, with the day before Independent Day being the busiest of the year.
"It's a seasonal business with mostly small mom-and-pop places," said Brian Krupinski, the manager of Boomtown USA in Merrillville.
The business can be unpredictable but June and the first few days of July is generally crunch time since sales are much more modest during other fireworks holidays like Diwali Festival of Lights and New Year's Eve.
"After the Fourth, there's still some demand during summertime for birthday parties, Labor Day, graduations, a few weddings," Krupinski said. "But business drastically drops off."
Krazy Kaplans owner Greg Kaplan said sales should hopefully be stronger this year since the Fourth of July fell on a Wednesday last year, which traditionally hurts sales since people don't shoot off as many fireworks when they only have one day off in the middle of the week as they do on an extended weekend. Since Independence Day is on Thursday this year, Kaplan and other fireworks stand owners hope people will stock up for a four-day weekend full of patriotic displays in their backyards.
"Wednesday is 100% the worst day it can fall on," he said. "And it rained until midnight on the Fourth of July last year. We and the rest of the industry are praying for sunshine this year."
All the rain this year has likely dampened sales a little, Kaplan said.
"People like to barbecue in the backyard this time of year and get outside," he said. "We did have a pretty good Memorial Day weekend. It's just live every day as it comes because you can't replace yesterday."
Sales have been about average so far at Big Daddy K's Fireworks in the Ultra Highland Plaza on Indianapolis Boulevard.
"We aggressively market on the internet and on social media," owner Thad Kanavos said. "We haven't even started with the (roving billboard) truck yet."
He hopes sales of 500 gram cakes, artillery shells and other fireworks will be up 10% to 15% over last year, given that the Fourth of July is on a long weekend this year.
"The lion's share of the business is basically about seven days really," he said. "It's about 90% of the business."
The fireworks sales drive a lot of traffic to other merchants in Northwest Indiana.
"It's absolutely a benefit to other businesses," he said. "The people who come to buy fireworks also get gas, cigarettes, and stop somewhere to eat."