HAMMOND | The brightly colored packaging. The over-the-top promises of visual oohs and ahhs and ear-piercing blasts and whistles. The faint smell of scorched paper in the air.
It's time for fireworks.
Products on the shelves are a little different than in the past. Just like french fries and pop servings have swelled over time, so have novelty cardboard tank fireworks and red paper packages of firecrackers.
"Everything has been supersized in recent years," said Kris Zambo, owner of Dynamite Fireworks, 4218 Calumet Ave., Hammond, whose family has been in the fireworks business for 40 years.
He grabbed a traditional smoke bomb and compared it to a newer one that looked like a blueberry pumped with steroids.
"You have an old school smoke ball and now you have the new smoke ball," he said. "You have the old school snappers and now you have the new snappers, which is four times as big."
He picked up what looked like a spare tire covered in yellow paper with a vicious yellow-eyed black cat plastered on the front. It was a mega-sized version of the Black Cat firecrackers.
"When I was a kid, we used to throw packs of 16," he said. "Now you've got 16,000 on one wick."
Zambo's shop has more than 1,000 products. They range from a 20-cent pack of snakes to a $600 mix of fireworks called The Godfather, which comes in a box so big it doesn't fit in most people's cars so it breaks down into three smaller boxes.
Even the classics have new twists.
Cone-shaped fountains that spew a spray of sparks are still around, but there's something called Zorro, which is a sword-shaped piece of cardboard fitted with a fountain at the tip.
"They finally found a way for you to hold a fountain," Zambo said.
Every item is slapped with a warning label about fireworks safety. Sparklers, often blamed for injuries, are safer now.
"We've moved to wood sticks," he said. "That has drastically reduced the amount of kids getting burned."
The wooden sparklers burn and leave nothing behind, compared to metal ones that turn into hot metal pokers after the sparks die out.
The shop sells Roman candle holding tubes that can go into the ground, and some of the bigger ones have stakes built into the base so they can be weighted into the earth.
"It's another evolution on the safety front," Zambo said. "It's not good business if people are getting hurt. The suppliers know that and they want to create more safe fireworks. It's not good business for us to carry un-safe things which is why we focus a lot on the safer stuff."
Some of the novelties don't even use a wick.
"There's lots of non-ignition fireworks these days," Zambo said.
One product is a pull-string grenade that emits a cloud of smoke. Another is a confetti cannon that shoots paper into the air with just a twist.
And then there's the stinky stuff.
Behind the counter at Dynamite is a selection of stink bombs in small glass tubes that unleash a sulfur smell into the air.
Nearby are cans of fart spray so pungent that Zambo said employees who jokingly sprayed it on each other had to throw away their clothes because they couldn't get rid of the smell.
Although Independence Day accounts for most of the store's business, they sell a lot around Cinco de Mayo and Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights.
Sparklers also are popular at weddings, and the shop sells lanterns that people often release at parties and memorials.
But, the stars are the fireworks with catchy names like Wake the Neighbors, Balls of Fire, Purple Poison, Maximum Insanity, Captain Chaos and Dirty Dancing in the Sky.
Dirty Dancing in the Sky was a top seller last year and is on track for the title again, Zambo said. It shoot seven shots 200 feet in the air in a loud, circular, explosion of red, white and blue.
"Something like this 20 years ago would've been $100, $150," Zambo said. "Plus, it would've been illegal. And now we're turning the backyards into Comiskey Park for $28."
Zambo, a Crown Point resident who was raised in Munster around the fireworks business, said 2006 was a turning point when state legislation loosened a lot of restrictions. Residents from anywhere can buy fireworks.
"Where you choose to take them is at your own risk," he said. "Seventy to 80 percent of our business is from Illinois."
Chicago resident Marvin Ortiz was in the shop last week looking for a variety of products to ignite this coming holiday.
He buys small items for the kids and bigger items that last longer for more of a show.
Zambo described one product that's usually a hit with all ages — it has 61 explosions and each rain down a white parachute, which has kids chasing after them down the street.
The biggest item in the store is a mortar called Excalibur.
"You light this one time, you get almost 300 shots, 200 feet in the air," Zambo said. "This is the cream of the crop."
Top sellers remain aerial cakes that give a colorful display, often as the finale at a backyard show.
"They're loud, they're big, they're some of the most impressive things you can buy," Zambo said.
Zambo's shop is open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. with extended hours right before Independence Day. More information is available at www.dynamitefireworks.com.