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Making a bang: legally or not



Published: Tue, July 3, 2007 @ 12:00 a.m.

Despite the law against it, many Ohio residents still have plans to launch fireworks of their own this holiday.

By WILL HANLON

VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER

ULY 4TH — INDEPENDENCE, FREEDOM, barbecues, picnics and parades. They define the holiday.

And fireworks — just as long as we agree to set them off outside Ohio. Sure.

The aisles of Phantom Fireworks in Beaver Township were like shopping malls the day after Thanksgiving, packed with customers willing to empty their wallets and fill their shopping carts to the brim.

Staples like bottle rockets and Roman candles were joined by one of this year’s favorites: the Pyro Pulverizer, a 500-gram repeater retailing at $225 for a three-piece case.

Flooded with men, women and children of all ages, maneuvering through the store was no easy task, as hundreds upon hundreds of dollars were invested by customers who planned on celebrating the Fourth with bright colors and loud noises, regardless of what the Ohio Revised Code has to say about it.

“Our average sale is probably between $300 to $400,” said Brad Calhoun, a manager at Phantom, referring to the sales per customer from Saturday to Monday.

“But the next couple of days, most of that average sale will kind of drop a little bit because all the big ones that are really doing the big shows are here and gone and have already got their stuff. Saturday and Sunday were the big days, but we’re still pretty busy.”

Throughout the day, customers continued to pile through the doors, and employees were having a hard time keeping the shelves full of products. Calhoun said that at one point in the day up to 60 employees would work at once, doing their best to fill the coveted supply. And even that might not have been enough.

“We just can’t keep them on the shelves,” Calhoun said of some products. Because, to the customers: “The bigger, the better.”

On the law

According to Ohio law, sparklers, trick noisemakers and novelties are the only “fireworks” permitted in Ohio. In other words, all the good stuff — things that go up in the air, make loud noises and just about everything else — are prohibited and will merit those who use them a citation by local authorities.

“The state of Ohio says you can purchase [fireworks] in Ohio. But if you’re a resident of Ohio, you have 48 hours, and 72 hours if you’re a nonresident, to remove the fireworks from the state of Ohio,” Calhoun said.

But contrary to what some people believe, simply taking the fireworks across the state line into Pennsylvania does not legally permit celebrators to shoot off fireworks brought in Ohio. Pennsylvania law, although slightly different from Ohio’s regarding fireworks, shares many similarities. In fact, every state bordering Ohio prohibits the use of what most people buy at firework stores.

“The customers are liable from their own actions,” Calhoun said. “I can’t make the decisions to what people do with or without the law.”

The catch

Customers must check in at the front doors before they are permitted to enter Phantom, and have to present their driver’s licenses and include an out-of-state destination to where the fireworks will be transported on a form, which enables customers to purchase the fireworks.

Local police chiefs find this as a catch to the law and aren’t too happy with it.

“To me, it seems kind of senseless that [the firework companies are] permitted to sell them, but the buyers aren’t allowed to set them off,” said Poland Township Police Chief Brian Goodin. “If they’re going to make them illegal, then make them illegal. If they’re going to make them legal, then whatever.”

Struthers Police Chief Robert Norris was more blunt, saying, “It’s a ludicrous law at the state level that the state refuses to address.”

Norris said while his police officers will be sticking to their routes over the week, they will still keep their eyes and ears open for people violating the firework laws.

“We’ll be incorporating a list of residents over the next few days who we see or hear that are using fireworks,” Norris said. “They’ll get a warning first, then the second time it’ll be a citation.”

Goodin said Poland Township will be following suit over the holiday.

Keeping anonymous

While many people in different neighborhoods across the Valley have plans to produce their own firework shows this Fourth, many were hesitant to give their names after discussing their holiday plans.

“A few years back, we had a customer give his name to a person from the media, who then published the customer’s name in the article,” Calhoun said. “Then on the Fourth, the cops showed up at his house, confiscated the fireworks and gave him a citation.” Calhoun said that since then, they’ve been more cautious about letting members of the media talk to the customers.

Paul D. was shopping with his son and daughter Monday afternoon, and while his cart was nearly full, he said it was only part of the arsenal set that he and couple of friends were preparing for the Fourth.

“It’s really not that much; it’s only about half a line. My friend is on the other side of the store. He’s spending the big bucks. I’m only spending about $200,” Paul said.

As far as some of his favorite fireworks, Paul said he liked them all.

“Whatever has gun powder. You know, whatever explodes. That’s pretty much what we get.” John K. was there shopping with his son that day as well, and was also loading up for what appeared to be a big celebration.

“I’m spending about $500 on fireworks this year,” John K said. While that might seem like a lot of money to some people, John said it was more than worth it.

“There’s a whole group of us in our neighborhood that get together, so we have a picnic and everybody gets fireworks of their own and then combines everything. We put on a pretty big neighborhood show.”

whanlon@vindy.com


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