Sunday, June 4, 2017
Some historic photos of Phantom fireworks.
Bruce Zoldan, is owner of the Phantom Fireworks, the leading retailer of consumer fireworks in the United States. Zoldan, a Boardman High School graduate who attended YSU, is selling his fireworks out of 79 fixed locations across the U.S. — including Alaska — rather than the trunk of his mom’s Chevrolet Impala. His companies bring in more than $100 million in revenue every year.
By Kalea Hall
Former Ohio State Sen. Harry Meshel was prophetic when he told one of his Youngstown State University students that one day he would become a millionaire by selling fireworks out of the trunk of his car.
Today, that student, Bruce Zoldan, is owner of Phantom Fireworks, the leading retailer of consumer fireworks in the United States.
Zoldan, a Boardman High School graduate who attended YSU, is selling his fireworks out of 79 fixed locations across the U.S. – including Alaska – rather than the trunk of his mom’s Chevrolet Impala.
His companies bring in more than $100 million in revenue every year.
Photo Gallery: Phantom Fireworks
Video: Phantom Fireworks Offices
“It was so good because it was a local business and a local kid without much to start [with] who is now a leader in the nation,” Meshel said.
Zoldan’s base is still local, and now the purchase of the former Cafaro Co. headquarters on Belmont Avenue will better position the company for future growth.
“We are committed to the [Mahoning] Valley,” Zoldan said.
The Cafaro Co., a local developer that owns the Eastwood Mall Complex and other area developments, is happy to see the space it used from 1965 to 2016 be given new life.
“There’s nothing structurally wrong with that building except that we have outgrown it,” said Joe Bell, Cafaro spokesman. “We are very glad that it is going to go to great use.”
BRINGING THE BOOM
When Zoldan was 18, his father brought home some fireworks. It was 1966 and fireworks weren’t a typical pastime.
Soon, Zoldan’s friends started asking to buy fireworks from him.
That was how it all started.
In 1968, Zoldan drove up to a fireworks supplier in Toledo and bought some to sell out of the trunk of the family’s Impala. He would buy $1,000 worth of them and then turn a profit of $2,000 or more.
“Before we knew it we were doing a couple of hundred thousand [dollars] in business,” Zoldan said.
Zoldan originally sold the fireworks to help pay for his tuition at YSU where Meshel was one of his instructors.
When the business got too big, Zoldan left school to sell fireworks full time and work on legislation for his products.
At the time, fireworks couldn’t be sold for an individual’s personal use in Ohio. In fact, they could only be sold in 12 states and Zoldan would travel by truck and sell, sell, sell.
“There was really no [state] law functioning,” Meshel said. “Then people said, ‘Wait a minute, I want to have fireworks in my yard.’”
Meshel, who was in state office from the early 1970s through the early 1990s, calls Zoldan a “natural man” with a hardworking spirit. It was partially that hard-working spirit Meshel saw that made him want to help with the fireworks legislation.
The state laws developed made fireworks safer for consumers to use by having retailers provide guidelines of how to properly use them.
“You couldn’t run a fireworks business unless you had the research done,” Meshel said. “I was a bandit for hard work, and Bruce and his people were great. They were willing to do what was necessary to make the industry safer.”
There were also some fireworks dealers in the state selling unsafe, high-powered fireworks.
“Those were fireworks if any person used them and made a mistake, you were seriously injured,” Zoldan explained. “So, we were able to get rid of all that. We were also able to make them safer by design factors.”
With Meshel’s help in changing the law, Zoldan was able to buy a piece of property in Beaver Township for storage.
“It worked and helped us build to $1 million or $2 million in sales,” Zoldan said.
In 1977, B.J. Alan Co. Inc. was formed and signs for new retail fireworks shops kept going up. The name stood for Bruce, Jeff, and Alan, Bruce and his brothers.
Eventually, Zoldan had a maze of offices in Youngstown and a slew of retail shops.
“We started to expand, and as the laws changed we opened more and more stores,” Zoldan said.
The Phantom name and character came into play in the late 1980s.
“Mahoning Valley and Youngstown gave me and many others the opportunity to grow,” Zoldan said. “We have been able to build a national business.”
Phantom needed a warehouse space for its fireworks. After the recession, Delphi was downsizing and was going to raze half its building in Warren. The fireworks were in storage at a 25,000-square-foot location on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and in 1,400 trailers.
With help of local politicians, Zoldan got the massive Delphi space. Currently, Phantom has more than 1.2 million square feet for fireworks and other storage at the Larchmont Avenue warehouse.
Meanwhile, Zoldan also knew he needed to get his offices organized. There were employees in a building on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, in two buildings on Rayen Avenue, in a Warren office and in three office trailers.
Last year, Zoldan purchased the former Cafaro Co. headquarters to bring everyone under one roof.
“It was just a whole lot better,” said William Weimer, the company’s vice president and general counsel. “Now we have elbow room. We used to have one conference room, now we have several.”
The offices are coming together on Belmont. Now, the local 150 employees are happy to have one big lunchroom to use to celebrate birthdays.
“It’s a lot more fun and absolutely efficient,” Weimer said. “In the old office, we would fill the lunchroom and fill the halls.”
Today, Phantom Fireworks has worked hard on legislation in various states to have a presence there and make sure customers can celebrate boom-worthy holidays safely with fireworks of their own.
There are 47 states that have legalized the sale of fireworks.
“I have been active to some extent in passing laws,” Zoldan said.
In the 1980s, Ohio legalized the sale of sparklers.
The state law still says fireworks purchasers have 48 hours to take fireworks out of the state to set them off. Consumers once had to sign an agreement when they purchased fireworks in Ohio saying they would do so, but that rule is no longer in place.
Only some novelty items are legal.
“We hope that someday soon Ohio will pass the law for citizens to use the fireworks,” Zoldan said. “We would actually double our business. Almost every state around Ohio is open to allowing it. ”
In addition to the fixed Phantom Fireworks locations, Phantom has about 1,500 temporary locations during fireworks season. Phantom also sells to several wholesale accounts, so if there isn’t a local Phantom shop in town, customers can go to the local store and buy fireworks.
“We are constantly looking to open,” Weimer said.