An employee dressed in touches of red, white and blue shook her head and mouthed, “No,” when asked if her customers at American Fireworks locally would balk at paying 25 cents more on the dollar for firecrackers, bottle rockets, Grand Slam flaming balls or other popular pyrotechnics.
The Trump administration has proposed placing a 25% tariff on an additional $300 billion in goods shipped from China, including fireworks. The dueling superpowers have called a temporary cease fire in their escalating trade war, but some merchants of bang remain concerned.
The American Pyrotechnics Association fired off a letter to U.S. Trade Representative Robert E. Lighthizer, lighting into the idea of including fireworks in the tariff plan.
“These products are critical not only to the livelihood of the small family businesses who comprise the APA membership, but to millions of families and thousands of municipalities across our great nation celebrating our Independence Day,” the association wrote.
Tariffs would aggravate profit margins that are already razor thin because of regulatory mandates, according to the letter. Price increases would fall on the shoulders of “backyard consumers” who enjoy fireworks as “affordable family entertainment.”
Back at the American Fireworks stand near Interstate 35 and the Home Depot store in Bellmead, two employees Tuesday said they could not comment on the record about corporate policy or provide a stance on tariffs.
They wondered aloud about the chilling effect, if any, on spending. July Fourth arrives but once a year, and customers treat it accordingly, they indicated.
“One guy says it’s like his Christmas,” one staffer said.
Asked about the largest single sales total this Independence Day season, a staffer rattled off $746 without missing a beat. A woman, a regular customer, bought “a little bit of everything” for a July Fourth blast at a private lake.
A short walk away, Steven Moss spent $100 at Mr. W Fireworks, a brand based in Somerset, near San Antonio, whose website says it welcomes inquiries from churches and nonprofits about fundraising efforts.
Moss bought fireworks-gauge artillery shells to ignite on a friend’s farm.
“I don’t think most people would notice a tariff on fireworks,” Moss said. “I buy them once a year and wouldn’t know if the prices went up. I could see it hurting the large pyrotechnic companies more than individuals.”
The city of Waco’s Fourth on the Brazos Celebration on Thursday will include an H-E-B-sponsored fireworks show over McLane Stadium at 9:15 p.m. The fireworks show alone costs about $22,000, according to the city’s parks and recreation department, which is coordinating the event.
Spencer Lowry, Texas operations manager for Pennsylvania-based Pyrotecnico, will oversee the fireworks display locally after supervising other shows in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, he said by phone.
“There is a little buzz in the industry about the tariffs, the 25% increase in the cost of a show,” Lowry said. “We have to remember that China is not paying that tax, the American consumer is. It hasn’t officially come through yet, so we’ll have to wait and see. A majority of the fireworks you see on the Fourth of July do come from China, but we also have suppliers in Spain and the United States. I think smaller communities, smaller shows would be impacted most by this. Communities would not completely eliminate the events, but they would become smaller in scope.”
Lowry said he will have a hand in directing about 50 shows this season.
Responding to an email inquiry, an H-E-B official did not directly address the issue of tariffs and the company’s involvement in 75 community events related to Independence Day celebrations around the state.
In Waco, H-E-B’s sponsorship of the fireworks show is bundled with the Brazos Nights Summer Concert Series. Spokeswoman Leslie Sweet said H-E-B looks forward “to carrying on this tradition for many, many years to come.”
The United States imported 277 million pounds of fireworks from China last year, according to the American Pyrotechnics Association letter. About 99% of consumer fireworks in the United States come from China, as do about 75% of professional display fireworks, according to the letter.
U.S. consumer fireworks revenue hit $945 million, and professional fireworks revenue hit $360 million last year, according to the association.
At American Fireworks, a staffer who would not give her name said the damp weather has generated brisk demand for fireworks of every description. Burn bans knock the wind out of sales, but McLennan County is not under one. Fireworks remain illegal in Waco city limits regardless.
“When the grass is green, all is well,” she said.