2012-05-04 / Front Page

Fireworks store plans opening at Gateway Shoppes

By Michael Kelley
Staff Writer

Phantom Fireworks is opening the first consumer fireworks store in southern Maine at the Gateway Shoppes in Scarborough next month. The store will be going into the current locations of Thai 9 restaurant and Havens Candies, which will relocate to vacant retail space in the complex. (Michael Kelley photo) Phantom Fireworks is opening the first consumer fireworks store in southern Maine at the Gateway Shoppes in Scarborough next month. The store will be going into the current locations of Thai 9 restaurant and Havens Candies, which will relocate to vacant retail space in the complex. (Michael Kelley photo) A month from now consumers will be able to legally purchase consumer fireworks in southern Maine for the first time.

Phantom Fireworks, a national fireworks chain based in Ohio, is planning on opening its first Maine store in the Gateway Shoppes on Payne Road.

The store would be the fourth fireworks store that’s planned to open in Maine since January when the ban on the purchase and use of consumer fireworks was lifted. Pyro City, the only other company that has opened a fireworks store in Maine, opened a location in Manchester in March and Winslow in April. The company plans on opening a store in Edgecomb in the near future.

While it is far from definite, another national fireworks company may set up shop in Maine this year. David Beattie, vice president of TNT Fireworks, said his company, based in Alabama, has interest in coming into the Maine market.

“We don’t have anything under contract right now, but we are very interested in the Maine market,” said Beattie.

On March 7, the Scarborough Town Council restricted the use of consumer fireworks to a five-day period around the Fourth of July and New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.

Beattie, who grew up in rural Tennessee, where it has always been legal to purchase and use consumer fireworks, said the Fourth of July and New Year’s are the most popular times to use fireworks across the country. He said he doesn’t think that many fireworks would be set off in Maine on Dec. 31 or Jan. 1 because of the climate. The policy enacted by Scarborough does not permit the use of consumer fireworks around Labor Day, another time of year that Beattie said is popular for fireworks displays. The policy does not restrict when consumer fireworks can be sold.

“I think it ought to be a pretty good market in Maine,” he said. “The citizens will find out it will not be as big of a nuisance as they might have thought.”

While representatives from PyroCity and TNT Fireworks focus their attention toward other locations in Maine, William Weimer, vice president of Phantom Fireworks, said the company, which operates 1,200 locations throughout the country, is working hard to open the Scarborough location by the beginning of June.

The closest Phantom Fireworks location to the proposed Scarborough store is 63 miles away in Seabrook, N.H.

Weimer said Phantom Fireworks was interested in coming into the Maine market as soon as the law changed, but became limited to where a store could be located when local municipalities began adopting their own consumer firework ordinances.

“In Maine, the additional issue we are facing – “we” meaning all fireworks dealers – is the Maine Legislation allows communities to prohibit the sale and use of consumer fireworks. There are a number of communities who decided for whatever reason didn’t want fireworks sold or used. We were limited by those local ordinances.”

Scarborough, one of the few communities in the area that has allowed the purchase and use of consumer fireworks, seemed like the best option for Phantom, Weimer said.

“This particular location looked like it held great potential in the retail market we were looking for,” Weimer said, adding the proximity to Route 1, the Maine Turnpike and the demographics of the area, made the site attractive.

Weimer said he and his team are looking forward to introducing the company and what it offers to the residents and visitors of Maine.

“Our goal is to put together a store that is as safe as possible and offers all the modern and latest fire (suppression systems) just in case, because we do recognize our product is flammable,” Weimer said.

As an additional safety precaution, the store is required to be in a standalone building per the State Fire Marshal’s mandate. This means Thai 9 restaurant and Havens Candies, the two existing businesses in the building Phantom Fireworks is moving into, will be required to relocate. The two businesses are expected to close briefly in order to relocate to vacant retail space in another building in the complex that houses Kitchen and Cork, Portland Pie, and the PetLife Kennel Shop.

Customers may have a difficult time finding a spot to use the fireworks in the communities surrounding Scarborough. According to information on the State Fire Marshal’s website, officials in South Portland, Cape Elizabeth, Portland and Buxton have banned the sale and use of consumer fireworks in their communities. The sale of consumer fireworks is permitted by municipal permit in Westbrook, with no use restrictions. Biddeford and Old Orchard Beach have also enacted laws banning fireworks purchase and use.

Weimer said he is concerned so many communities have banned consumer fireworks.

“It is of a concern to me because I believe the reason and motivation to ban consumer fireworks is a bit misplaced,” Weimer said. “These are not your father’s or grandfather’s fireworks anymore. These fireworks are highly regulated.”

In fact, Weimer said, the fireworks today are safer than they ever have been before, thanks to the American Fireworks Standards Laboratory, which was formed in 1989 to ensure fireworks sold in this country are safe. According to the group’s data in 2011, 94 percent of fireworks passed laboratory standards. The group also monitors fireworks-related injuries. Weimer said when the American Fireworks Standards Laboratory began testing in 1994, there were 12,500 injuries from the 117 million pounds of fireworks shipped to this country. The latest figures from 2010 show 8,600 injuries from a little more than 213 million pounds of fireworks. He added that the Consumer Products Safety Commission, the federal organization in charge of protecting the public from injury and safety risks from consumer products, indicates the majority of fireworks injuries come from misuse and abuse and not product malfunction.

Weimer said he expects some of the local bans on consumer fireworks to be lifted when municipal leaders learn more about consumer fireworks and the rigorous testing and safety precautions that are taken prior to being sold to consumers.

“Give Maine a couple years and I think people will recognize there is a positive economic impact and the impetus for the government to regulate consumer fireworks is not needed. It is just not required,” Weimer said.

Staff Writer Michael Kelley can be reached at 282-4337, ext. 237.

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