Each year in mid-June, Daniel Bruzas travels 1,500 miles to sell fireworks.
Although the 36-year-old now lives in L’Anse, Michigan, Bruzas grew up on Muckleshoot Reservation land just outside Auburn.
A few weeks of work at the tribal fireworks mall — a large gravel lot lined with brightly colored, tinsel-adorned wooden booths — nets Bruzas enough money to make the trip West worthwhile. More than that, though, it’s tradition.
Bruzas was 8 when he started carrying boxes and stocking shelves. At 14, he graduated to making sales. Now, he manages The Patriot fireworks stand. The four-window booth, with its red, white and blue color scheme, pops out among its yellow- and orange-painted competitors.
“Every year I keep saying it’ll be my last one,” Bruzas said. “I’m waiting for my little brothers to take it over.”
While the types of fireworks sold by reservation-based stands have long been illegal under Washington state law, local governments have recently attempted to crack down on amateur pyrotechnics of all sorts. Following on similar bans in Seattle, Tacoma and other Puget Sound cities, the King County Council banned the sale and use of consumer fireworks in 2021 for unincorporated parts of the county. The county ban takes effect this year.
Since Muckleshoot tribal lands aren’t governed by state or county laws, fireworks sales only have to comply with federal and tribal regulations. The Muckleshoot fireworks mall sits just outside the tribe’s resort casino on Auburn Way. From June 10 to July 5, pyro-hungry shoppers can’t miss the eye-catching flags and streamers that adorn the tops of the stands.
Selling fireworks on the Muckleshoot Reservation has long been a family affair. The stands are usually owned by tribal elders and operated by family or friends. Many of the workers start helping out at a young age, like Bruzas, carrying boxes and helping customers find what they need. While the vendors don’t have to be enrolled Muckleshoot Tribe members — and many, including Bruzas, aren’t — each stand must have at least one Native worker for every two non-Native workers at all times.
Gerald Cross Sr. started Cross’s Pyrostation almost 44 years ago when he was just 18, and he said he’s proud to see the next generation take over the family business. His stepdaughter Nana Meach-Cross, 30, has been working at her stepfather’s fireworks stand since she was 13.
There’s a strong sense of community among the sellers “on the hill,” as the Muckleshoot fireworks mall is known, said Meach-Cross. When their neighboring stand owner, Dennis McCarr of Extreme Gear Fireworks, died last year, Meach-Cross said the rest of the stands teamed up to plan a memorial show in his honor.
Fireworks might be illegal in King County and much of Pierce County, but vendors say they haven’t seen any slowdown in traffic. Customers want more than just the “safe and sane” sparklers, fountains and smoke bombs that are permitted in the state of Washington.
“All the people who call me are asking, ‘Do you sell bottle rockets? Do you have artillery shells?'” said Bob Judge, owner of the Pyros R Us stands.
Meach-Cross also said her top-selling products are still the reloadable artillery shells that send blooms of sparks high into the sky.
Only a few cars dotted the bumpy gravel parking lot on Thursday afternoon, a last bit of calm before crowds descended in the run-up to the Fourth of July.
“There won’t be anywhere to park,” said Mike Berg, a vendor at Pyros R Us. “It’ll look like a rock concert out here.”
Bruzas, of The Patriot, says some of his customers are trending toward smaller, less noisy displays like fountains, but every year he still sells out of the prepackaged “cakes” that many customers use for backyard shows.
Phillip Kezele, of Kent, lugged a 5-foot-long box of fountains to his car, along with a bag of smaller poppers and sparklers. The haul cost him about $170, just a little over his intended budget. Kezele is one of many customers who opted for fountains rather than the louder cakes and artillery shells.
“My wife doesn’t love noisy fireworks,” Kezele said. “Fountains give you more for your money.”