MUCKLESHOOT RESERVATION – Marshall Nugueira hardly flinches at the booming sounds from nearby exploding fireworks.
“I don’t even hear them anymore” said the 24-year-old Nugueira, a vendor at Muckleshoot Fireworks Mall in Auburn. “When you’ve been doing this as long as I have, you just tune them out and you get used to it. It just becomes normal.”
What’s not normal is the early spike in customers days ahead of the Fourth of July holiday at Nugueira’s shop — The Patriot — and many other family-owned, pop-up seasonal markets counting on robust sales to offset financial losses caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“With the pandemic, we weren’t sure whether we were going to open or not,” Nugueira said. “The tribe was going to shut it down, but they voted on keeping it open.
“Normally, we’d open Memorial Day weekend, but this year we opened on June 19. Our first day, we got slammed. And since then, more and more people are coming out.”
Several factors explain the booming sales, including the cancellation of many organized firework shows.
Last year, there were more than two dozen Independence Day fireworks displays from Everett to Tacoma, including the Seafair Summer Fourth, Seattle’s biggest celebration, which annually draws thousands to Gas Works Park.
Fireworks are banned in most cities in King, Pierce and Snohomish counties, including Seattle, Tacoma, Bellevue and Everett, which has led to some concern over buying fireworks and setting them off in these areas, as well as people setting off other explosives.
“We’re definitely in a unique year,” said Washington Deputy State Fire Marshal Robert Wittenberg. “With the COVID pandemic and social-distancing requirements, what we’re seeing is a lot of community fireworks events are being canceled.
“People are naturally going to look to fill that void so we are anticipating an increase in private sales, purchases and use.”
Sky rockets, missiles, bottle rockets, M80s, M100s, any kind of homemade device or any kind of altered fireworks are illegal in Washington state, Wittenberg said.
“We’re aware that there’s probably going to be more private demonstrations, discharges and use of fireworks,” Wittenberg said. “We’re asking people to follow the purchase and discharge time periods that are mandated by state law. Buy them from a retail stand that is licensed and permitted and only use those in the areas.”
Nationally, fireworks complaints are growing after months of pandemic-induced isolation and weeks of protests against police violence.
“I can’t speak to a spike in 911 calls locally, but our concerns of fireworks is up,” said Bill Mack, district representative of the Washington State Council of Firefighters.
To see the fireworks laws in your city, visit Washington State Patrol’s website at www.wsp.wa.gov/fireworks/.
Dave Stiltner, who has co-owned and operated Fireworks Outpost in Fife with his sister for the past three decades, attributes his early surge in sales to coronavirus cabin fever.
“I think it’s pandemic fatigue,” he said. “Everyone has been stuck at home in lockdown mode for the past three months. There’s been no concerts, shows or movies, which has created pent up emotions for everybody.”
After initially canceling fireworks sales due to the pandemic, the Muckleshoot Fireworks Mall and Firecracker Alley, which is operated by the Puyallup Tribe, shortened the length of sales from June 19 to July 4.
The Tulalip Tribe opened Boom City, a popular firecracker market, on Friday for just a week.
“This is a different year and we have a lot of new rules for health and safety,” said Ramona Bennett, chair of the Puyallup Tribe Fireworks Commission who noted merchants are required to wear masks and practice social distancing.
Stiltner estimates 95% of his annual fireworks revenue is generated around the Fourth of July and said sales tend to spike a day or two before the holiday.
“It’s still early,” he said. “Things tend to really pick up July 1.”
He added: “Any legally and permitted retail fireworks stand, not related to the reservations or tribal land, will have only legally allowed fireworks for sale.”