FARMINGDALE — Every mile that Steve Marson drives this weekend is taking him closer to the biggest Fourth of July weekend on the books.
“We’re just finishing up. We have 110 displays this weekend in six states,” Marson said Thursday. At 4:15 p.m., he was sitting down for the first time that day in his office at Central Maine Pyrotechnics where he is president.
Summers are a busy time for Central Maine Pyrotechnics, but the Fourth of July holiday, with its grand fireworks displays, is on track to be the busiest-ever holiday for the company.
Central Maine Pyrotechnics has booked shows all over central Maine and New England this holiday weekend, including two displays in Augusta Monday night — one from the former Statler mill site for viewers in Mill Park, and one from the boat launch on the east side of the Kennebec River for viewers in Waterfront Park celebrating the 1ooth anniversary of Old Fort Western.
This is a complete turnaround from two years ago, when Marson saw $1.5 million in fireworks display business evaporate as the COVID-19 pandemic drove the cancellation of public gatherings across New England and the country to keep the virus from spreading.
“We’ve picked up a bunch of new out-of-state business,” he said. “We picked up a lot of shows in Rhode Island, Connecticut and Massachusetts. A lot of guys in the business are getting older now, and there’s less technicians available.”
Before the pandemic, the Fourth of July would generate about $490,000 in display business for the weekend. This year, he said, it’ll draw about $850,000.
Heading into the fireworks season, the American Pyrotechnics Association issued a cautionary statement for the challenges this fireworks season presents. Like every other industry, the fireworks business is experience higher costs for products, transportation and shipping, labor, and insurance, pushing costs up by about 35%.
Those market conditions haven’t stopped organizations in this region from ordering up fireworks shows, and asking for bigger ones.
In Monmouth, Dan Roy, who chairs the committee that puts on the annual Beach Party at the town beach on Cochnewagon Lake, said the committee upped the budget for fireworks this year for a bit of a bigger show.
“We always request the water canons,” Roy said. “They shoot off and go in to the water and then a few seconds later it explodes across the top of the water.”
Marson acknowledges that while the displays are bigger this year, and he’s doing more of them, he’s not necessarily making more money due to those market conditions. In cases where customers have signed three-year contracts, he said, he’s generally honoring the rates agreed on or raising the price slightly. But a show that cost $3,500 a couple of years ago now costs $5,000.
For the past two weeks, he and his staff have been working from 6 a.m., to midnight, doing all the prep work for designing pyrotechnic displays and lining up the fireworks needed.
And because he’s lost some crews, he’ll be doing shows himself, for the first time in five years. He was heading down to New Hampshire, Connecticut and Portland. But, he said, he’s got a crop of apprentices who are training and working toward getting their licenses for futures shows.
“We’re turning away shows, because we don’t have enough technicians,” he said.
Marson, who started learning the fireworks business when he was 16, also owns and operates the Pyro City Maine Fireworks stores across the state. The retail stores, which were open during the pandemic, helped to balance out the business as more people bought fireworks for their own displays, pushing that business up by about 30%.
This year, both sides of the business have been subject to shipping delays as shipping containers of fireworks expected a month ago showed up last week. The last container of display shells arrived June 24, and the fourth container of fireworks for the fireworks stores was expected to arrive Saturday.
“The good side is, we got everything we ordered,” he said. “It’s been a busy two weeks.”