Fireworks may get a lot more expensive soon. Here’s why, and how it affects you

The United States’ ongoing trade war with China could mean less boom for your buck on Fourth of July.

Fireworks — that all-American symbol of freedom — are almost exclusively made in China, and proposed tariffs on goods manufactured by the country are expected to jack up the price by 25 percent.

That price hike would dampen the Fourth of July fun both for companies that produce large-scale shows and for your driveway fireworks display.

Any significant price fluctuation is not expected until after this year’s holiday — as this year’s supply of Chinese fireworks has already been shipped.

But fireworks for next year could become casualties of the tariff.

“We’re very fortunate for this year it didn’t happen,” said Dan Funke, who runs the Goddard Lions Club fireworks stand near 199th Street and Kellogg in Goddard.

“It’s just one of those things where I hope it doesn’t happen, ... but if everybody’s hit with it and it’s equal playing ground, it’s going to be up to the American consumer to decide whether they’re going to buy them or they’re not.”

What’s happening with fireworks

The tariffs proposed by President Donald Trump would impact $300 billion in Chinese goods — including cell phones, musical instruments, firearms and video-game consoles, among others.

A seven-day public hearing in Washington to discuss the proposed tariffs began earlier this week, and fireworks purveyors from across the country have submitted comments. Many are expected to testify at the hearing.

The hope, they say, is that both consumer and professional display fireworks would be exempted from any tariffs before they are finalized and go into effect on July 1.

“Imposing tariffs on these products at any amount will cause harm not only to the network of U.S. retailers and distributors who supply fireworks, but also consumers who enjoy them,” wrote Nancy Blogin, executive director of the Kansas City-based National Fireworks Association. The association held its annual convention in Wichita last year.

According to the association, fireworks have not been manufactured in mass quantities in the United States since the early 1990s, because the process is labor-intensive and highly regulated here.

The American Pyrotechnics Association estimates that of the 250 million pounds of fireworks that annually make their way into the United States, about 95 percent are China-made.

“Over the last several decades, domestic companies have exited the market or scaled back production significantly, ceding market share to imports,” Blogin wrote. “The vast majority of firework and pyrotechnic retailers and distributors now import these goods and many have forged long-standing relationships with foreign suppliers.”

Steve Showalter is one such supplier.

As owner of the Inman-based Rainbow Fireworks, Showalter travels to China yearly to check out new inventory and meet with his suppliers, whom he has cultivated relationships with over many years.

“To get the quality of product that you need, you need to do business with the individual for a good number of years — I don’t buy anything from a new manufacturer until I’ve been to his factory and spent at least three trips to China to visit with him and get to know him,” Showalter said.

“Of course they’re not for (the tariffs), either. They recognize it’s going to impact their gross because we’re going to be buying less product because the money’s going into tariffs and not into product.”

Last year, Rainbow Fireworks produced 260 fireworks displays in six Midwestern states — including Kansas, Oklahoma, Missouri and Colorado. Showalter said fireworks shows at weddings, parties, and even memorial services are becoming increasingly popular year-round.

“We did one a while back where we did a show at the engagement at the park, then we did the wedding four or five months later,” Showalter said.

Professional fireworks companies like Rainbow Fireworks typically purchase their product a year in advance, Showalter said — so unless the tariff situation changes before July 1, his 2020 order will be impacted, he said.

How it would affect your holiday

The tariffs would also hit the average person who loves firing off a good Roman candle in the driveway.

Summertime fireworks stands in grocery-store parking lots or alongside the highway are often used as fundraisers for churches, schools or local nonprofits.

Those groups would stand to lose out on revenue if the price of fireworks increases significantly.

Funke, with the Goddard Lions Club, said his fireworks stand raises between $20,000 and $25,000 annually, all of which is invested into community projects.

Among those were an $8,000 “pocket park” by the Goddard library, vision screenings for 4,000 local students, and “Operation Mitten Tree,” which provides presents, clothing and food to families in need around the holidays.

“We did $32,000 in giving last year, and $25,000 of that came from the fireworks stand,” Funke said.

Fireworks for Charities, at 183rd and Kellogg in Goddard, is another long-running stand that annually donates thousands of dollars to local charities. It’s run by the Catholic organization Knights of Columbus.

Brian Scharping, fireworks chairman for the stand, estimated 75 percent of the Knights of Columbus’ total giving is generated through the fireworks stand.

It’s funded donations to The Lord’s Diner, St. Anthony Family Shelter, Rainbows United, Boy Scouts of America, Girl Scouts of America, Kansas Honor Flight and many others, he said.

“It’s a go-big-or-go-home type of thing,” Scharping said. “We gather in as much money as we can, then we disperse that throughout the year.”

If the cost of consumer fireworks becomes more expensive, it follows logically that people would try to get their fireworks fix at large, free civic displays — like the ones put on by cities.

Those displays, though, could also get shorter, as cities are often scaling back their budgets for such public displays.

The nonprofit Wichita Parks Foundation, which will put on its fifth-annual “Red, White & BOOM!” event in downtown Wichita this Fourth of July, budgets $15,000 annually for its show — which pays for about 18 to 21 minutes of fireworks. Rainbow Fireworks provides the show.

If fireworks get more expensive, “we’re going to feel it for our 2020 show,” said Brent Thomas, chairman of the nonprofit’s board of directors.

“We’ll adjust accordingly if there’s an impact. ... It could be that our show is a few minutes shorter or we try to do different effects,” Thomas said. “On average you’re not going to notice that, but there’s definitely an impact on the bottom line.”

Showalter, with Rainbow Fireworks, encouraged people to contact their Congressional representative before July 1 to advocate for fireworks.

Otherwise, next year’s festivities could fizzle out faster than a damp fireworks punk.

“The only way we’re going to get it changed is for the political process to pull fireworks as an item off of this tariff thing,” Showalter said. “The fireworks associations’... lobbies are working in Washington. We’re all following it closely, that’s for sure.”

President Trump is expected to resume trade talks with China at the G20 summit in Japan later this month.

Matt Riedl covers arts and entertainment news for the Wichita Eagle and has done so since 2015. He maintains the Keeper of the Plans blog on Facebook, dedicated to keeping Wichitans abreast of all things fun.