Fireworks City

Shoppers load their buggies at Fireworks City on the Alabama/Georgia state line. ABOVE PHOTO: Marc Turnley from Atlanta loads his buggy at Fireworks City on the Alabama/Georgia state line.

Photos by Stephen Gross

It is no secret that Americans love things that explode, but bottle rockets will not be the only thing that goes boom this Fourth of July.

Fireworks have become a staple of American celebration along with playing a huge role in holiday economics. This is no more apparent than on one stretch of Interstate 20 that crosses the Alabama-Georgia state line. One hill is home to Fireworks City, while State Line Fireworks Inc., occupies the other.

While the area along the state line is sparsely populated, the retailers’ locations benefit from laws banning popular fireworks in Georgia that are legal in Alabama. These include bottle rockets, Roman candles, firecrackers and mortars.

Jim Pirkle has served as co-manager of Fireworks City for 34 years and overseen its evolution from a humble fireworks store to the biggest fireworks retailer in north Alabama. Pirkle, a former principal of Heflin High School, got into the business in 1980 when he found down time during the summer months.

“We are simply retail for anyone who wants to put a show on for a barbeque or in their backyard,” he said.

While entertainment is the perceived benefit of fireworks, the economics are hard to ignore.

Americans are expected to spend roughly $675 million this fireworks season, according to statistics from the American Pyrotechnics Association.

The Fireworks City warehouse is an 26,000 square-foot warehouse reminiscent of a supermarket, with bottle rockets and Roman candles taking the place of produce and baked goods. While colorful explosions have become nuanced, Pirkle said, the traditional has never gone out of style.

“Those old bottle rockets, firecrackers, Roman candles and sparklers are still your top sellers,” he said. “You can put a good show on if you want to spend the money but when you get up into those it can be expensive.”

Pirkle said on the higher end of the price scale, some packages of reloadable mortars cost around $130 to $140.

“You have several customers that want to light them one at a time, but some just want one fuse,” he said.

Laura Sinyard of Powder Springs, Ga., pushed a cart full of fireworks with her friend and her teenage son while he and his friends piled more in.

“Their goal is to get together every year, put their money together and get the most free stuff they can and we had to drive them here,” she said. “This is all for the Fourth.”

Norman Clanton of Cartersville, Ga., had more traditional tastes than the teenagers rushing to the latest deals offered at Fireworks City. In his buggy, Clanton had plastic wrapped Roman candles and several blocks of the bottle rockets.

“We just saw this place on the Internet, and it is a little busier than the other places around here,” he said. “It’s fun and we always did it when we were little, so we are just going to continue to do it.”

Across I-20, State Line Fireworks Inc. is a smaller operation, relatively speaking, which has been family owned for the last 20 years.

Lee Romines of Anniston shopped for family-friendly items at State Line Fireworks with his daughter. Compared to other retailers, he said, they were able to find what they wanted to make Independence Day fun and safe.

“We are just getting a little bit of everything and they have a variety, like stuff the kids will like and we can afford,” he said. “We had to come this way anyways and they have everything here instead of having to go to any of these small shops. We are definitely going to be safe around the kids.”

Safety is, of course, of paramount importance during Fourth of July festivities. On average, 200 people will go to emergency rooms each day in the month surrounding Independence Day as a result of fireworks-related injuries, according to statistics from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. The commission also mentioned that 9 percent of these injuries will occur to children ages 5 to 9.

Perry Brasfield has been a part of State Line Fireworks since birth. His family has owned the store since it opened more than two decades ago.

“I’ve been in here since I could walk,” he said.

Brasfield now serves as a manager and salesman in the family business. For their customers, he said, the merchandise makes the difference.

“There is so much that we have that’s good,” he said. “Our top seller though is the Excalibur Mortar.”

Brasfield said the quality of State Line’s products brings customers in and their top sellers transcend the traditional. However, Brasfield said the service is what maintains State Line’s customer base.

“We have lower prices than those people across the street and if you come and buy from us, I guarantee you will be back.”

Staff Writer Ryan Phillips: 256-235-3553. On Twitter @rphillips_Star.