Gilroy residents eager to blow stuff up for a good cause flooded fireworks sales booths on Sunday, the first day of fireworks sales in the city, giving some of the 16 nonprofits licensed to sell fireworks high hopes for exploding profits during their short, four-day sales season.
“We’ve been blown away with sales,” said Linda Blue on Monday, volunteer manager of the Gilroy High School football team booth, on the traffic-heavy Tenth Street across the street from McDonald’s. The booth raked in a hefty $6,300 on Sunday, nearly twice their opening day profit last year.
Sales were much cooler the next day – an overcast Monday morning – so Blue and her other two volunteers chatted and bantered with each other as they waited for customers.
Each nonprofit gets to keep 30 percent of sales, after the fireworks distributor takes its 70 percent cut (the city takes a flat $640 permit fee for each booth as well) but even after that, most booths make a significant profit from their four-day fireworks sales stint. Last year, the football team's booth brought in an impressive $30,000, Blue said.
This year, along with paying the team's emergency sports medicine physician's salary, Blue hopes to purchase mouth guards for each player, because the school won't pay for them unless the player has already suffered from a concussion.
“I say we prevent the concussions from ever happening,” Blue said. “Anything we can do to keep our kids safe.”
And for a cause like keeping kids safe, Gilroy residents appear to be more willing to splurge for products that will literally dissipate within seconds of lighting them up – or at least they won't feel as guilty for forking over the money they would have spent regardless.
“See that one?” Blue pointed to a massive box with the flaming words “Big Bang” plastered across the top (the average-height Blue barely stood taller than it) leaning against the inside wall of the booth.
“We sold two of those yesterday for $575 each,” she said.
Americans consume hundreds of millions of pounds of consumer fireworks every year, according to data from the American Pyrotechnics Association. In 2011, while the economy continued to waver after a slow recovery from the Great Recession and with a national unemployment rate of 9.1 percent, Americans still spent $649 million on consumer fireworks, an amount that has steadily risen for the past 15 years, the organization's data shows.
But not every booth’s opening day was as successful as GHS football team’s.
The Hispanic Chamber of Commerce's booth, located in the Home Depot Parking lot on San Ysidro Avenue, earned a less-than-expected $3,000 Sunday, about half as much as they normally make on their first day year, said booth volunteer Natalie Suniga, 48.
As the HCC's “major” annual fundraiser, money raised from the booth goes straight to the general fund of the organization, which supports local gang prevention initiatives and scholarship funds for Latinos.
With booths allowed to stay open until midnight on the night of July 4, Suniga is confident that sales will pick up in the days leading up to July 4.
Gilroy, the only city in Santa Clara County that allows the sales and use of fireworks of any kind, permits Gilroy residents only to partake in a highly regulated program for “safe and sane” fireworks.
“Safe and sane” fireworks must have a state fire marshal approval stamp on it, and must not leave the ground or explode – such as cherry bombs, bottle rockets, Roman candles or any other aerial firework.
Police are prepared to fine or arrest anyone caught with illegal fireworks, and the consequences aren’t cheap. Depending on the circumstance, those caught with illegal fireworks could be issued a city citation for $250, or slapped with a misdemeanor and a $1,000 fine.
There are also limits on how the legal fireworks may be used. For example, they aren’t allowed in any public parking lot or any area outside the city limits. Fireworks vendors give each customer a detailed flier of the city's regulations and stipulations to the use of their newly purchased exploding treasures.
“A lot goes into making sure that Gilroy stays safe during the Fourth of July,” Suniga said.