• Find out where to buy fireworks in the Omaha metro area.
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The novelty of buying fireworks in Omaha proper doesn't seem to have worn off yet.
Just ask Sam Sortino. Fireworks sales for the Papillion-based Echoes Athletic Association girls softball league he raises money for took a nose dive after Omaha started supplying permits. Sales were down nearly 50 percent last year.
“I'm a little apprehensive,” he said. “Omaha's offering an extra 15 licenses this year, but more competition could mean less sales, we fear.”
Or take it from Tara Lea, president of the Ralston Area Chamber of Commerce. For years, Ralston — its motto is Independence City, after all — was the unofficial headquarters for fireworks sales and all things Fourth of July.
Last year, sales and traffic at the three stands the chamber helps run were among the lowest anyone could remember.
“Now that Omaha has gotten into it and they have the 50 permits this year, we need to make sure we're doing everything we can to make sure people stay in Ralston and don't go down the street,” Lea said.
Across the metro area, fireworks sales start today and will continue through July 4. Stands can sell from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. during the 10-day stretch.
Omaha began allowing fireworks sales in 2011, and this year, the city upped its number of sales permits from 35 to 50. Residents no longer need to leave the city to stock up on Roman candles, artillery shells and other explosives that go boom in the night.
And that means some area fireworks distributors and local organizations that run stands are feeling the heat from the competition and the potential loss of valuable fundraising dollars.
“There's two things that could happen: This could bring more awareness to the fact that fireworks are legal now, so more people come out, or it could split the pie,” said Dan Williams, president of Wild Willy's Fireworks in Springfield.
Even in Omaha, there's some worry that supply will outstrip demand.
Benson VFW Post 2503 quartermaster Ron Dupell said he's “very, very concerned” that the Omaha City Council allowed 50 fireworks permits.
“I know the City Council has a dilemma in a sense; who do they say no to when there's all sorts of worthy causes out there?” Dupell asked. “But because of the tremendous amount of work that goes with this, if you dilute it too much, it won't be worthwhile.”
Eighty-five organizations, including Little Leagues, museums, school boosters and health clinics, applied for the 50 permits up for grabs in Omaha.
Dupell said he has applied for a permit each year since 2011, finding success only this year. The veterans group hopes to use the proceeds to support its honor guard, which appears at veterans' funerals. While several fireworks distributors offer “turnkey” packages in which they supply the fireworks, run the stands and handle all the permit paperwork for a cut of the sales, several stands, including the Benson VFW, are striking out on their own in the hope of maximizing their profits.
But it's hard work. There are tents to set up, heavy boxes of fireworks to unload from semitrailers and a mad dash to recruit volunteers to staff long shifts in hot tents.
“I will definitely be taking a break once this is over,” laughed Anita Wisecup, the prevention project director at Nebraska Urban Indian Health Coalition Inc.
It's the group's third year selling fireworks, the proceeds from which help fund substance abuse and suicide prevention programs for local Native Americans. Last year, the group brought in a total of $15,000 before expenses.
Papillion's Echoes softball league leans on its players for help, drafting plenty of teenage volunteers with sturdy backs and seemingly inexhaustible energy, Sortino said.
“Some of these boxes weigh 60, 70, 80 pounds, but these 14-year-olds are unloading them,” he said. “They work. They're stuck in a hot tent from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. It definitely takes a toll on everybody, but all I can say is thank God we have a team of highly trained athletes helping. Softball girls work awfully hard.”
The Bellevue Swim Club uses fireworks sales for its main fundraiser, taking in between $10,000 and $13,000.
“For a small swim club like us, this is our one and only,” board member Liz LaSure said. “We don't sell candy bars, we don't sell cookies. This is it. We sell fireworks for 10 days.”
LaSure said that in recent years, competition hasn't come from Omaha, but from within Bellevue itself.
Exploiting the demand for prime real estate, landlords and parking lot operators have started jacking up the prices they charge for stand locations. The swim club was outbid for its usual spot this year, and was offered another for $5,000.
“When our profits range from $7,000 to $10,000, that's 50 percent of our profit,” LaSure said. “We have to re-evaluate, is this something we have to compete with year after year? Will it even be worth doing fireworks?”
Outside Omaha, 49 groups will hawk their wares at stands in Ralston, Bellevue, Gretna, Papillion, La Vista and Springfield. Some are trying out new marketing strategies or offering buy-one-get-one-free coupons. Some just hope that their past customers prove loyal.
Other nonprofit leaders said they're not worried about a little competition.
“There's enough fireworks, there's enough cooperation, there's enough partnership with people in our city, there's plenty to go around,” said John Parsons, executive director of the Omaha Street School.