Valley fireworks vendors face risk of burglary

The Fresno BeeJuly 4, 2014 

Ground blooms for sale! You want three hours of non-stop, ear-pounding fun? Try our $500 fireworks package. This is sure to make you go temporarily blind. Want to light your block up so bright that Sputnik could see it? Try the Backyard Bash pack that's taller than your toddler.

Where do you buy such blindingly glorious bounty? There's a location on this corner, and that corner. There are hundreds of stands around the central San Joaquin Valley to fill your needs.

Come see us stand in the dirt, on a day that's more than 100 degrees, on a holiday weekend, running the risk of getting ripped off by bandits.

Hundreds of volunteers man booths in order to satisfy our patriotic duty to blow things up for America's birthday. In Fresno, booths are regulated and limited to 30 nonprofit organizations, chosen through a lottery system to receive two-year permits.

This year, the city said booths could be open eight days through Sunday from 9 a.m. until 10 p.m.

Volunteers working in Fresno booths on the Fourth of July said sales were slower than past years, but customers were buying bigger items.

Renee Gonzalez volunteered at a TNT fireworks tent on Blackstone and Holland avenues. Her stand raised money for Cornerstone Community Care, which helps kids whose parents are on probation, in jail or on parole with academic and behavioral support.

"The first few days are always slow, but when the third and Fourth comes, it's just a rush all day long," Gonzalez said.

She said Cornerstone has sold fireworks for five years. Through late Friday morning, she estimated, the booth had sold $7,000 worth of product -- before fees.

Knights of Columbus tent manager Joseph Hill broke the expenses down. His Catholic men's fraternal organization has been selling fireworks in Fresno for about 15 years. Friday at the booth at Fresno and Ashlan avenues, he said he already owes TNT $2,000 for state fees, city and state licensing, stand rental and space rental.

Then he splits half of the fireworks profits with TNT. After the initial cost, Hill hopes to take home between $3,000 and $4,000 for his nonprofit. This is all while running the risk of being burglarized.

"Some places lose $10,000-$15,000 worth of product and they lose that money. We have to cover the cost," Hill said. "We can't get insurance for fireworks. If we get hit, we lose that money. We either get more fireworks from them and try to make up the sales, or we lose money."

The Phantom and TNT fireworks companies both offer storage at their distribution centers, both in south Fresno. This takes the liability off the nonprofit -- but it can be a long round trip every day from a booth to the warehouse.

Bullard High School varsity basketball coach Jeff Schmidt, working the team's booth at Shaw and Maroa avenues, acknowledges the danger, but chalks it up to being a typical hazard.

"That's really out of our control," Schmidt said about the thefts. "It's sad that people are being robbed and held up and broken into for fireworks. We just have to be very cautious and have as many people manning it as we can, but I guess it's just part of doing this."

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6279, htraceynoren@fresnobee.com or @HtraceyNoren on Twitter.

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