In the early months of the pandemic, fireworks company Grucci, which has operated from the United States for more than a century, saw demand for its Independence Day shows plummet. that the family had not seen since the Great Depression.
The company performed a dozen 4th of July shows in 2020, a fraction of its normal commitments as cities and towns, fearing Covid, decided not to crowd people into public parks to watch red peonies explode, white and blue.
Instead, to keep busy, the Long Island-based company, which originated in 19th-century Italy, focused its resources on a different kind of customer: the Department of Defense, which uses the simulated hand grenades of company to train American troops.
But this year, demand for fireworks has returned to pre-pandemic levels, according to Phil Grucci, the company’s chief executive, and executives from other fireworks groups that put on professional shows. The Grucci Company has booked more than 70 shows over the holidays — everywhere from Hackensack, NJ, to Hawaii — double the number last year.
“It’s a major logistics company,” said Grucci, whose family business has staged fireworks at presidential inaugurations, Olympics and world’s fairs.
And logistics this year have become even more complicated, with global shipping delays, inflated costs and truck shortages. Some cities have been forced to cancel their official fireworks shows due to these challenges, coupled with labor shortages or because of drought and wildfire issues.
But several major fireworks companies are still enjoying booming business, including Pyro Spectaculars, which hosted Macy’s fireworks show in New York for most of its history. The California-based company has regained capacity of about 400 fireworks for the July 4 holiday, after a 90% decline in that activity in 2020.
“We’re grateful and grateful to have come through the toughest times in our family history,” said Jim Souza, its fourth-generation leader (and no connection to composer John Philip Sousa, whose music is a staple of the bonfires). of fireworks. .)
For the Grucci company, which manufactures some of its inventory in factories in Virginia and upstate New York, the supply chain challenges have been less acute than for other companies that ship large quantities. majority of their products from abroad. And Grucci had a safety net to fall back on: an inventory of fireworks stored in 2019 that were untouched for the first two years of the pandemic.
Luckily, fireworks don’t have an expiration date.
“You know the old adage, ‘Keep your powder dry’?” Grucci said. “As long as you keep the powder dry and the products are stored properly, they will last pretty much indefinitely.”
In the days leading up to July 4, Grucci will deploy approximately 400 pyrotechnicians to set up fireworks shows in parks, waterfronts and barges – some not far from the Bellport, NY, headquarters and others further afield, including Las Vegas.
The trucks are mostly loaded in what Grucci calls “undisclosed bunker locations” on Long Island and Virginia, where fireworks inventories are covered in dirt to keep them cool. (“We don’t advertise where our explosives are stored,” he said.) Licensed technicians meet the trucks at their assigned locations, where they lay out the wiring according to a detailed script and load the fireworks into cylindrical fiberglass tubes. Each firework is marked with a number which is linked to an electronic firing system.
Before sunset, technicians communicate with local police and fire departments to ensure that the area where the fireworks land is cleared of all revelers. A medium-sized show will require a fallout area with a diameter of 500 feet, but larger programs might require up to a diameter of 2,000 feet.
About 50 of the pyrotechnicians are full-time Grucci employees, but most of the people who orchestrate the shows are part-time workers with day jobs.
“For someone who may be an accountant or a mechanic or something, he becomes a performer for those 20 minutes,” Grucci said. “And when the show is over and the audience roars, there’s nothing like it.”
For the Macy’s show on Monday, de Souza’s company will orchestrate the launch of more than 48,000 firework shells from five barges on the East River.
Although the company’s holiday business is back to 2019 levels, it’s a new kind of normal: The cost of shipping containers of fireworks from China has tripled, Souza said, and in Due to delays, his company is now ordering next year’s supply – several months earlier than before.
Competition for space on shipping containers has been tough, and space for potentially dangerous goods is even more limited. The situation got so bad in the fall of last year that some fireworks companies, including Stephen Vitale’s company Pyrotecnico, helped charter their own ships, which could ship a few hundred containers of fireworks. of fireworks each.
“Demand is robust,” said Vitale, whose Pennsylvania-based company is running about 800 shows for the July 4 holiday, using about 700 workers who edit multiple shows during the week. “People want to go out, they want to be together and go to fairs, festivals and community celebrations. Demand has exceeded actual industry capacity.
In May, Grucci’s company had to start turning down new clients asking for shows. Their schedule was packed with events ranging from a yacht club in the Hamptons that the company had served for nearly 80 years to a full-scale celebration at Caesars Palace on the Vegas Strip.
Most of their fireworks are now computer-automated, Grucci said, though some are still electric rather than digital — launched by pressing buttons manually rather than clicking a mouse to start a preloaded sequence. Technology has advanced considerably: Grucci recalls that his grandfather – Felix Grucci, Sr. – would often start a firework display with a lit cigar. Then they started using a torch, before this was phased out at the turn of the century.
Yet the process and nervous anticipation surrounding it has remained much the same since childhood.
“As the sunset rolls over the horizon and it starts to get dark, that’s when the heart starts to crackle,” Grucci said. “And then comes the ‘3, 2, 1, go.'”