Fireworks Shortage Is Burning a Hole in Wallets

A young man holds a lit firework shooting flames into the sky while child watches.
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Mathieu Young/Getty Images

Another day, another shortage of a familiar product due to the pandemic. This time the casualty is fireworks, and it’s coming just ahead of the Fourth of July holiday—meaning consumers lucky enough to find the fireworks they want will have to pay more for them.

Key Takeaways

  • A shortage of fireworks is leaving consumers with fewer choices—and higher prices—to celebrate this Fourth of July.
  • Consumers should expect to pay at least 15% to 25% more for fireworks this year.
  • Retailers cite shipping bottlenecks as the top reason pushing up prices and keeping fireworks from getting to store shelves in time for the holiday.

The sizzle and boom of sparklers, firecrackers, and Roman candles—long a hallmark of Independence Day celebrations across the country—may be more subdued this year, fireworks retailers say, because many of their products will not arrive in stores by July 4 due to worldwide shipping delays. In China, which dominates the global export market for fireworks, factory and port closures because of COVID-19 caused congestion during the last year. And because retailers’ shipping costs have more than doubled, whatever product does arrive has cost them more. That means if consumers do find fireworks, they will be paying more as well—likely at least 15% to 25% more, depending on the product.

“It's a crazy problem that we never expected,” said William Weimer, vice president at Phantom Fireworks, which has stores and showrooms in 15 states and pop-up venues in 17 states. A number of circumstances combined to create the shortage, he said. “China, the shortage of containers, the shortage of space on the container ships. Then when the product gets to the U.S., ports are crowded and the product has to stay on the ship for a week to 10 days before you can even get a berth in the port, and then there’s insufficient dock workers, and products that need to be offloaded sit for a long time.”

As an example of how backlogged the process has become, Weimer said his company had products offloaded from ships on April 14 that are still waiting to be transported to his facilities. “In that situation, it’s not likely to get to the warehouse before July 4, so we will lose out on those sales,” he said, adding that he expected the company to receive just 70% of what it had ordered by July 4, and that prices to consumers would rise by at least 15% to 25%. 

“And as a double punch to the gut, the value of the Chinese currency against the dollar is up 8% from when we originally placed our order last summer, so that’s an 8% increase in prices,” Weimer said. “And then, shipping costs from 2020 have more than doubled and keep going up. In some instances it costs more for transportation than for the fireworks. It’s hurting the industry.”

Surging Demand for Everything

Weimer’s is a familiar refrain. When the global pandemic struck last year, economies all over the world mostly closed down to slow the spread of COVID-19. With so few people working, supply shortages developed, and the shipping industry slowed to a crawl. Now that economies have been reopening, global demand for everything has surged, far outstripping available container and shipping vessel supply. Compounding that is a labor shortage, which has left ports backed up and merchandise sitting for weeks waiting to be transported. All this has left retailers scrambling and paying more to try to get their merchandise moved up the priority line, feeding into higher prices for consumers. 

As far back as January, online consumer retailer Superior Fireworks sounded an alarm on its website, saying “the rumors are true—prices are going up significantly this year. On average, our prices will increase about 15%. This is the highest we’ve ever had to increase prices in our 20-year history, and we’re seeing this throughout the fireworks industry.”

Last month, Brooklyn Fireworks, a retail and wholesale fireworks store in Pennsylvania, posted a warning on its website:  “We are urging all of our customers to get their orders in as early as possible to avoid being left with nothing to choose from.”

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