Andrew Dys

July 4 means one thing on SC side of state line – legal fireworks

People buying fireworks for July 4th at Area 51 fireworks next to Carowinds and Frugal McDougal near the state line. Chinew Yang, from left, Jay Vang and Sai Yang shop for fireworks.
People buying fireworks for July 4th at Area 51 fireworks next to Carowinds and Frugal McDougal near the state line. Chinew Yang, from left, Jay Vang and Sai Yang shop for fireworks. aburriss@heraldonline.com

There are uncountable ways South Carolina is better than North Carolina.

Fewer bow ties. Sharks only bite us once a week at the beach, not every other day. And every year at this time, South Carolina has fireworks.

Massive, loud, and legal. More than 1,300 licensed locations across this great state, including from 111 fireworks superstores – six near the Carowinds Boulevard exit (the first S.C. exit on Interstate 77) alone. You can buy fireworks in 461 regular stores and 760 stands.

There is a brand called “One Bad Mother-in-Law.” The package shows a screaming crone in curlers yelling at a poor sap in a wife-beater, a remote control in one hand, a can of beer in the other.

“Can barely keep it in stock,” said Kris Allison, a manager at Area 51 Fireworks. “People buy three, four ‘One bad mother-in-law’ boxes at a time.”

That alone is greatness. In a package that blows up.

One guy from Georgia, where some fireworks finally became legal Wednesday after years of people running to South Carolina for fun, bought a box of fireworks almost as big as his kid. Calvin Shaw said previously he couldn’t get anything like this in Augusta, Ga.

“In South Carolina,” he said, “they got the things that make you go boom, baby!”

In North Carolina, about all that is legal is pulling the cork on a wine bottle as six bankers wearing jackets with patches on their elbows say, “Ooh, ahh!” and the Charlotte media breathlessly talks about how great North Carolina is.

It ain’t.

In North Carolina this week, only the government and big private shows can blow off big fireworks. Ask anybody, the government sure doesn’t know how to have a good time as things blow up on Independence Day.

“Nobody wants fireworks that just sit there and do nothing,” said Austin Callahan, who drove from Lake Tillery, N.C., to buy fireworks at Davey Jones Fireworks on U.S. 21 in Fort Mill. “That’s all we have in North Carolina. Who wants that?”

“Nobody,” said his buddy, Dylan Mackey. “Our families spend a couple thousand dollars on fireworks. We want it to be great, not that small stuff we got in North Carolina.”

Residents in North Carolina and even Virginia come down to Fort Mill to buy fireworks that are illegal in their home states. The bigger the better, they say.

People do spend tons on fireworks in South Carolina. The industry’s national lobbying arm, the American Pyrotchenics Association, says selling fireworks is more than a $1-billion-a-year business, with two-thirds of that consumer sales and the rest show sales. Sales have gone up every year through recessions and anything else.

Even shady hedge fund thieves can’t ruin fireworks.

Along the North Carolina side of the state line this week, there are signs for yard sales, maybe a house that costs $400,000.

Along Carowinds Boulevard and U.S. 21 in Fort Mill this week, on the South Carolina side, there are giant blow-up gorillas and Godzilla advertising fireworks deals so great that dogs three miles away will howl and your crotchety neighbors will call the cops.

Godzilla got loose Tuesday, so three guys that work at Davey Jones Fireworks stopped traffic on busy U.S. 21, wrestled the behemoth back into place and tied the lizard down.

That’s South Carolina when July 4 draws near.

You can often see bikini-clad women along Carowinds Boulevard on July 3 and 4, advertising buy-one-get-one-free deals. It is presumed the product for sale is fireworks.

People even drive five or six hours from Virginia to get fireworks in South Carolina. The McKinnis brothers from Danville, Va., bought cartloads for their annual July 4 party. The cost soared upward toward $1,000, and still they smiled.

“You go big on July 4, or you might as well stay home,” John McKinnis said.

The brothers drove right through North Carolina to reach South Carolina.

“Everybody in the country knows you go to South Carolina for fireworks,” Dallen McKinnis said.

The granddaddy of fireworks retailers along Carowinds Boulevard is Red Rocket, with repeat customers going back decades and the Black Cat brand that is a giant in the industry.

“We are out here selling fun, and we encourage safety,” said Kim Pyles, a teacher during the year who moonlights every summer selling fireworks along with many other fellow teachers and students. “This is our busiest week, no question.”

Many of those customers come streaming across the North Carolina border. Red Rocket has repeats from as far away as Canada and New York each year.

“Can’t buy this in North Carolina,” said Don Kelly of Winston-Salem, holding up a top seller for 2015 – Excalibur canister shells, with enough firepower to take on Iran.

Area 51 Fireworks next to Carowinds is the first across the border, a supermarket of fireworks. Co-owner Doug Cianfrocca, 40 years in the fireworks business all over America, picked the spot and spent a year getting it ready because it is “First exit, first right out of North Carolina” and close to the Carowinds crowd.

“People love to be patriotic this time of year,” Cianfrocca said. “It is part of the fabric of America to have fireworks on the Fourth of July.”

Area 51, selling Alien and other name brand fireworks, sells stuff all the way from a dollar or two up to package deals for $1,199. A huge box comes filled with everything short of an aircraft carrier and jet plane – and you get two for the price of one.

“The more you buy, we give out bonus points for free items – good stuff, real fireworks,” said Kris Allison of York, a manager at Area 51. “We have some specials, you buy one and you get two free.”

You can’t get that in Charlotte. Only in York County. Only in South Carolina.

Andrew Dys •  803-329-4065 •  adys@heraldonline.com

Fireworks safety tips

The best way to protect your family is to not use any fireworks at home. Instead, attend public fireworks displays and leave the lighting to the professionals.

If you do choose to use fireworks yourself, Safe Kids Worldwide, an organization dedicated to preventing injuries in children, has these tips:

▪ Little arms are too short to hold sparklers, which can heat up to 1,200 degrees. Let young children use glow sticks instead. They can be just as fun, but they don’t burn at a temperature hot enough to melt glass.

▪ Closely supervise children around fireworks at all times.

▪ Do not wear loose clothing while using fireworks.

▪ Never light fireworks indoors or near dry grass.

▪ Point fireworks away from homes, and keep away from brush, leaves and flammable substances.

▪ Stand several feet away from lighted fireworks. If a device does not go off, do not stand over it to investigate it. Put it out with water and dispose of it.

▪ Always have a bucket of water or a fire extinguisher nearby. Make sure you know how to operate the fire extinguisher.

▪ If anyone is injured by fireworks, go to a doctor or hospital immediately. If an eye injury occurs, don’t allow the victim to touch or rub it, as this can cause more damage.

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