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Inside the ­Fireworks Tent

Selling magic for the Fourth


    For up to 12 hours, even on the hottest and rainiest days, Mary Larichiuta drifts around TNT Fireworks’ shady tent off Mayo Road in Edgewater. Customers trickle in, leaving her with lots of free time to manage the fireworks under the tent.

     She doesn’t get paid commission, just an hourly wage, but the “low-stress” job fills in time between summer and teaching at her middle school.

     “I was never a person who bought fireworks,” she said. “But when I came here, I was like, Oh, wow! You have a variety of fireworks, and it’s interesting the different ways people think about it and their likes and dislikes.”

     Some buyers “ask for the loudest thing you got, and others say no noise, no noise!” Larichiuta added.

     Inside the flashy tents popping up between mid-June to July 4, fireworks vendors like Larichiuta work long hours and follow rigorous operations to sell their fireworks — and follow Maryland laws.

     In Maryland, ground-based fireworks that shoot off into the sky and explode are illegal, including bottle rockets, Roman candles and firecrackers.

     Everything else, though, is legal: sparklers and snakes, fountain fireworks, snap pops and other small, quieter items.

     The biggest and most popular items at TNT are fountain-based products, Larichiuta said, which crackle with small ground explosions for minutes. These include Opening Show, Tickled Pink and Independence Rain.

     To increase sales, Larichiuta shows Youtube videos of exploding fireworks and is candid about their results, which she said keeps customers coming back.

     Competing Tri-State Fireworks, managed by Gwell Weinstein, has 15 firework stands in Maryland with six in Anne Arundel County, including one in Crofton. In Maryland, he explained, sales are low because ground-based fireworks are illegal and many customers opt instead to travel out-of-state to buy bigger — and illegal — booms.

     Since Tri-State buys directly from China — the world’s largest fireworks manufacturer — the product’s price has increased because of a tit-for-tat trade war between that country and the United States.

     Still, Weinstein said, international politics are “not enough to endanger the business,” which largely depends on the weather.

     “Bad weather equals bad sales,” he said.

      Rain not only steers away customers. It can also ruin fireworks, which are stored in large shipping containers near the stands. Rainy days are a bigger threat to this seasonal business than high heat, which won’t ignite them. That’s a worry for many customers, according to Larichiuta.

     In the short fireworks season, Tri-State has numerous selling strategies to make a profit. The company implants in-depth descriptions on the fireworks and QR codes that, when scanned, quickly show a Youtube video of the product at work. Most appealing to customers is the bread-and-butter: Buy one, get one free.

     Tri-State also cuts out the middle-man by purchasing directly from China, with representatives traveling overseas to hand-select the best products.

     “We want to provide the consumer with the best value,” Weinstein said.

     Safety is part of the business, too.

      As soon as Weinstein’s tents pop up, a fire marshal inspects the sites to ensure laws are followed.

      William Ray, a 21-year co-enforcement inspector veteran for the Anne Arundel Fire Marshal division, said he looks for any ground-based fireworks that explode, which are illegal in Maryland unless you are licensed to shoot them.

     “They could blow your hand off,” Ray said.

     Inspectors also make sure the fireworks hold no more than 500 grams of powder and look for on-hand fire extinguishers, electrical outlets and devices and storing containers.

     Back at TNT Fireworks, customers are Larichiuta’s priority. Though she must fight through the heat and rain, she said the job is worth it because she can interact with the many people shuffling through the tent.

      After buying a bag of snap pops, a flock of young customers filed out of the tent on a quiet afternoon, leaving a smiling Larichiuta behind the counter.

     “This stand has been here awhile,” she said. “The customers come here because they know the product and the people.”