COLUMBIA — Along Interstate 70, a fireworks stand with faded red paint peeks out among the hills with a sign that advertises “Freie Fireworks.”
Despite what some may think, Freie is not a misspelling for the word free. It is the name of the family that has operated the seasonal business for 33 years.
Ina Freie said members of her family have kept the stand running since her husband, the late George Freie, built the small wooden structure on their property off I-70 Drive Northwest in 1976.
They started selling fireworks as a way for their two children to make money.
“The first year, my husband was in school to be an electrician, and it was a good moneymaker,” Ina Freie said. “It also gave our kids some spending money, and it helped them learn how to count money.”
For the first time since it opened, the stand is closed for the Fourth of July fireworks season. The family got started too late this year to stock up on fireworks in time for the holiday, but Freie said her son and grandson plan to continue the tradition next year.
“Running the stand is a big responsibility, but it gives you a sense of satisfaction,” she said. “I have some fond memories of it.”
Freie’s grandson, Steven Freie, said he grew up with the fireworks stand, just like his dad Jeff Freie did.
“I’ve been sitting in that fireworks stand since I was 8 years old , and it’s been here since my dad was a teenager,” Steven Freie said.
Although the small business only makes around $600 to $700 a season because of its location on a dead-end road, Ina Freie said the most important part for her is meeting people.
Over the decades, she has managed to make some good friends through the fireworks stand, especially since a lot of their business is from returning customers.
Ina Freie said their fireworks stand offers a human touch, and that they would often give a little extra to some customers.
“We catered when we could for handicapped kids by giving them an extra discount or a few free fireworks,” Ina Freie said. “I have sort of a sixth sense for special needs kids.”
Ina Freie said many past customers came to the fireworks stand as children and ended up coming back years later with their own kids.
Steven said Ina Freie’s relationship with customers has always been an integral part of the business.
“Last year she came down a couple times and would talk to people that she’s known over the years,” Steven Freie said. “She’s definitely a big part of a team effort.”
Besides being friendly faces, Steven Freie said people continue to come back because of their low prices, which they are able to offer since they don’t have to pay rent like most businesses.
“We try to have competitive prices and people appreciate that,” Steven Freie said. “We also try to get the biggest fireworks we can get our hands on and have never had complaints about our fireworks not working.”
While the Freies have good relationships with customers and a satisfying business, there have also been some setbacks. Ina Freie said the stand has been broken into a few times over the years, so they found a way to protect the merchandise.
“Especially in the later years, we couldn’t carry all the fireworks in at the end of the day, so someone would sleep out there with them,” she said.
Despite being closed this year, Steven Freie said he wants to expand the business to two locations next year, and is planning on sprucing up the original stand in his grandmother’s front yard.
“The stand will be rebuilt and will be bigger and better,” he said. “You take a couple years off and people tend to forget about you, so I want to make sure that they know we’re still around.”