COLUMBIA — People such as Matt Rhinehart, marketing representative of Spirit of ’76 Fireworks, see fireworks as a thing of beauty.
"The best thing about fireworks — it's sort of an art form for an instant," Rhinehart said. "A great painting will last hundreds of years, but a great fireworks show lasts a few minutes and then it's gone."
In Boone County, there are as many as 26 fireworks stands that set up shop for the legal selling period from June 20 to July 10. But, for some of those sellers, the fireworks industry is a year-round way of life.
Bob Gerau, 69, has sold fireworks in Columbia for the past 44 years. His business, Bob's Fireworks, has four tents throughout the region. Everyone in his family has become part of the business. His son-in-law travels to China each year to hand-pick choice fireworks.
Gerau's fascination with fireworks began at an early age, when his family celebrated his father’s July 4 birthday. He said their appeal is simple — fireworks are fun.
"The fireworks culture is getting bigger and bigger every year, and you see that when they're having football games and baseball games, they use fireworks as an attraction; it’s getting bigger," Gerau said. "There's now fireworks clubs developing in Missouri and everywhere, and they will have a shoot two or three times a year."
Jeff Cellucci shares Gerau’s passion. Cellucci, a musician and a sales representative for Spirit of ’76, enjoys the imaginative aspects of his work.
“It’s a creative thing for me," he said. "It’s just another way for me to express myself.”
Cellucci’s passion is dramatically changing with the addition of new choreographing technologies. To effectively produce an entertaining show, Cellucci and the Spirit of ’76 recently purchased a program called FireOne. It combines music with fireworks and allows the use of a larger number of fireworks and more elaborate displays. Each explosion is choreographed to a hundredth of a second.
Cellucci said it takes a long time to choreograph. "The hardest part for me is picking music," he said. "Then, once I pick the music, I decide what kind of effects I want to go with the music, and you have to know your product to do that."
As an excuse to celebrate and showcase its fireworks, Spirit of ’76 held a fireworks expo from June 19 to June 21 in Midway. The demonstration was the first of its kind in mid-Missouri. More than 200 hours of preparation went into planning the 15-minute program, and Cellucci was the show’s designer and lead shooter.
Cellucci has noticed that sales are up this year in mid-Missouri. He thinks individuals and families are buying more because many towns can no longer afford the price of a community show.
“It’s the one thing that all Americans can identify with,” Cellucci said.
Even with a nationwide recession, many in the industry expect above-average sales this summer.
“At first people thought that sales might be hurt because fireworks are far from a necessity, but sales have not been damaged at all,” said Julie Heckman, Executive Director of the American Pyrotechnic Association.