Columbia fireworks retailer travels to China for goods

Saturday, July 3, 2010 | 11:22 p.m. CDT; updated 8:43 p.m. CDT, Sunday, July 18, 2010
Dave Rasmussen, left, talks to Nick Witthaus about what fireworks he should buy. Rasmussen helps to run the family business started by Bob Gerau of Bob's Fireworks. Gerau has sold fireworks in Columbia for 45 years and sets up three other stands during the fireworks season.

COLUMBIA — As Columbia gears up for America's annual birthday celebration, area fireworks stands bring a blast of cultural diffusion.

"The world is fascinated by fireworks because they are in our history and in our culture," said local firework guru and importer, Dave Rasmussen. 

When Bob's Fireworks is open:

The local fireworks store is open periodically throughout the year. Bob's Fireworks has a permit to sell fireworks during the Memorial Day and Labor Day seasons. Special permits are necessary for those two holidays.

New Year's season: Dec. 20 through Jan. 2

Memorial Day: the Thursday through Monday before the holiday

Fourth of July season: June 20 through July 10

Labor Day: The Thursday through Sunday before the holiday


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Rasmussen travels to Liuyang, China, every year in the fall to personally choose fireworks to sell for his father-in-law's business, Bob's Fireworks, in Columbia. 

“If you want better items, you have to hand-pick them yourself,” Rasmussen said. “This way we have ultimate control over the product we are selling, everything from the selection, to the naming, to the graphics.” 

While in China, Rasmussen samples fireworks that are wrapped in plain brown paper and not labeled, he said.  The two most important factors when he makes his purchases are price and quality.

“I first look at the price and quality of an item, and then I have lots of fun naming them afterward,” Rasmussen said. “Sometimes I will even create the graphic on the packaging.”

Rasmussen said he has named fireworks using political references such as "Bushwhacked" and "Ambushed."

“The graphic style in China is very different than what the West expects because the advertising models are so different,” Rasmussen said.

“One firework I ordered was called Pool Shark, and the manufacturers put a picture of a shark jumping out of a pool table," he said. "I enjoyed it so much and left the graphic unchanged.”

Rasmussen named one fountain firework in the shape of a mug "Mugs Up," after Columbia’s historic drive-in burger restaurant.

“We have to put in more of a local flavor because people relate to that,” said Rasmussen's father-in-law and owner of Bob's Fireworks Bob Gerau.

Rasmussen distributes the finished product to Bob's Fireworks, whose warehouse is located on Old 63 near the Deer Park Exit. Gerau has sold fireworks in Columbia for 45 years.

“Fireworks have always been a big family affair for us,” Gerau said. “My dad was born on the Fourth of July, and he always said that everyone was celebrating his birthday."

This year two suppliers for Bob's Fireworks from Liuyang, China, came to visit the local stands and celebrate the holiday.

“Eighty percent of all fireworks are manufactured in Liuyang City,” said Kammy Lai, a year-round firework exporter from Liuyang. “Every night there are fireworks in Liuyang City.”

Lai and her husband, Evan, have been in the fireworks business for 10 years. They are involved with retail and exporting of consumer fireworks.

The Lais work for Sunshine Pyrotechnics, a company that manufactures its fireworks based on American and European regulations and standards.

“The United States and Europe have the largest amount of regulations and restrictions concerning fireworks in the world, but those countries are also where the profits lie for the Chinese companies who manufacture them,” Rasmussen said.

Rasmussen explained that U.S. federal law does not allow aerial fireworks to contain explosives with more than 130 milligrams of aerial report, a "pyrotechnic steroid."

Laws governing fireworks vary, and in the past decade the U.S. fireworks industry has experienced unprecedented growth, doubling in yearly revenue from $425 million in 1998 to $940 million in 2008.

“Fireworks are a universal historical treasure, that began in China thousands of years ago," Gerau said. "And how they have become associated with our Independence Day is uncertain, yet they definitely play a huge role when celebrating our country's birthday party.”

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