While most other fireworks sellers were watching sales wind down from yet another Independence Day on Thursday, John Kemp was getting ready for his own, belated blast.
Saturday, he will host a fireworks spectacular he hopes will bring out people from Midway and Rocheport who just can’t get enough of the loud stuff. What started out as a small, annual get-together of family and friends has grown over the years to become an event anyone can attend.
Kemp will start grilling hot dogs about 7 p.m. at his property just off U.S. 40 in Midway. Event sponsors that include his company, VK Mortgage, as well as Accounting Plus and Precious Cargo will provide horseshoes, volleyball, a live band and even a bouncy-castle for the kids. At about 9, Kemp will begin the fireworks show.
“The more the merrier,” he said. “Fireworks bring people together, and that’s what holidays like this are really all about.”
Growing up in Midway, just west of Columbia, Kemp and his brother were forbidden from playing with fireworks.
“My family always thought it was silly to shoot fireworks,” Kemp said. “My dad would never spend more than $10 or $15 a year.”
That was enough to spark an interest in Kemp and his brothers, Jerry and Timothy. As they got older, they never grew out of their love of fireworks.
It is no exaggeration to say that Kemp has become an “amateur-connoisseur” of recreational explosions.
Last July 4, Kemp spent more than $2,000 entertaining more than 100 guests at his grandparents’ farm in Rocheport, many of whom stopped in while passing through. He hopes to top that with this year’s public spectacle.
Kemp’s intimate knowledge and expertise of the 109 products under his tent will be on display Saturday, making the affair more formidable than the lighting of a few bottle rockets and Black Cats.
Kemp said that there are $50 fireworks people set off that don’t amount to much.
“You’re like, ‘that’s it,’” Kemp said. “I’ve seen thousands of different fireworks, and I know what to use.”
Kemp sells fireworks part time, setting up shop this year on June 21. He parked a pop-up camper right behind his tent so he could get an early start and keep selling until 2 a.m. or even later. Friends, family, teens on bicycles and drivers passing through have been dropping by to see Kemp’s fireworks demonstrations. Frequent demonstrations, he said, are the key to sales.
And it’s been a fight, especially against a bigger, more established fireworks seller off the Midway exit called Spirit of ’76.
“The way (the competition is) killing me is getting Columbia business coming right off the interstate,” Kemp said of the many high-profile, high-volume fireworks distributors in the area. “I am the local kid competing against the big guys.”
Though the hours are long and the temperatures so high he can’t keep ice in his cooler, he greets customers warmly and with a childlike enthusiasm for the Fourth of July, his favorite holiday.
“To me, this is Christmas,” Kemp said. “Maybe even better than Christmas.”