MANCHESTER — Maine’s consumer fireworks industry will launch on Thursday when the state’s first retail store plans to open.
There’s a large Pyro City sign out front of a former used-car dealership building on U.S. Route 202, and signs near the door warning against smoking and using fireworks near the building.
On Monday, Steve Marson and a crew of workers and contractors stocked colorful explosive packages on the shelves and readied for a final state inspection.
Marson, who has been handling fireworks for about 40 years, figures he’ll have more than $1 million at stake between the Manchester store and three others he hopes to open in Maine by July. But the stakes are higher than the flight of even the most robust fireworks Marson sells.
The fledgling industry is now taking shape in Maine since a decades-old ban on selling and using fireworks was lifted this year.
“The state Legislature has given us an opportunity to use fireworks, like they do in 32 other states,” said Marson, 56. “But as fast as they allowed it to be reality, it can go away just as fast. We’ll be a very professionally run business. We’ll be enforcing the requirements of the law, because we want this to be around for a long time.”
Before it opens, the business site at 703 Western Ave. — which used to be Drummond Motors and part of Charlie’s Motor Mall dealerships — still must pass a final State Fire Marshal’s Office inspection.
Richard Taylor, senior research and planning analyst with the State Fire Marshal’s Office, who will have oversight responsibilities for licensing retail fireworks stores, said so far he’s only been to the location for a preliminary inspection. But Taylor said Marson’s opening on Thursday is do-able, as long as the building meets the state’s criteria.
“The bureaucracy to get to this point has been challenging, we’ve come through a lot of hurdles,” Marson said as technicians nearby put the final touches on a new sprinkler system.
Taylor said no other potential retail operators are anywhere near close to opening stores in Maine. He said there are plenty of people able, and licensed, to handle the pyrotechnic aspects of the business.
But retail, and accommodating customers who may know little or nothing about how to safely handle fireworks, is new in Maine.
“To license a store, the more complex aspect is the code for the building itself,” Taylor said. “There’s a steep learning curve for everyone. This code is kind of a new language.”
Marson said workers will be in the store capable of explaining the different types of fireworks, and how to use them safely. The store will also have safety material available.
Five people have been hired to work at the store and all had to go through background checks, including fingerprinting, to be able to work with explosives, Marson said.
Putting people to work
The Manchester store, though it will be smaller than the other three stores Marson plans to open in Winslow, Edgecomb and Presque Isle, will serve as the headquarters for Pyro City fireworks stores statewide.
He has lease-purchase agreements for the businesses’ new buildings in Manchester and Edgecomb, and is buying the former Ken’s Restaurant in Winslow. He anticipates the Edgecomb store opening around the end of March, Winslow in April and Presque Isle in May.
A grand opening celebration and sale at the Manchester store is planned the weekend of March 9-11.
Marson said he tries to hire only people who are unemployed. He said the jobs include vacation time and retirement and medical plans.
“That’s been the most satisfying part: hiring people who were unemployed and met our criteria and want to get in on the ground floor and grow with us,” Marson said. “I’m a pretty sentimental guy, and I grew up with nothing. My dad always taught me, ‘If you ever become successful, don’t forget where you came from.’ We want to put people back to work. That’s what it’s all about.”
The project got a conditional use permit from the town in November, following a review by the Planning Board.
In response to the new state law, several communities have decided to enact local ordinances that either ban or regulate the sale and use of fireworks. Town Manager Patrick Gilbert said Manchester has no such ordinance.
Marson is also owner of Central Maine Pyrotechnics, which has a warehouse in Farmingdale and has been putting on fireworks shows for communities and other groups for 26 years.
Pyro City will carry major brands such as Black Cat, for which the business is the northeast distributor, and its own line of fireworks made by Jinsheng, a firm in China.
Taylor, the fire marshal analyst, said Marson is so knowledgeable about fireworks products that he goes to Marson with questions about certain products himself.
The Manchester store will be open every day of the week, year-round, Marson said.
Keith Edwards — 621-5647