Fireworks sales slow to ignite in Modesto

Usually Steve Larsen shells out $240 for a box of fireworks to celebrate the 4th of July, but the recession is taking some of the bang out of the holiday this year.

Laid off from his job as an industrial engineer, Larsen spent just $25 at a fireworks booth near McHenry and Briggsmore avenues on Sunday afternoon.

"We're trying to save money every way we can. But we can't forget (the Fourth) altogether. Not with this one," said Larsen, referring to his 4-year-old son, Nicolaas. "He's been bugging me since the stands went up."

Fireworks sellers, many of them charities and nonprofits, are crossing their fingers that customers will put aside money worries for sparklers and smoke bombs.

Last year, more than 3,000 nonprofits across the state raised $35 million selling TNT Fireworks, according to a company release.

Among TNT's clients is the Family Christian Center church, which runs the booth where the Larsens were shopping. The booth is the church's only fund-raiser, said Tami Steenburgh, wife of pastor Dean Steenburgh.

She's hoping a weak economy will boost sales. With some cities canceling fireworks shows and more families celebrating the Fourth at home, Steenburgh anticipates more sales.

Two and a half hours into the selling season, her prediction seemed to be coming true. The booth had taken in between $1,200 and $1,400 at 2:30 p.m. Sunday, said church member Irene Crews.

About a mile up McHenry, Todd Lines and his 13-year-old son, Shaun, paid about $216 for a box of fireworks at a booth in front of McHenry Bowl. Lines said his family cut other costs to make sure they could afford the treat.

"It's for the kids," said Lines. "We saved so we could do it."

Lines made sure to buy the fireworks at McHenry Bowl because it's offering a 10 percent discount for bowlers. McHenry Bowl usually raises between $3,000 and $7,000 for its youth programs from fireworks sales, said youth director June Brown. About 4 p.m. Sunday, the booth had taken in about $500.

"That's good for first-day sales," said Brown. "In the past, we've had less than $100 on the first day."

Some said a faltering economy won't take the fun out of their Fourth.

"Oh God, no, are you kidding?" said Michele Gabriellini when asked if she was cutting back on fireworks spending.

"This is what he lives for," she said, pointing at her husband, Steve. "It brings out his inner pyro."

Gabriellini said she left work early and "flew" to Modesto from San Jose on Sunday afternoon to buy fireworks. (Fireworks aren't sold in the Bay Area.) The Gabriellinis' first stop was a booth selling Phantom fireworks in the Vintage Faire Mall parking lot. Modesto Patriots youth football and cheer team runs the booth. The Gabriellinis dropped $287 there before heading to another booth that sells TNT fireworks. The couple said they would spend $200 more there.

Yes, they've made some cutbacks such as not going out to dinner as much, said Michele Gabriellini.

"But when it comes to (the Fourth), there's no scrimping."

Bee staff writer Leslie Albrecht can be reached at or 578-2378.

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