New York City Fireworks Complaints Surge 40,000%

For weeks, New Yorkers have been treated to the crackling of the Machine Gun Shell, the roar of the God of Fire and the boom of the Suicide Kings — just a sample of the fireworks being set off on city streets.

There were 11,275 fireworks complaints in the first 21 days of June, compared with 28 in the same period last year, according to city data. That has prompted an undercover sting operation targeting illegal sales, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Tuesday, a day after protesters created a ruckus outside his Gracie Mansion residence. It’s illegal to buy, sell or use fireworks in New York City.

“People have been cooped up so long, they’re just anxious to get out and do something,” said Brian Shaub, owner of Pennsylvania-based Keystone Fireworks.

Revelers have been disrupting people’s sleep and frightening dogs, not just in the Big Apple, but in cities and rural areas across the U.S. The nightly pyrotechnics have become one more hallmark of an unusual year, where a global pandemic and a swell of anti-racism protests have created waves of shared experiences, from the traumatic to the more light-hearted, such as the resurgence of the classic tuna melt.

Though fireworks are a common sight in the days before Independence Day, buyers this year have access to more for less. Stores are offering discounts to clear out months of supply that built up during pandemic-induced closures, Shaub said. Wholesale prices have actually gone up because the pandemic interrupted the supply chain from China, he said.

In Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood, two men said they scouted a spot on a sidewalk in front of a garage to avoid noise complaints and, potentially, a visit from police.

Standing in front of an array of fireworks, one of the men said that if prices have fallen, he hasn’t benefited. He pointed to groups of fireworks that are known in the industry as “finales.” They feature multiple stacks that ignite simultaneously. He said he spent $300 on just one of them.

Would it be worth it? He laughed and said there wasn’t anything else to spend money on these days.

Matt Metzgar, the store manager at Phantom Fireworks in Easton, Pennsylvania, estimates that sales are about double what they’d typically be at this time of year. Covid-related cancellations of public fireworks shows have meant people are putting on their own displays, he said. “We’re bringing in multiple truckloads a day to try and keep up,” he said.

At his store on the border of New Jersey and Pennsylvania, about an 85-minute drive from Manhattan, it’s not unusual for some people at this time of year to buy two or three shopping carts worth of fireworks — an order that could cost up to $5,000, Metzgar said. Many out-of-state visitors buy fireworks in Pennsylvania because more powerful varieties are legally available.

“We do sell to New Yorkers,” he said. “If something does go wrong, we cooperate with the police.”

To try to stem illegal sales, more than 120 members of New York’s fire, police and sheriff’s departments will work in the city and out of state, the mayor said.

“This is a real problem. It’s not just a quality of life problem or a noise problem, it can also be dangerous,” de Blasio said during a briefing. “We intend to go to the root cause and that is the people who are supplying the fireworks, the folks who are profiting off the fireworks.”

But the mayor stopped short of deploying police into neighborhoods to arrest those playing with the devices. In a city with at least 28 shootings over the weekend, de Blasio said police had more important things to do.

“Given the challenges we’re facing I want them focused on the most fundamental issues of public safety,” he said.

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