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WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. consumers already grappling with surging prices for airfares, rental cars, and some hotels this Independence Day holiday weekend have another headache to add to the list: The cost of fireworks.
"All companies had to go up this year. We didn't have a choice," said Sharon Hunnewell-Johnson, president of Galaxy Fireworks in Tampa, Florida, which owns four retail stores and 70 seasonal locations across the state.
She has had to raise prices on some fireworks by between 15% and 35% due to the impact of a global shipping backlog for the Chinese-made goods. Last year, she paid between $10,000 and $13,000 per shipping container of fireworks. It now costs more than $30,000 and continues to rise.
A dearth of shipping containers and port bottlenecks have affected multiple industries as the world regains its footing from the depths of the COVID-19 crisis, and backlogs also threaten to disrupt the Christmas shopping season.
For the fireworks industry, shipments are still stuck at U.S. ports ahead of the busiest selling season of the year. Production and shipping issues are expected to extend into the first quarter of next year.
"Our transit times have been wildly erratic," said Ben Muzzey, sales manager at Spirit of '76 Fireworks, a wholesaler and retailer based in Columbia, Missouri. Some of the company's shipments, which usually take about a month to arrive, have taken up to three months.
He estimates they are currently only able to fulfill between 65% and 70% of their orders.
The increasing costs and supply crunch comes at a time of record demand for backyard fireworks celebrations in the United States.
In 2019, 273 million pounds of fireworks were used, according to the American Pyrotechnics Association, which represents 250 member companies. Last year, that rose to 404.5 million pounds as the pandemic juiced demand.
That remains part of the problem. In a typical year, there is usually extra inventory on hand, but last year's record sales left stocks depleted.
"All inventory was exhausted. Demand was unprecedented during the pandemic," said Julie Heckman, executive director of the APA.
While it may be more difficult for consumers to source fireworks as July Fourth draws near, there is one silver lining. Many large, professional fireworks displays were canceled in 2020. Those companies' fireworks sat unused in their warehouses, ready for this year.
"They sat on their inventory for the whole year. They were ready to go last Fourth of July," said Heckman.
(Reporting by Lindsay Dunsmuir; Editing by Andrea Ricci)