State in for big
bang on New Years
Tons of fireworks will be availableBy Richard Borreca
in isle stores to celebrate 2000,
but quality and supplies will vary
Fireworks are moving into Honolulu by the container load, with some wholesalers bringing in more than 10 tons for the New Year's celebration.
A survey of the fire department permit applications and a check with dealers show businesses are approaching the celebration in different ways.
City Mill, which is bringing in an estimated 800 cases of fireworks for each store, is increasing its purchases slightly, according to Stephen Ai, president.
"We see demand about the same, with maybe a little more interest because of the millennium," Ai said.
But some fireworks dealers, worried about public reaction to a smoke-filled New Year's and increased competition from cheaper fireworks, are bringing in less.
"We just cut back this year," said Calvin Lyau, president of A.C. Lyau Co., which brought in 3,000 cases of Duck Brand fireworks last year, but is handling only 500 cases this year.
"There is so much competition this year from the inexpensive mainland Chinese brands," he said.
Lyau said he will stick with his more expensive Duck Brand, because of that company's attention to the detail of making firecrackers.
"I visited the factory in Macao," he said. "They have a tremendous quality control program. They even make their own paper and use the finest black powder."
Others, such as Ernest Chang, who plans to wholesale more than 11 tons of firecrackers this New Year's, will be stocking a variety of firecrackers and novelty items such as fountains and sparklers.
"Everybody wants to bring in more," he said.
"But, I don't want to be greedy with the market, and you have got to know what your clients can handle.
"I guess we will bring about one-third more for the millennium," Chang said, adding that he is not the biggest importer of fireworks in the islands.
The fire department, which handles the applications for wholesale and retail fireworks licenses (anyone in Hawaii who sells fireworks must have a license), isn't required to keep records of precisely how much explosives are brought into the state. But the application asks for an estimate.
Some report the estimate in pounds; others report the number of cases of fireworks, the dollar amount or how many container loads they plan to bring in.
One of the largest fireworks wholesalers, Asia Pacific Trading Group, is bringing in 10 containers of fireworks, the same amount it reported to the fire department last year. Officials from the company did not return telephone calls.
Retailers such as 7-Eleven report bringing in 20 cases for each store this year, while last year they stocked 15. Longs told the fire department it will handle 200 pounds for each store.
Kmart is up 25 percent, increasing the bulk amount of fireworks imported to 500 cases for each store, up from 400 cases last year.
Safeway also is up 25 percent, as it says it will handle 50 cases for each store this year.
On the Big Island, KTA Super Stores will hold to last year's purchasing plans. But they aren't shy about celebrating the new year, as they bring in one container load of fireworks for each store.
The fire department watches how the fireworks are shipped, inspects the storage and retail stores for safety hazards and goes over how the materials will be moved from one site to another.
Lloyd Rogers, acting battalion chief for fire prevention, said the department treats fireworks as any other dangerous explosive.
"We make sure they are going to be selling or storing it safely," he said.
As for why the stuff is in such high demand during the New Year's holiday, Sunny Wong, the honorary mayor of Chinatown, says he often is asked and always explains it the same way.
"We are saying goodbye to the last year and being thankful for the good fortune we had, and looking forward to the new year and hoping we have even better fortune," he said.
"As for saying the fireworks chase away the devil, well, have you seen any devils move out on New Year's?"