In-person Independence Day celebrations, with explosive fireworks displays, are coming back to many places after two years of the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in the cancellation of live events — especially those with large crowds.

But while some cities will welcome throngs of people looking for anything to do outside of the house, others are running into surprising obstacles with supply, labor and pricing. Some cities, including College Park and Ocean City, have canceled their fireworks shows or had to come up with alternative plans.

Among those still scheduled to take place are the Baltimore Fourth of July Celebration at the Inner Harbor and the Cherry Hill Arts and Music Waterfront Festival.

Kaila Benford, a theater performer and recent Baltimore resident, is looking forward to the festivities planned for the Inner Harbor.

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“What makes me most excited is that opportunity for everyone to come. Come in and celebrate, party with each other, have a good time,” Benford said.

Residents of College Park will have to travel to see fireworks. Officials from the city and University of Maryland announced in June the cancellation of fireworks and a concert due to the pandemic’s impact on supply chains worldwide. They declined to give a further explanation, but said they will still host a parade.

Ocean City officials rescheduled its big July 4th celebration after their contract firework company backed out because they didn’t have enough workers. The city reached out to other vendors and will now have a smaller fireworks display at Northside Park on July 3, as well as a separate fireworks show on July 5 in downtown Ocean City.

Cities across the country are facing the same issues, in part because of low supply and high demand for fireworks, said Julie Heckman, executive director of the American Pyrotechnics Association.

“If we are predicting a 110% recovery [from pre-pandemic levels] for this Fourth of July, that’s why the demand is so high,” said Heckman. “Everybody is ready now for the Fourth of July.”

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The demand is increasing as the industry is facing other challenges. Overall costs for the fireworks industry are up 35%, shipping costs have increased from $10,000 to $45,000 per shipping container, and the cost of raw materials is up by 20%. Much of the fireworks supply is coming from the West Coast, where shipments of all goods are backed up by a year.

“Every community cannot have their show on July Fourth. It’s impossible. There’s not enough personnel, there’s not enough rental trucks to get the product where it needs to go, and there’s not enough equipment,” said Heckman.

Ways to move ahead

Flyer of the Cherry Hill Arts and Music Waterfront Festival. Located at Middle Branch Park, the festival is celebrating the Bicentennial birthday of Harriet Tubman. Food, music, vendors and reenactments.
Flyer of the Waterfront Festival at Middle Branch Park in Cherry Hill (Courtesy of the Youth Resiliency Institute)

Navasha Daya, a musician and one of the organizers for the Waterfront Festival, said that her team ordered the fireworks several months ago in late winter to ensure a show for Monday.

“Because we confirmed everything early this year, we were able to secure the fireworks,“ said Daya. “It’s unfortunate that College Park cancelled, but we would love if they would come to Baltimore,” said Daya.

This year, the Waterfront Festival will celebrate the life of Harriet Tubman. Whitney Brown, a Cherry Hill resident and public relations officer for the Department of Recreation and Parks, said she hopes the festivities will lure people back to outdoor events.

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“The Cherry Hill Waterfront Festival is a great opportunity to get people back out to Middle Branch together again,” said Brown.

Other event organizers used their networks to buy fireworks. Carol Applegate, the president of the Greater Jacksonville Optimist Club in Phoenix, said her group managed to secure fireworks because Donna Coster, the president of Fantastic Fireworks, is a member of the Optimist Club. They will host a small community fireworks show at Jacksonville Elementary.

“We hope that because we have a direct line of contact with the company, that even if we may have to only do a couple minutes … the quality, hopefully, remains the same,” said Applegate.

Tonya Miller Hall, chief marketing and programs officer of the Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts, which is organizing the Inner Harbor celebrations, said they were never worried about prices or supply issues and will feature a 13-minute show.

They bought their fireworks from Pyrotecnico, which Miller Hall said made “no mention to us that they had supply issues or weren’t going to deliver the two barges that we have set and planned for on Monday, July 4.”

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Some people didn’t miss the fireworks when they weren’t around during the pandemic. Davita Fennell, a teacher at St. Ignatius Loyola Academy, said fireworks are bad for the environment and leave debris in the Inner Harbor waters, and the sound of fireworks can be triggering to people who have already been traumatized by gun violence.

“I wouldn’t have a problem with it if it’s not going to impact the environment in a horrible way, and if people’s mental wellness is being taken into consideration,” said Fennell.

The cancellations will be a disappointment to some Americans now spending their money on experiences, such as theater, travel, and movies in lieu of material goods — such as leisure wear and appliances — that they splurged on when stuck in their homes during the pandemic.

Allan Koi, a musician, said COVID made it hard for people to gather as a community, and events like the Inner Harbor fireworks will offer those opportunities again. He doesn’t typically celebrate holidays, but will be at the Inner Harbor.

“I celebrate community building, so I’ll be down here at the Inner Harbor,” Koi said.

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