OTTUMWA — The Fourth of July is near, and for many residents that means it’s time to buy and sell fireworks.
Richard, Stephan, Sarah and Katina Palen, owners of Patriot Fireworks in Ottumwa, opened their tent outside Fareway on Saturday. They opened at 10 a.m. By noon, Richard said, they already served 125 customers.
Richard and his family have been open since commercial fireworks became legalized a few years ago. Since Palen’s family-owned business took off, he’s gotten a good grasp on what is the most popular.
“People like loud, things that go boom,” Palen said. “You’ve always got your staples, you know, your sparklers and your smaller items always go extremely well — they call them cakes, they’re probably some of the most popular ones because you light the fuse once and you get to sit back and watch it go off 25 times and you don’t have a lot to do so, people really like those.”
For Palen and Jesse Leon, owner of TR performance, selling fireworks, especially amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, is about bringing joy to families.
“You know there’s not a lot of things that bring joy to people’s lives anymore, and fireworks is definitely one of them,” Palen said. “You see kids’ faces light up when they walk in the building and you see parents’ faces light up, too.”
Leon said people want something normal, something comforting. And for many families, that can include fireworks around the Fourth of July. It’s not about the newest package, but about the things that recall memories.
“Everyone does the same things, the stuff that little kids want,” Leon said.
Tiffany and Hugo Merida and their 9-year-old son Nikolai gravitated toward the poppers and the sparklers, something Leon and Palen said are most popular for younger kids. There are three things Nikolai likes to buy.
“I like to get the smokers, spinners and snappers,” Nikolai said.
Why buy fireworks when families can gather at a park or big arena and watch a fireworks display?
“It’s usually just funner doing it yourself,” Tiffany Merida said.
Nikolai chimed in. “It makes it funner ‘cause you can just do it yourself and I’m just gonna throw these on the ground and see what happens,” he said laughing.
As the day came and went, Palen saw an increase in business and how it brought families together. He likes to see the sense of camaraderie, which is partly why he continues to sell fireworks.
“Business has been extremely good,” Palen said, “because people have been cooped up for a few months and others are able to get out and buy fireworks and enjoy time with their family and yet still socially distance.”