Business is typically booming during fireworks season on Tribal reservations that permit sales. While Boom City Fireworks on Tulalip Tribal land in Washington State (pictured) is still open today, fireworks sales (and possession) on Yakama Nation lands have been banned throughout the year. (Boom City Facebook)
The night sky might look different on the Fourth of July this year. Most public displays have been canceled to reduce the likelihood of large park and front-lawn gatherings amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Things certainly look different for Native American-owned small businesses that typically rely on an influx of seasonal revenue from fireworks sales. Particularly for Tribal members in the Northwest, selling fireworks is, generally speaking, big business. Since the late 1970s, members of the Tulalip Tribes in Washington State have set up booths at Boom City, a 14-day fireworks market, vending everything including the highly coveted firecrackers that are banned by the state, from pop rockets to fan cakes.
The market has fueled serial entrepreneurship for some Tribal citizens. Take Harold Joseph Jr., for instance. At age 12, he started helping his mom sell fireworks. Then at age 19, some 50 years ago, he purchased his own fireworks stand. His initial $5,000 investment led to nearly triple profits in year one. He put that money toward a small fishing boat. “That’s how I ended up with three different commercial businesses,” he told the Seattle Times.
Boom City is still open in 2020 — with social distancing guidelines and masks enforced. While fireworks sales are taking a hit nationwide, Boom City still has a major advantage. As its advertising director told Fox, “Our fireworks are a lot better than state fireworks, they blow up bigger they are just a bigger freedom of expression and you know us still being able to provide that to the community. They get to go home, they get to light those off, and I think that in such a dangerous situation we can have a positive, safe experience for everybody.”
While the Tulalip Reservation, north of Seattle, will still sell fireworks to the public, it’s a different scenario on Yakama Nation lands, a roughly 3.5-hour drive south in Washington State. The Tribe has banned fireworks sales and possession on the Yakama Reservation through December 31st due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Violators could face up to three months in jail and fines of $250.
“We know that the Independence Day celebrations bring large groups together surrounding fireworks displays,” Tribal Council Chairman Delano Saluskin said in a news release announcing the ban. “With the increasing threat of COVID-19, we must find every possible opportunity to limit gatherings to slow the spread of the virus and maintain the health and safety of the community.”