Ask Johnathan Reneau about firecrackers or bottle rockets and his face lights up like a child’s.
Some fireworks are all bang and a little smoke, he explained Saturday as he eyed his stock at his TNT Fireworks stand in the Maryville Walmart parking lot, 2410 S. Highway 411.
Some spin on the ground and shoot flames in all directions before shrieking to a stop. Others belch sparks upward like a volcano before fizzling out.
You can even buy ones that quietly emit beautiful sprays of color, perfect for someone who’s scared by loud bangs.
“We have a Monster Truck that drives down the sidewalk as it burns,” Reneau said. “We even have little tanks and parachutes with little army men in them. Women have Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day. This is Man Season. We get Father’s Day and the Fourth of July.”
A plumbing, heating and electrical serviceman by day, Reneau, his wife, Jessica, and her mother, Paulette Jenkins, decided to open a TNT Fireworks stand this year to test out the waters in Blount County.
The county amended its code to legalize the sale and usage of Class C consumer fireworks in 2018.
The City of Maryville followed suit in December 2018 and recently began issuing sales permits to vendors to operate through July 5.
At least four permits were issued to vendors by Wednesday. Others were still in the application process, according to information provided by the city of Maryville.
Selling fireworks in Tennessee is tricky, Reneau said, because they are still banned in some areas.
“We can’t do stuff like this in Morristown, where I live,” Reneau said. “Selling or discharging fireworks is illegal there.”
The travel is worth the effort, though. Reneau said his wife and mother-in-law, who are from Blount County, encouraged him try try his hand this year in Maryville.
Storms and high winds that caused damage throughout the county pushed his tent several feet off of its base and slowed sales, but it’s worth it, he explained.
“I really enjoy it,” Reneau said. “It’s not about the money. If you find something that you enjoy doing, the money does help, but I like talking to the people that come in here more.”
Scott and Amy Davis also saw an excellent opportunity to try their hand at running a family business with their tent, Foothills Fireworks, located at 197 Foothills Drive, near T.J. Maxx in the Foothills Mall.
Like Reneau, the Davises have had slow sales due to rain, but Scott Davis hopes things pick up this week as the skies clear.
“It’s been pretty quiet,” he said Sunday.
The Davises also are taking a modern tack by promoting their business on Facebook and the internet.
Melissa Bast of Popes Lady Liberty Fireworks was given permits to set up stands at the Parkway Drive-In Theater, 2909 E. Lamar Alexander Parkway; a vacant lot at 2348 E. Broadway Ave., and Ginger’s Flowers, 2045 W. Lamar Alexander Parkway.
An industry veteran and lobbyist, Bast has years of experience in creating, marketing and licensing her products.
She also has helped to create and implement laws that regulate safe usage, Bast added, complementing local officials on how the codes were written.
“The ordinances were very well written,” Bast said. One is a new Alcoa ordinance that clarifies usage.
Residents now may set off fireworks only from June 20 to July 5 and Dec 10 through Jan. 2, between 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Property owners and occupants must give permission before fireworks can be set off or aimed toward their area.
Igniting or exploding fireworks and other incendiary devices is illegal within 600 feet of a church, hospital, funeral home, public or private school, or within 200 feet of an area where fireworks are sold, stored or offered for sale.
It also is illegal to set them off from or within a motor vehicle, to place them near a vehicle, or to throw them at a vehicle, a person or a group of people.
Similar rules apply in Maryville, where vendors are restricted to retail-zoned lots adjoining Highway 321, Highway 411 and TN 33 within city limits.
Keep it safe
Reneau, Davis and Bast all agree: Blount County folks love their bottle rockets, Roman candles sparklers.
Excalibur artillery shells and Roman candles, a perennial favorite, are in demand, Davis said.
“Vampire Tears also has been popular,” Davis said. With those, a user lights a cake that sends up sparks that burst into color, similar to commercial displays.
“People always want their firecrackers,” Reneau said. “Mortar shells are very popular. We also get a lot of people looking for little things, like firecrackers and poppers. They also want reloadable items.”
The popularity of reloadable mortars also gives the vendors a chance to discuss a crucial topic that also applies to grilling, burn pits and other popular holiday outdoor activities.
“Use common sense and be safe,” Bast said. “Reloadable tubes made from cardboard can catch fire. If you are going to use them or something that projects upward that can catch fire, try putting some nail glue on the base and tacking it to a piece of board.”
Reneau’s clients take home their goodies in bags featuring “Sensible Sam,” a cartoon character that demonstrates how to safely use the products.
Davis also stresses safety.
“We tell them to keep a big fire extinguisher handy, especially if you are doing a big show,” Davis said. “We also recommend safety glasses for the children. With the early 20-somethings, we tell them about safety with the Roman candles and not to go around pointing them at each other.”
“Use common sense,” Bast said. “Don’t wear flip flops if you are lighting sparklers, which burn hotter than any other fireworks I carry. They burn about 1,600 degrees. Have a water hose ready if an accident does happen and don’t give children sparklers since they cause the most injuries.”
Making children wear shoes to avoid emergency room visits also is a good idea, Bast said, encouraging parents to give children sword fountains and similar items that are pointed away from the holder without disintegrating downward.
Avoid smoking or using alcohol around fireworks, Bast added.
“I can’t even sell you fireworks if you might be intoxicated,” Bast said.