Retailers expect the slumping economy will dampen fireworks sales this year, but Maui County fire officials aren't letting down their guard against unsafe and illegal fireworks use.
"Well, I think we're going to sell less. The economy being such, I would imagine it's going to be less than last year," said Isamu Honda, founder of Pine Isle Market on Lanai.
The Maui News file photo
New Year’s fireworks go on sale today, but retailers say they expect the economy to dampen demand this year.
At Misaki's on Molokai, Manager Kevin Misaki said he expects fireworks sales to be slower this year than in years past because his Christmas business has been slow.
Usually several days before Christmas, specialty goodies such as chocolates and candies are sold out at Misaki's. This year, they're still on the shelves.
"The stuff that's less expensive is stuff that's moving" Misaki said Tuesday.
Three aerial fireworks displays are scheduled at midnight Wednesday:
* Manele Bay, Lanai
* Wailea Resort, offshore on a barge
* Hana, at Fagan's Cross
He attributes the economic slowdown, the closure of Molokai Ranch and the decrease of visitors to the island.
But Maui County fire officials are still cautious about the threat even if fireworks sales are slowed.
"I think it may have a little effect, but not too much," said Capt. Val Martin of the Maui County Fire Prevention Bureau.
Martin said there are still people who want to carry out their customs and traditions and will celebrate with fireworks, no matter what the cost.
"They still are going to purchase it. They are still going to use it. That's how it is," he said.
Hawaii's New Year's tradition of fireworks use is a cause of continuing concern, over illegal and improper use. Fireworks have been blamed for sparking brush fires as well as house fires, for causing injuries and for generating plumes of acrid smoke that linger in the air around the islands overnight.
Proponents say it is a cultural tradition that is important for families gathered to celebrate the new year.
Beginning today, retailers will be selling novelty fireworks such as fountains and sparklers that don't need permits, and firecrackers, which require a $25 permit to purchase 5,000 firecrackers.
There is no limit on the number of permits one can buy.
On Tuesday, stores such as Foodland were advertising fireworks sales with prices starting at $1.19 for a Monster Magic Whip box going up to pricey options such as the $76.99 Big Dog assorted pack of fireworks. Star Market advertised a $2.99 package of TNT Morning Glory Torches. Its most expensive fireworks were priced at $54.99 for a TNT America's Best Pack of assorted fireworks.
Martin said that even though he expects the sale of novelty fireworks to be brisk, he anticipates firecracker permit sales to go down again this year. Last year, 335 firecracker permits were sold compared to 389 in 2006.
Even before the economy took a nose dive, firecracker and permit sales were on the decline.
Martin has been attributing that drop to the introduction of the "paperless crackers" several years ago. The crackers are similar to firecrackers, but do not need a permit and leave less debris.
"Why pay $25 for a permit when paperless firecrackers are so similar to real firecrackers? Granted, paperless firecrackers cannot replace the real thing, but they come close and there is minimal cleanup involved," Martin said.
State law defines a firecracker as a paper cylinder containing a specific amount of gunpowder. The paperless crackers are a long roll of red tape with pockets on each side containing the charges.
"There are people, however, who still prefer the original firecrackers. Sweeping the red paper up on New Year's Day morning has become a tradition for some. Those people will still get the firecracker permit," Martin said.
He added that it looks like fewer firecrackers are being brought in by vendors this year than in years past.
On Maui, firecrackers will be sold at Foodland, Sack 'N Save and Star Markets only. Those stores will also sell novelty fireworks - fountains, sparklers, spinners and other devices.
On Molokai, Misaki's Inc. and Take's Variety Store will sell firecrackers and novelty items.
On Lanai, Pine Isle Market will also sell firecrackers and novelty items and will also sell firecracker permits.
Maui County stores offering novelty items, but no firecrackers, include, Costco, Big Kmart, Longs Drug, Napili Market, Safeway and Wal-Mart.
* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@ mauinews.com.