By Brenda Flanagan
For some Jersey folks, it’s just not July 4 without setting off a few fireworks in the backyard.
But you can’t legally buy mortars and bottle rockets in New Jersey. So fireworks fans take Route 78, drive across the river to shop in Pennsylvania where three big fireworks dealers cater to the out-of-state crowd.
“We have a big party tomorrow going on in New Jersey,” said one patron. When asked what he will be doing, he said, “We’re gonna be having some fun.”
They don’t give their names, but they’re regulars at Phantom Fireworks — even bring the kids as they shop for stuff that’s not legit back home.
“It’s just to see the reaction on the children’s faces and the oohs and the ahhs from seeing the colors and hearing the sounds,” said the buyer.
They know it’s illegal, but, “Frankly I think it’s ridiculous because everybody gets fireworks anyway,” said another buyer.
In fact, buying contraband fireworks is so routine, a Bergen County band sings about it.
“I bought fireworks — a big bag of fireworks in Pennsylvania. I’m gonna light ‘em up when I get home to New Jersey,” go the lyrics.
Nationally, fireworks sales racked up $700 million in revenues last year. This is big business.
“I’d say between the both of us we’re gonna spend $500 to $600,” said a buyer. “It’s worth it.”
“Most people have been here before. We’ve been in Easton 10 years, so this isn’t their first show or rodeo and I would hope that all of our patrons are using the fireworks in accordance with which ever state they’re taking them back to,” said Manager Jeff Bell.
The manager says 60 to 70 percent of his business comes from New Jersey and New York, which are both states where people are not allowed to use — or even have — fireworks.
“They’re illegal for a reason. They’re not safe. They’re not reliable,” said Trooper Jeff Flynn.
State Police say New Jersey banned fireworks for unlicensed folks for safety reasons because sometimes amateur set-ups can go spectacularly wrong.
Last year, U.S. emergency rooms reported 7,400 visits related to fireworks injuries from mid-June to mid-July, according to the U.S. Product Safety Commission.
“We urge our residents — don’t go across the river and buy these things. They’re not safe,” said Flynn.
Phantom takes no chances. It checks IDs and issues a 24-hour permit, so you can legally transport your purchase in Pennsylvania. Once you cross the river, troopers can stop you and confiscate everything.
When asked if it bothers him/her that there might be a cop in your rear view mirror, a buyer said, “Not a all, not at all.”
If they catch you, it’s a $500 fine.