Selling the spark for Independence Day

Sinclaire Sparkman • Updated Jun 22, 2017 at 9:00 AM

Tent flaps were rolled up Tuesday as the first official day arrived for fireworks sales in Lebanon.  

As the Fourth of July approaches, a handful of locals in Wilson County set up shop to sell the main attraction of holiday barbecues and celebrations, the fireworks. Some stands are selling to raise funds for a local group, while others work to fund that long-awaited vacation, build a college fund or pay for extra expenses.

In all, there are 37 fireworks tents in Wilson County and can be found from Hermitage to Watertown.

Check out an interactive map of all Wilson County fireworks tents.

Lynne Jordan, the bowling coach for Cumberland University, set up his stand for the first time last year next to the Kroger on West Main Street to raise funds for the team. This year, he teamed up with another family to help as an independent venture. All together, Jordan’s stand employs 12 people. 

“I’m not going to say it’s a piece of cake, because it gets hot, and everybody’s in here trying to do something. In the end, though, it’s all worth it,” Jordan said.

Jordan signed a contract with SureFire, a fireworks company operating out of Lebanon on a hill near Cedars of Lebanon State Park. In signing with the company, Jordan and his team keep a percentage of sales and have some of the permit paperwork and tent setup taken care of by SureFire. 

“It’s good to have somebody here local, so I don’t have to drive into Nashville to pick up the product. I just go up to the hill and tell them what I need and they pull the order, bring it back and make sure there’s somebody here to help you unload it, that’s it,” Jordan said.

Some stands are run independently, where the owner will buy all of the fireworks beforehand and see what they can sell. 

“You can go get fireworks on your own and sell them, but then you have to get your permit, rent a tent and if, like the year we had the drought, you don’t sell the fireworks then you’re out all that money because they’re yours,” said Karen Brown, who runs a SureFire stand next to the Walmart gas station on South Cumberland Street in Lebanon. 

She and her husband, Bobby Brown, have run the stand for five years and their sons, Justin, 20, and Ryan, 17, run the stand a few hundred feet away in the Walmart parking lot. The Browns are both teachers and run the stands to help make a little extra money during the summer. Karen Brown works at Coles Ferry Elementary School and Bobby Brown, who used to couch football at Lebanon High School, is now an assistant principal at Walter J. Baird Middle School. Their sons play football for Cumberland University and Lebanon High School. 

There are also other fireworks companies with which to sign contracts, such as Mid-America Distributors in Smyrna, B&B Fireworks, Thunderdome Fireworks and many more.

Amanda Johnson and her husband, sheriff’s Deputy Rusty Johnson, have sold fireworks in Lebanon for seven years. Their stand is located in the parking lot next of Goodwill and Big Lots, and Amanda Johnson said they’ve learned a lot over the years. The displays are carefully built with plenty of room for shoppers to move around. The Johnsons also installed a security system and put up a fence around the perimeter of the tent. They sign a contract with Mid-America Distribution Fireworks.

“It is a lot of hard work and a lot of hot work,” Johnson said. 

They used to run the stand as a two-person husband-and-wife team, but Amanda Johnson said they decided to hire some employees to help out after her husband suffered a heat stroke the year of the drought. Other than family, they employ four people at their stand. 

“It’s just too risky to be in the heat that long,” Johnson said. “It’s worth the little bit of extra money to get a good night’s rest and be able to go home.”

The Johnsons get help from their children as well as their employees, and enjoy seeing the same people stop by year after year. Whatever they don’t sell is taken back to the Mid-America warehouse in Smyrna. 

“Usually we’ll sell everything that’s in here plus some, so we don’t take back very much,” Johnson said. 

Workers are always present at fireworks stands, even after they close for the evening. Jordan said they see all kinds of activity on West Main Street with the location close to Whiskey River Saloon and Kroger. 

“You see everything there is to see on this corner,” Jordan said. 

With the aftermath of Tropical Storm Cindy rolling toward Tennessee, fireworks tents are getting ready to batten down the hatches for some stormy weather. 

“Hopefully this rain won’t flood us the next few days,” Johnson said. If it’s raining pretty heavy we close all the sides. Of course if it storms, really storms, we let all the sides down and tie them down to the stakes outside so that nothing gets wet.” 

They also put plastic over the fireworks to protect them and won’t sell anything that gets wet to customers.  

Jordan worries about the coming storm and has prepared with plastic to put over the products, and if necessary, may move them into his trailer. 

“If it gets wet there’s nothing you can do; it’s just a loss,” Jordan said.  

Besides weather worries, fireworks sellers are excited to see their loyal customers come back again.

“We’ve already had people from last year come back,” said Kirsten Redic, a helper at Jordan’s stand. Jordan said one of his favorite parts of running the stand is meeting people both new and some he hasn’t seen in years. 

Other stands echoed the sentiment. 

“We have several repeat customers because they’ve bought from us now for years,” Brown said. 

Most fireworks stands open tent flaps at 9 a.m. and close at 10 p.m. on weeknights and 11 p.m. on weekends. Sales will continue until July 5. No sales will be made on or after July 6. 

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