Klismith family via AP file
In this family photo, fireworks burst at the June 17 wedding celebration of Jason Klismith and Beth Jenkin in Stevens Point, Wis.
updated 7/2/2006 4:28:32 PM ET 2006-07-02T20:28:32

Newlyweds no longer have to wait until the honeymoon for the fireworks to begin.

When Beth Jenkin married Jason Klismith this month in Stevens Point, her father orchestrated a pyrotechnic show that showered the sky with bursts of blue and streaks of red.

The show awed the guests and made his daughter’s wedding memorable, said Tom Spranger, 61, a lumberyard owner who says he shot fireworks illegally for 50 years before training to fire them for a licensed firm.

“Right now, people only think of fireworks for holidays, but shows like this will definitely become more common,” said Spranger, who lives in Plover, Wis.

The trend has already begun, according to Jeff Bartolotta, president of the Delafield, Wis.-based Bartolotta Fireworks Co., about 30 miles west of Milwaukee.

“We’ve done shows for corporate events, graduation parties, high school homecomings, even for funerals,” he said. “We haven’t done one for a divorce yet but I think that’s coming.”

The average person thinks fireworks shows are so expensive that only large cities and sports and entertainment arenas can afford to stage them, industry experts say. But with a 10-minute show costing about $1,000, the shows can fit into the budgets of average folks looking to make special celebrations even more memorable, Bartolotta said.

He estimates his company already performed at 10 private functions in 2006 with another two dozen planned for later this year. That’s about double the number his company staged last year, partly because the company started advertising in bridal magazines, he said.

Planning a fireworks show requires about a 30-day lead time to apply for the necessary permits and scout the site for a launching area sufficiently removed from onlookers, industry officials say.

Room to work
To be safe, fireworks launchers allow at least 70 feet of separation from viewers for every inch of a fireworks shell’s radius, Bartolotta said. For private parties, pyrotechnicians, or “pyros,” often use shells with a radius between three and six inches. That means the pyros could need an area that has no people or fire hazards within 420 feet in any direction, sometimes a challenging proposition.

Still, private shows tend to be more poignant than public shows because city officials who book public productions tend to favor quantity over quality, said Pete Gillenberg, the operations manager for Fireworks America in Lakeside, Calif.

“When we work with people, we take pride in choreographing our shows so they’re artistic and different from anybody else’s,” he said.

Spranger personalized his daughter’s show by mounting on a rail system two flaming-red hearts 12 feet high. Each had the name of one newlywed, and as the hearts neared, the word “forever” lit up beneath them.

Gillenberg said his 30-person firm, located in a suburb of San Diego, does 35 to 40 private shows a year, up from six or seven shows in 2000.

“The Internet, word of mouth, that’s been big,” he said. “We also have wedding planners who use us once and then keep coming back.”

Weddings in Southern California
It’s not surprising that the fireworks business is, well, booming in southern California because the clients there are generally staging celebrity weddings, said Julie L. Heckman, the executive director of the American Pyrotechnics Association in Bethesda, Md.

“In Wisconsin, you’re probably dealing with smaller companies who are willing to do smaller-scale weddings,” she said.

Bartolotta Fireworks has eight full-time employees but it sends out about 450 part-time employees in the days leading up to and including July Fourth.

Officials at fireworks companies say Fourth of July festivities account for only about a quarter of their annual revenue. The other events have traditionally included church celebrations or festivals in small cities, but weddings and other private ceremonies represent a vital new market, Heckman said.

John Petrash, who co-owns Specialty Fireworks in Gleason, Wis. with his wife Diane, thinks his industry’s future is as bright as a Roman candle.

“People never get tired of fireworks. The sights, the sounds, the smell, the good times, the memories, they all go hand in hand,” he said. “As more people realize how affordable this is, the sky’s the limit.”

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