A dark Fourth of July for some cities

Budget cuts are forcing many towns to scrap fireworks shows, though in some, local residents and businesses have stepped up to keep the tradition going.

When dusk turns to darkness this Fourth of July, the only sparkle in the sky above many cash-strapped cities and towns will be the night stars.

Annual fireworks displays are being nixed from large cities such as San Jose, Calif., to small towns like Millville, N.J., in a bid to save money as municipalities nationwide struggle to find ways to overcome recessionary woes, keep from laying off municipal workers, or cut school budgets.

In Mesa, Ariz., city officials canceled their Independence Day pyrotechnic show not because the city couldn't afford to pay for it, but because the organization that funds it couldn't come up with the $35,000 for the event. Cash was just too "hard to get" this year, officials said.

In Seattle, corporate sponsor Ivar's Seafood Restaurant walked away from its well-known display of pyrotechnics over Elliott Bay.

But in Tucson, Ariz., and Lowell, Mass., citizen outcry over plans to axe holiday fireworks led those cities to find alternative funding to keep their skies aglow on Saturday.

When Sam Douglas, a web developer in Tucson, learned that his city had decided to forgo fireworks this year, he promptly created a website calling for donations to save the celebration.

"The decision came out in the paper in the morning, and I had a functioning site ready to take donations up by later afternoon…. After about a day and a half, I had about $200 from small private donations, some as low as $5. I had a couple thousand in verbal commitments from some local businesses," said Mr. Douglas in an e-mail response to questions.

Local community groups and businesses ended up footing the bill for Tucson's $34,000 show and Douglas is returning the money he raised. If the city had scrapped the show, it would have been the first time in 25 years celebrating the Fourth of July without glittering plumes of red, white, and blue.

"For the sake of the hundreds of thousands of Tucson residents who will get to enjoy a Fourth of July celebration, I'm glad that the fireworks are back on," said Douglas. But he added that the city could have found the money if it deemed the celebrations a priority, and those who made the initial decision to cancel them might be penalized in the elections.

Residents of the small town of Pittsburg, Kan., also passed the hat to keep the bang in their Independence Day bash. Likewise, residents in Ashtabula, Ohio, outside Cleveland, saved their fireworks display from being called off.

In fact, the fireworks display industry has seen only a 3 to 5 percent dip in business this year due to the recession, says Julie Heckman, executive director of the American Pyrotechnics Association. The sale of backyard fireworks has been worse hit. Americans bought 186 million pounds of fireworks last year compared with 255 million pounds in 2005.

While some cities are forgoing fireworks, some 14,000 fireworks shows are planned for Saturday night. And the country's biggest displays – New York, Boston, and Washington – appear to be unchanged by the recession.

For most Americans, says Ms. Heckman, fireworks will be only a short drive away. Even if your own town has dark skies this Independence Day, she says, "it's not like the whole area is going to go dark on July 4."

Monitor intern Tracey Samuelson contributed to this report.

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