Drivers may recently have noticed brightly colored tents along Warren Avenue, Highland Avenue and Taunton Avenue emblazoned with the word "Fireworks!"
Despite objections by Mayor Bruce Rogers, three entities were granted hawkers licenses to sell fireworks during the June 7 East Providence City Council meeting. The companies approved were American Promotional Events Inc., BJ Alan Phantom Fireworks, and Keystone Fireworks. All three organizations have branches nationwide. Other companies were approved at a previous meeting.
The hawkers' licenses are for 60 days, though most tents only began selling their merchandise this past weekend and will pack up shortly after the Fourth of July. The hawkers' tents were required to undergo inspection by the city's fire officials and can only sell Rhode Island state legal consumer fireworks, most of which are ground-based.
Rhode Island legalized fireworks in June 2010, making this year the first that companies have had time to plan ahead to set up several tents.
Carolyn Foster, regional manager of BJ Alan Phantom Fireworks, said that she expects sales to be better this year compared to last when her company only had seven tents in Rhode Island. BJ Alan Phantom Fireworks has 17 tents in the region this year.
"The economy is doing better, people are purchasing more fireworks," she said. "The general trending is better."
Keystone Fireworks did not have any tents last year, but now operates six locations in the area, according to regional vice-president Mike Still. The workers in their regional tents are contractually hired by the company.
Both Keystone and BJ Phantom emphasized that they were selling legal fireworks. Rhode Island state law specifies that fireworks must be "ground or hand-held sparkling devices" and cannot "launch a projectile and/or make a bang."
"We do not sell aerial fireworks or explosives," Foster said. She also said that most of the companies fireworks were imported from China, although some of the sparklers were manufactured at the BJ Phantom headquarters in Ohio.
In addition to adhering to sale restrictions, the applicants for hawkers' licenses went through the city bureaucracy to ensure the legality of their establishment.
"Most states have a temporary business license for fireworks sales," Still of Keystone Fireworks said. "We make sure to obtain a business license from the state, whether it be a hawkers license or another temporary one."
Despite the willingness on the hawkers' part to abide by local laws, their applications for licenses were still met with some skepticism.
"It's a problem for business owners, who have taxes to pay," Mayor Rogers said. "Hawkers only have to pay a small amount for a license…they take sales away from local stores."
The mayor suggested that hawker fees be raised or enforcing a limitation on the number of hawkers.
"Any businessman who is paying taxes should be able to make an honest living," he said.
Councilwoman Katie Kleyla revisited the licenses at Tuesday night's council meeting, saying that it was time for the city to reconsider how much it charges for its licenses so that East Providence is more in line with other cities. The council unanimously passed her motion to refer the matter to the law department.