PARIS — Catherine Richards' new store wasn't even open yet when customers started clamoring to buy.
They wanted fireworks, and they just couldn't wait.
"I got my sign put up yesterday and ever since then, the phone's been ringing off the hook," Richards said Thursday.
Havoc Fireworks opens Friday on Route 26 in Paris, one of five stores licensed in Maine. It joins Patriot Fireworks, which opened in Monmouth about two weeks ago, as well as stores that recently opened or are slated to open in Edgecomb, Manchester and Winslow.
Another handful of stores have applied for state licenses and are close to finalizing the approval process, including two in Scarborough and one each in Newport, Old Town and Wiscasset, according to the State Fire Marshal's Office.
Less than six months after they became legal in Maine, fireworks are coming to town.
"I've been saying we're going to have about 11 (stores) by July Fourth," said Richard Taylor, senior research and planning analyst with the State Fire Marshal's Office.
State lawmakers last year legalized the sale and use of fireworks in Maine. The new law went into effect Jan. 1, but no businesses immediately applied for a license to sell.
That's changed in recent months.
Jay Blais and his business partner, Tim Bolduc, are part of the first wave. They opened Patriot Fireworks in a vacant building on Route 202 in Monmouth. The store offers 1,200 square feet of retail space, and the pair has stocked it with firecrackers and other fireworks.
In business together since high school, the men own a flooring company in Sabattus. When the state law passed, they considered it time for a new venture.
"Someone had to do it," Blais said. "It seemed like a good idea. If we didn't do it, someone else would."
To meet licensing requirements, the men outfitted the building with a sprinkler system, a fire alarm that rings to the fire department and a burglar alarm that rings to the police department. They also painted with fireproof paint.
"The fire marshal was involved quite a bit and he was really helpful. He walked us through it and we helped each other. The state was actually really helpful and not hard to deal with. And the town, the town was awesome," Blais said.
Open less than two weeks, Patriot Fireworks has seen steady traffic. Some customers want fireworks to shoot off now. Some want to stock up for the Fourth of July. Others just want to check out the place.
"A lot of people buy a little bit, they like it and they buy more," Blais said.
Richards will find out this weekend how business will be for Havoc Fireworks, but she's already gotten an inkling. People wanted to shop before her doors were open and her shelves were fully stocked.
"I'm pretty optimistic at this point," she said.
A tax accountant, Richards has no experience with retail sales or fireworks, but her fiance Peter Libby does. He'd worked in fireworks stores in New Hampshire. He will operate the Paris store with her.
The store, which officially opens Friday, will be open seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., with extended hours for holidays. Richards expects the business will be seasonal, but she may open a couple of days a week during the winter if business is good enough.
Blais, too, is considering making Patriot Fireworks seasonal. For now, it's also open seven days a week.
Neither business has employees.
Although no one knows how many fireworks stores will ultimately open in Maine, New Hampshire has around 30 stores, according to Taylor at the fire marshal's office. He speculates another 10 will open in Maine after this year.
While state law now allows fireworks, towns and cities can set their own rules or ban the explosives outright. Many large cities, including Auburn, Portland and Bangor, have banned their use and sale. Lewiston has banned the sale of fireworks but allows their use in limited areas on certain days of the year.
The Maine Fire Marshal's Office maintains a list of municipalities that restrict or prohibit fireworks. That list can be found at http://tinyurl.com/82vgrq8, under "Municipal Restrictions and Prohibitions on Consumer Fireworks."
Towns and cities are required to notify the office of any fireworks ordinance within 60 days, but some towns have not done so and others have created their ordinance within the last 60 days, so the list is not complete.