WEST PARIS — The LePage administration has been touting the economic effects of fireworks legalization, and two Oxford Hills businesses are feeling the benefits.
Aah Fireworks in West Paris and Havoc Fireworks reported huge sales through the Fourth of July, and both say sales are still going well. Havoc has four employees, and Aah fireworks has two full-time and six seasonal and part-time employees.
Andre Vandenbulcke, owner of Aah Fireworks, started his business in 2007. He has Aah-branded fireworks manufactured in China then imports them to the United States. He sells dozens of different Aah Fireworks products in Texas, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Iowa, Florida and now Maine. He operates several seasonal fireworks stands in San Antonio, Texas.
Vandenbulcke said the legalization of fireworks in Maine allowed him to move back to the area. A 2000 graduate of Gould Academy in Bethel, Vandenbulcke had been operating out of an office in Massachusetts until recently.
“I didn't think there was ever going to be a law that legalized fireworks,” he said. “I was sort of shocked when it went through.”
Fireworks became legal in Maine on Jan. 1 for the first time in 63 years. Aah Fireworks' West Paris store is one of a dozen fireworks stores to open since then. Vandenbulcke said his West Paris store doubles as a showroom for his brand, and he's been surprised with the volume of retail sales. “It's definitely a lot better than I thought.”
After a month of looking at locations, he chose the location on Penley Avenue, about a mile and a half off Route 26. He said the store is “off the beaten path” but people are still finding it.
Beyond his store, he's converting the former Penley Mill in West Paris into a 17,000-square-foot warehouse from which to ship fireworks nationwide. Construction is set to begin in August. On Thursday, there were more than a dozen shipping containers filled with fireworks parked next to the store.
Now that July 4 has passed, Vandenbulcke said he's promoting his fireworks for events like weddings and reunions. There are fireworks products in his store called “Graduation” and “Sweet 16.” He said sales haven't slowed much.
Chris Lee, an employee at Havoc Fireworks on Route 26 in Paris, said the business is doing well. Even with July 4 over, “people still want fireworks,” he said.
“It blew everything we expected out of the water,” Lee said. Havoc Fireworks opened in May and has been selling fireworks briskly since. Lee said much of the business is from local and repeat customers.
Local police departments and selectmen have received noise complaints about fireworks lately. Vandenbulcke said he's reminding customers to be considerate. If complaints continue, he's worried more towns could start regulating fireworks use. “That's not good for business,” he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.