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Fourth of July Fireworks Canceled Across U.S. as Coronavirus Surges

The annual Big Bay Boom over San Diego will be quiet this year. The skies over Lake Tahoe, home to the Lights on the Lake celebration, will be dark.

Also falling silent will be the IPL Downtown Freedom Blast in Indianapolis; the Patriots Point Blast in Charleston, S.C.; and the Legacy Blast in Lee’s Summit, Mo.

Across the country, the coronavirus pandemic has brought to a halt a tradition of summer: Fourth of July fireworks.

As many as 80 percent of community fireworks displays in large cities and small rural towns have been canceled this year over fear that they would create a social distancing nightmare.

For the 150 companies across the country that thrill spectators with their booming, colorful explosions in the skies, the two weeks around the July Fourth holiday make up about three-quarters of their revenue. The numerous cancellations this year, they say, are taking a significant financial toll on their businesses, many of them family owned for generations.

With July Fourth falling on a weekend, giving communities extra days to host events, “we were looking at a record year,” said James Souza, the fifth generation of his family to operate Pyro Spectaculars by Souza from California. “But of the 400 shows we expected to do around the holiday, we’ll be lucky if we do 40,” he said, noting that he had been receiving daily calls with cancellations or program changes from event planners.

Image
Credit…Da’Shaunae Marisa for The New York Times

Included in the 40 shows that Mr. Souza will produce this year are the Mount Rushmore show in South Dakota and, for the 36th consecutive year, the Macy’s fireworks show in New York City. The Macy’s show has been changed to five-minute displays in undisclosed locations throughout the week that are designed to be watched from outside without leaving home. The grand finale on July Fourth, also from an undisclosed location, will be televised.

A few companies that specialize in large fireworks displays also sell Roman candles, spinners and sparklers for individuals to use in their backyards, a business that is booming this year. But it has also created headaches in cities like New York City, Chicago and Los Angeles, where fireworks are illegal. In Utah, a person setting off fireworks sparked a wildfire over the weekend and forced evacuations of homes 30 miles south of Salt Lake City.

Some of the fireworks display companies have, over the past decade or so, branched out to broader entertainment arenas, creating “ooohs” and “aaahhs” at major- and minor-league baseball stadiums as well as complex pyrotechnics for rock concerts, music festivals, and indoor basketball and hockey games.

The vast majority of those sports games and entertainment events were also canceled this year. When they ultimately resume, they may initially do so without spectators, making fireworks unnecessary.

Image

Credit…Da’Shaunae Marisa for The New York Times

“I’ve had days where I’ve lost $150,000 of business from cancellations,” said Roberto Sorgi, the fifth generation of the family that runs American Fireworks in Hudson, Ohio. “We’re going to lose 50 to 75 percent of our business from the Fourth of July, and there are no clear signs of when concerts or mass gatherings will be allowed again, so we may not have a third or fourth quarter this year. It is a very scary road ahead for all of us.”

Most of the fireworks companies received money through the federal Paycheck Protection Program and the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program. But they said it wasn’t enough.

That’s because the fireworks industry has a ton of upfront expenses. The companies start buying millions of dollars’ worth of fireworks nearly a year in advance, and paid hefty insurance premiums this year to cover the planned events.

“I’m sitting on millions of dollars, tons and tons of explosives, that have to be stored very specifically,” Mr. Souza said, “which, for us, is in 24 military-style bunkers that we have to lease, and those leases are now at a premium.”

He added: “We’ve maxed out all of our lines of credit. I don’t know how I’m going to cover expenses this year.”

The industry hopes Congress will earmark $175 million for it in another stimulus bill, if one is passed.

Image

Credit…Da’Shaunae Marisa for The New York Times

“We’re asking for relief in the next Senate Covid package to address the unique and specific costs to this industry,” said Julie Heckman, the executive director of the American Pyrotechnics Association. “Fireworks display companies will be one of the last industries to reopen, and that may not happen until May of 2021.”

Even before the coronavirus outbreak, the year was shaping up to be a challenging one for many in the fireworks industry.

Last summer, the top-of-mind concern for many was whether President Trump would include fireworks in his tariffs on Chinese imports. About 95 percent of the world’s fireworks are made in China.

Fireworks were eventually excluded from the tariffs, but then China halted manufacturing late last year after an explosion in a factory in Liuyang, where most of the world’s fireworks are made. Then, the coronavirus outbreak in China affected key ports where fireworks are shipped all over the world.

“The first wave of coronavirus hit in China and we were like, ‘Oh, my god, we’re not going to get any of our products,’” Mr. Sorgi said. “Everyone started to put in backup orders. Then, all of the sudden, they open up and there’s no way to cancel the orders because they’re already on the boats from China. Every fireworks display company is overstuffed with product.”

And in the days leading up to the holiday, firework display companies say they have been receiving calls from civic leaders, changing where and how the fireworks will be staged in order to maintain social distancing among spectators.

Image

Credit…Da’Shaunae Marisa for The New York Times

Some, like Seven Springs Mountain Resort in Champion, Pa., are hosting drive-in fireworks, where visitors park and stay by their cars. Others, like West Palm Beach, Fla., and New York City, are planning to have multiple shows that can be seen from homes.

“We’ve changed a number of the displays to have the fireworks go off at a high level so that people can see the entire display from different locations,” said George Zambelli, the third generation of the family that runs Zambelli Fireworks in Warrendale, Pa. The Zambelli family has put on shows at the White House for presidents including John F. Kennedy and Jimmy Carter, as well as for the Bush family at its Kennebunkport estate in Maine.

This year, Mr. Zambelli said, 80 percent of the company’s July Fourth shows have been canceled.

Stephen Vitale, the fourth generation of the family to run Pyrotecnico in New Castle, Pa., said about 160 of the 600 shows he expected to do this Fourth of July would happen.

“The first 15 days of May were incredibly devastating,” Mr. Vitale said. “Every call was a bad call, a cancellation.”

Image

Credit…Da’Shaunae Marisa for The New York Times

Noting that many clients are municipal parks and recreation departments and that an 18- to 20-minute show can cost anywhere from $5,000 to $200,000, Mr. Vitale and others are worried about what may happen next year.

“Right now, the cancellations are pandemic driven,” he said. “But next year, I believe it will be more money driven. Budgets are going to get cut.”

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‘Sitting on Millions of Dollars’ and Dying to Blow It: Not This July 4

The annual Big Bay Boom over San Diego will be quiet this year. The skies over Lake Tahoe, home to the Lights on the Lake celebration, will be dark.

Also falling silent will be the IPL Downtown Freedom Blast in Indianapolis; the Patriots Point Blast in Charleston, S.C.; and the Legacy Blast in Lee’s Summit, Mo.

Across the country, the coronavirus pandemic has brought to a halt a tradition of summer: Fourth of July fireworks.

As many as 80 percent of community fireworks displays in large cities and small rural towns have been canceled this year over fear that they would create a social distancing nightmare.

For the 150 companies across the country that thrill spectators with their booming, colorful explosions in the skies, the two weeks around the July Fourth holiday make up about three-quarters of their revenue. The numerous cancellations this year, they say, are taking a significant financial toll on their businesses, many of them family owned for generations.

With July Fourth falling on a weekend, giving communities extra days to host events, “we were looking at a record year,” said James Souza, the fifth generation of his family to operate Pyro Spectaculars by Souza from California. “But of the 400 shows we expected to do around the holiday, we’ll be lucky if we do 40,” he said, noting that he had been receiving daily calls with cancellations or program changes from event planners.

Image
Credit…Da’Shaunae Marisa for The New York Times

Included in the 40 shows that Mr. Souza will produce this year are the Mount Rushmore show in South Dakota and, for the 36th consecutive year, the Macy’s fireworks show in New York City. The Macy’s show has been changed to five-minute displays in undisclosed locations throughout the week that are designed to be watched from outside without leaving home. The grand finale on July Fourth, also from an undisclosed location, will be televised.

A few companies that specialize in large fireworks displays also sell Roman candles, spinners and sparklers for individuals to use in their backyards, a business that is booming this year. But it has also created headaches in cities like New York City, Chicago and Los Angeles, where fireworks are illegal. In Utah, a person setting off fireworks sparked a wildfire over the weekend and forced evacuations of homes 30 miles south of Salt Lake City.

Some of the fireworks display companies have, over the past decade or so, branched out to broader entertainment arenas, creating “ooohs” and “aaahhs” at major- and minor-league baseball stadiums as well as complex pyrotechnics for rock concerts, music festivals, and indoor basketball and hockey games.

The vast majority of those sports games and entertainment events were also canceled this year. When they ultimately resume, they may initially do so without spectators, making fireworks unnecessary.

Image

Credit…Da’Shaunae Marisa for The New York Times

“I’ve had days where I’ve lost $150,000 of business from cancellations,” said Roberto Sorgi, the fifth generation of the family that runs American Fireworks in Hudson, Ohio. “We’re going to lose 50 to 75 percent of our business from the Fourth of July, and there are no clear signs of when concerts or mass gatherings will be allowed again, so we may not have a third or fourth quarter this year. It is a very scary road ahead for all of us.”

Most of the fireworks companies received money through the federal Paycheck Protection Program and the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program. But they said it wasn’t enough.

That’s because the fireworks industry has a ton of upfront expenses. The companies start buying millions of dollars’ worth of fireworks nearly a year in advance, and paid hefty insurance premiums this year to cover the planned events.

“I’m sitting on millions of dollars, tons and tons of explosives, that have to be stored very specifically,” Mr. Souza said, “which, for us, is in 24 military-style bunkers that we have to lease, and those leases are now at a premium.”

He added: “We’ve maxed out all of our lines of credit. I don’t know how I’m going to cover expenses this year.”

The industry hopes Congress will earmark $175 million for it in another stimulus bill, if one is passed.

Image

Credit…Da’Shaunae Marisa for The New York Times

“We’re asking for relief in the next Senate Covid package to address the unique and specific costs to this industry,” said Julie Heckman, the executive director of the American Pyrotechnics Association. “Fireworks display companies will be one of the last industries to reopen, and that may not happen until May of 2021.”

Even before the coronavirus outbreak, the year was shaping up to be a challenging one for many in the fireworks industry.

Last summer, the top-of-mind concern for many was whether President Trump would include fireworks in his tariffs on Chinese imports. About 95 percent of the world’s fireworks are made in China.

Fireworks were eventually excluded from the tariffs, but then China halted manufacturing late last year after an explosion in a factory in Liuyang, where most of the world’s fireworks are made. Then, the coronavirus outbreak in China affected key ports where fireworks are shipped all over the world.

“The first wave of coronavirus hit in China and we were like, ‘Oh, my god, we’re not going to get any of our products,’” Mr. Sorgi said. “Everyone started to put in backup orders. Then, all of the sudden, they open up and there’s no way to cancel the orders because they’re already on the boats from China. Every fireworks display company is overstuffed with product.”

And in the days leading up to the holiday, firework display companies say they have been receiving calls from civic leaders, changing where and how the fireworks will be staged in order to maintain social distancing among spectators.

Image

Credit…Da’Shaunae Marisa for The New York Times

Some, like Seven Springs Mountain Resort in Champion, Pa., are hosting drive-in fireworks, where visitors park and stay by their cars. Others, like West Palm Beach, Fla., and New York City, are planning to have multiple shows that can be seen from homes.

“We’ve changed a number of the displays to have the fireworks go off at a high level so that people can see the entire display from different locations,” said George Zambelli, the third generation of the family that runs Zambelli Fireworks in Warrendale, Pa. The Zambelli family has put on shows at the White House for presidents including John F. Kennedy and Jimmy Carter, as well as for the Bush family at its Kennebunkport estate in Maine.

This year, Mr. Zambelli said, 80 percent of the company’s July Fourth shows have been canceled.

Stephen Vitale, the fourth generation of the family to run Pyrotecnico in New Castle, Pa., said about 160 of the 600 shows he expected to do this Fourth of July would happen.

“The first 15 days of May were incredibly devastating,” Mr. Vitale said. “Every call was a bad call, a cancellation.”

Image

Credit…Da’Shaunae Marisa for The New York Times

Noting that many clients are municipal parks and recreation departments and that an 18- to 20-minute show can cost anywhere from $5,000 to $200,000, Mr. Vitale and others are worried about what may happen next year.

“Right now, the cancellations are pandemic driven,” he said. “But next year, I believe it will be more money driven. Budgets are going to get cut.”

Read More

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Retail Sales Rebounded in May, but the Road Back Is Long

Retail sales rebounded sharply in May as thousands of stores and restaurants reopened after lockdowns were lifted and federal stimulus checks and tax refunds fueled a burst of spending, a sign that the United States economy is lurching back to life.

But while the 17.7 percent rise in sales reported on Tuesday is the largest monthly surge on record, the underlying data presents a more complicated picture and shows just how arduous an economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic will be.

The May numbers followed two months of record declines, and overall sales were still down 8 percent from February. Some categories, like clothing, were down as much as 63 percent from a year earlier. And many of the stores and restaurants that welcomed back customers last month did so with fewer employees, reflecting a permanently altered retail landscape and an ominous sign for the labor market.

“I think a lot of it is lockdown fatigue,” said Beth Ann Bovino, chief U.S. economist at S&P Global. “I would caution not to be fooled by this large gain. We still have a long way to go in repairing the economy.”

May’s retail sales figures became the latest data point fueling the debate in Washington and on Wall Street about whether a broad reopening of businesses will cause the economy to snap back quickly or if additional stimulus measures are needed.

President Trump immediately seized on the positive monthly figures as evidence that a recovery was taking hold. “Looks like a BIG DAY FOR THE STOCK MARKET, AND JOBS!” he wrote on Twitter minutes after the Commerce Department released the numbers.

Image
Credit…September Dawn Bottoms/The New York Times

But Jerome H. Powell, chair of the Federal Reserve, sounded a more cautionary note around the broader health of the economy on Tuesday. Mr. Powell told the Senate Banking Committee that even as some parts of the economy were seeing a modest rebound, “levels of output and employment remain far below their pre-pandemic levels, and significant uncertainty remains about the timing and strength of the recovery.”

“Until the public is confident that the disease is contained, a full recovery is unlikely,” he said. “The longer the downturn lasts, the greater the potential for longer-term damage from permanent job loss and business closures.”

The mixed signals about the economy fueled volatile trading on Wall Street. Stocks rallied in the morning after the retail numbers were released. But many of those gains soon evaporated, as investors processed the economy’s murky longer-term outlook. By early afternoon, the market had sprung back, with the S&P 500 ending the day up 1.9 percent.

The increase in total retail sales followed a 14.7 percent drop in April, the largest monthly decline in nearly three decades of record-keeping, and an 8.3 percent decline in March.

Economists had expected a rebound from April, when widespread business closures drove retail sales to their lowest level since 2013, though the gain was greater than some had expected.




Monthly Retail Sales

$500 billion

-7.9%

 

450

RECESSIONS

-21.8%

400

Change from

Feb. 2020 level

350

2006

2008

2010

2012

2014

2016

2018

2020

Monthly retail and food sales

$500 billion

-7.9%

 

450

RECESSIONS

-21.8%

400

Change from

Feb. 2020 level

350

’06

’08

’10

’12

’14

’16

’18

’20


Seasonally adjusted

Source: Commerce Department

By The New York Times

After more than a month of quarantine, May brought a tentative restart of brick-and-mortar retailing across most of the country, with major chains like Macy’s and Gap reopening hundreds of stores. Some restaurants that had either closed or shifted their business to delivery and curbside pickup also reopened for in-person dining.

Driving some of the sales gains were warm weather, a sense of relief after weeks cooped up at home and optimism from some that the worst of the pandemic could be over. But they were also lifted by stimulus money — totaling $1,200 per recipient, plus $500 per child — that will run out in the coming months, with no indications that Congress intends to pass another round of assistance.

A jump in spending on motor vehicles and at restaurants and bars accounted for just over half of the overall gain in sales. Sales at clothing and clothing accessories stores, which were hit especially hard by the closures, rose 188 percent in May, while spending at furniture and home furnishing stores jumped 90 percent. Still, clothing sales were down 63 percent from a year earlier, while furniture was down 22 percent.




Change in May

retail sales from:

Last

month

Last

year

Clothing

+188%

–63

%

Furniture/furnishings

–22

+90

Sporting goods/

hobbies/musical

instruments/books

+5%

+88

Electronics/appliances

+51

–30

Motor vehicles/parts

+44

–4

Food service/

drink places

+29

–39

Total retail sales

+18

–6

Miscellaneous

+14

–23

Gas stations

+13

–31

Building materials/

garden supplies

+11

+16

Nonstore retailers

+9

+31

General merch.

+6

n.c.

Food/drink stores

+2

+15

Health/personal care

n.c.

–10

Change in May

retail sales from:

Last month

Last year

Clothing

+

188

%

63

%

Furniture/furnishings

+

90

22

Sporting goods/hobbies/

musical instruments/books

+

88

+5

%

Electronics/appliances

+

51

30

Motor vehicles/parts

+

44

4

Food service/drink places

+

29

39

Total retail sales

+

18

6

Miscellaneous

+

14

23

Gas stations

+

13

31

Building materials/

garden supplies

+

11

+16

Nonstore retailers

+

9

+31

General merchandise

6

+

n.c.

Food/drink stores

+

2

+15

Health/personal care

n.c.

10


Note: Data are the percentage change to May 2020 from April 2020 and May 2019, and are based on seasonally adjusted figures.

Source: Commerce Department

By The New York Times

No matter how fleeting, the rebound in May was a welcome boost, especially for small businesses like the Bookstore of Gloucester, an independent bookseller in Gloucester, Mass.

The store carries a selection of best sellers, books on race and books on the city’s maritime history. Even though it was selling only through curbside pickup and mailing out orders, sales were not much lower than in May last year.

“We were pleasantly surprised,” said Nicole Dahlmer, an employee.

She attributed the relatively robust sales to a loyal customer base and to longer waits at large booksellers like Amazon during the pandemic.

“The real test is if tourism holds up this summer,” said Ms. Dahlmer, who usually is paid to work in the store but has been working on a volunteer basis to help out the owner during the pandemic. She said she expected to return to a paid position soon.

Aneta Markowska, the chief financial economist for the investment bank Jefferies, said that while she had anticipated a jump in retail sales in May, it was off “a pretty low hurdle.” The bigger question was the sustainability of any improvement, since spending was bolstered by tax refunds and government stimulus efforts.

“By the time we get into July, those tax refunds will probably be largely spent,” Ms. Markowska said, “and then you’re back to, hey, what’s the underlying employment growth? Because that’s going to have to be the key driver of spending going forward.”

The positive numbers in May also mask some of the intense strain on businesses.

While his White Electric Coffee shop in Providence, R.I., was closed, Tom Toupin sold a special “Stay at Home” brew online, donating 20 percent of the sales to the state’s Covid-19 relief fund.

In preparing to reopen this month, Mr. Toupin spent about $1,000 on a device that enables contactless payments and reconfigured the front counter and register to create more distance between employees and customers.

But in the first few days after reopening, the shop had about 60 customers a day, down from a typical 350. Mr. Toupin has had to waste food because he was not sure how many customers would come, he said. Five people are working in the shop now, down from the usual team of a dozen.

  • Frequently Asked Questions and Advice

    Updated June 16, 2020

    • What is pandemic paid leave?

      The coronavirus emergency relief package gives many American workers paid leave if they need to take time off because of the virus. It gives qualified workers two weeks of paid sick leave if they are ill, quarantined or seeking diagnosis or preventive care for coronavirus, or if they are caring for sick family members. It gives 12 weeks of paid leave to people caring for children whose schools are closed or whose child care provider is unavailable because of the coronavirus. It is the first time the United States has had widespread federally mandated paid leave, and includes people who don’t typically get such benefits, like part-time and gig economy workers. But the measure excludes at least half of private-sector workers, including those at the country’s largest employers, and gives small employers significant leeway to deny leave.

    • Does asymptomatic transmission of Covid-19 happen?

      So far, the evidence seems to show it does. A widely cited paper published in April suggests that people are most infectious about two days before the onset of coronavirus symptoms and estimated that 44 percent of new infections were a result of transmission from people who were not yet showing symptoms. Recently, a top expert at the World Health Organization stated that transmission of the coronavirus by people who did not have symptoms was “very rare,” but she later walked back that statement.

    • What’s the risk of catching coronavirus from a surface?

      Touching contaminated objects and then infecting ourselves with the germs is not typically how the virus spreads. But it can happen. A number of studies of flu, rhinovirus, coronavirus and other microbes have shown that respiratory illnesses, including the new coronavirus, can spread by touching contaminated surfaces, particularly in places like day care centers, offices and hospitals. But a long chain of events has to happen for the disease to spread that way. The best way to protect yourself from coronavirus — whether it’s surface transmission or close human contact — is still social distancing, washing your hands, not touching your face and wearing masks.

    • How does blood type influence coronavirus?

      A study by European scientists is the first to document a strong statistical link between genetic variations and Covid-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus. Having Type A blood was linked to a 50 percent increase in the likelihood that a patient would need to get oxygen or to go on a ventilator, according to the new study.

    • How many people have lost their jobs due to coronavirus in the U.S.?

      The unemployment rate fell to 13.3 percent in May, the Labor Department said on June 5, an unexpected improvement in the nation’s job market as hiring rebounded faster than economists expected. Economists had forecast the unemployment rate to increase to as much as 20 percent, after it hit 14.7 percent in April, which was the highest since the government began keeping official statistics after World War II. But the unemployment rate dipped instead, with employers adding 2.5 million jobs, after more than 20 million jobs were lost in April.

    • Will protests set off a second viral wave of coronavirus?

      Mass protests against police brutality that have brought thousands of people onto the streets in cities across America are raising the specter of new coronavirus outbreaks, prompting political leaders, physicians and public health experts to warn that the crowds could cause a surge in cases. While many political leaders affirmed the right of protesters to express themselves, they urged the demonstrators to wear face masks and maintain social distancing, both to protect themselves and to prevent further community spread of the virus. Some infectious disease experts were reassured by the fact that the protests were held outdoors, saying the open air settings could mitigate the risk of transmission.

    • My state is reopening. Is it safe to go out?

      States are reopening bit by bit. This means that more public spaces are available for use and more and more businesses are being allowed to open again. The federal government is largely leaving the decision up to states, and some state leaders are leaving the decision up to local authorities. Even if you aren’t being told to stay at home, it’s still a good idea to limit trips outside and your interaction with other people.

    • What are the symptoms of coronavirus?

      Common symptoms include fever, a dry cough, fatigue and difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. Some of these symptoms overlap with those of the flu, making detection difficult, but runny noses and stuffy sinuses are less common. The C.D.C. has also added chills, muscle pain, sore throat, headache and a new loss of the sense of taste or smell as symptoms to look out for. Most people fall ill five to seven days after exposure, but symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as many as 14 days.

    • How can I protect myself while flying?

      If air travel is unavoidable, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself. Most important: Wash your hands often, and stop touching your face. If possible, choose a window seat. A study from Emory University found that during flu season, the safest place to sit on a plane is by a window, as people sitting in window seats had less contact with potentially sick people. Disinfect hard surfaces. When you get to your seat and your hands are clean, use disinfecting wipes to clean the hard surfaces at your seat like the head and arm rest, the seatbelt buckle, the remote, screen, seat back pocket and the tray table. If the seat is hard and nonporous or leather or pleather, you can wipe that down, too. (Using wipes on upholstered seats could lead to a wet seat and spreading of germs rather than killing them.)

    • Should I wear a mask?

      The C.D.C. has recommended that all Americans wear cloth masks if they go out in public. This is a shift in federal guidance reflecting new concerns that the coronavirus is being spread by infected people who have no symptoms. Until now, the C.D.C., like the W.H.O., has advised that ordinary people don’t need to wear masks unless they are sick and coughing. Part of the reason was to preserve medical-grade masks for health care workers who desperately need them at a time when they are in continuously short supply. Masks don’t replace hand washing and social distancing.

    • What should I do if I feel sick?

      If you’ve been exposed to the coronavirus or think you have, and have a fever or symptoms like a cough or difficulty breathing, call a doctor. They should give you advice on whether you should be tested, how to get tested, and how to seek medical treatment without potentially infecting or exposing others.