After months of isolation and lockdown due to the coronavirus, city officials across North Dakota hope the Fourth of July can serve as a return to some normalcy and togetherness in their communities.
Many of the state’s Independence Day celebrations will continue this year, despite social distancing recommendations. In Wahpeton, Community Development Director Chris DeVries said there’s room to keep distance between families outside at their annual baseball game and fireworks show, and he believes some families will stay in their cars to watch fireworks.
“There's plenty of room to spread out, so we're feeling pretty confident about that and happy that we can still put this on and give people some sense of normalcy,” DeVries said.
DeVries said the city has followed state guidelines in planning the event around social distancing, and those in attendance should be considerate of others around them. He said when word got out the event could be canceled this year, community members responded by fundraising to support the firework show.
In Park River, the community’s annual parade will still happen, along with other events throughout the day, including a craft and vendor fair and the 20th annual Valley Cruisers “Show and Shine.” Park River will host its own firework show to end the day of celebrations.
“We ask if you’re not comfortable to not come, and if you want to wear your mask, wear your mask,” said Nancy Thompson, the city’s auditor coordinator.
Thompson said attendees are encouraged to practice social distancing, such as sitting toward the end of the parade route where there is typically a smaller crowd.
Other Independence Day celebrations across the state include Fargo’s Fourth of July Celebration at Bonanzaville and the Grand Forks fireworks show. The Grand Forks Sertoma Club has canceled parts of the July 4 festival it has sponsored for about 60 years, but the fireworks show will go on at the Scheels Sports Complex near South Middle School, a location that officials say is better-suited for social distancing than the former site along the Red River Greenway.
Fireworks retailers are preparing for a significant rise in sales as residents choose to celebrate from home. Stands in North Dakota opened June 27, and owners said they’re preparing for trends they’ve seen in other states where stands have been open since as early as May. Some retailers across the country have seen sales increase by as much as 200% compared to 2019, CBS News reported.
“People are going nuts sitting at home. They haven’t done anything this year,” said Tim Hoff, owner of Big Top Fireworks in Cummings.
Hoff said he’s not sure what sales will look like this year compared to his last 41 years in business. He said he’s preparing for crowds at his business by having masks on hand for customers without one. Though customers aren’t required to wear a mask or practice social distancing, he said he hopes they will try to be cautious in his store.
Though Keith Meyer has been selling fireworks for many years, he opened his own shop in Hillsboro this year during the middle of the pandemic.
“It’s something that’s always been on my bucket list,” Meyer said. “I consider myself retired, but this business is a lot of fun.”
Fireworks can only be sold June 27-July 5 and Dec. 26-Jan. 1 in North Dakota, and buyers must be 12-years-old or older.
David Reuter, a manager at Memory Fireworks, said his stores have put down stickers to suggest six feet between customers, added sneeze guards to registers, and boosted cleaning procedures. Memory Fireworks has multiple locations in North Dakota and Minnesota, and Reuter said though there was a concern around the pandemic at first, he thinks more people will be looking to have celebrations at home.
For others, it’s not a virus that will cause a hit to revenue, but a drought. Norris Marx said he planned for his usual crowd when ordering product for his stand in Dickinson, but unless the southwest corner of the state sees significant rain in the next week, he worries burn bans will hurt his sales.
Marx said that after 12 years in business, he’s learned some years are going to be great and some aren’t. He said he could keep some of the product to sell next year, but typically likes to purchase the newest fireworks available each year for his customers to browse.
“All we can do is pray,” Marx said. “The more important thing is we just need to try and keep our heads up when things get really bad.”