Chicago area fireworks company hurt by canceled 4th of July displays

John Garcia Image
Tuesday, June 30, 2020
With most 4th of July fireworks displays canceled, family-owned companies like Melrose Pyrotechnics are taking a hit.
With most 4th of July fireworks displays canceled, family-owned companies like Melrose Pyrotechnics are taking a hit.

The annual 4th of July fireworks show in Itasca is one of the largest in the Chicago area. It's carefully choreographed to music as a crowd of about 25,000 people watch from the lawn - but not this year.

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"Until large gatherings can happen again, the firework industry is not going to survive," said Julie Heckman, with the American Pyrotechnics Association.

With the cancellation of just about any even that draws a large crowd, the fireworks that accompany those events are also canceled, including the downtown shows at Navy Pier and at Bulls games.

It is a huge problem for small, family-owned fireworks companies like Melrose Pyrotechnics, which has been producing the White Sox fireworks since they started in business 60 years ago.

"We have half a million pounds of explosives we have to store," owner Mike Cartolano said. "We don't get a do-over."

According to industry experts, about 80 percent of the fireworks business for the entire year falls on one day: July 4th.

Nearly all Independence Day shows are cancelled this year, so that means fireworks companies have to store their product under strict guidance from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. It's an expensive proposition considering they have little income this year.

"The small family businesses that make up the industry are just crippled," said Heckman.

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The American Pyrotechnics Association is lobbying Congress to provide financial relief to companies.

Melrose, which has won numerous international awards, is based in northwest Indiana and has 35 full-time employees. It is fourth generation family-owned. They do it because they love it, and they hope to be able to continue doing it.

"We just wanna get back in the game," Cartolano said. "We love doing what we do. We love entertaining."

Melrose spent 60 hours producing the show in Itasca this year. They finished in March, just before the shutdown. Now, they have to hope it stays current for next year.