SIBLEY — There’s no question that the Sibley Area Fourth of July is the town’s biggest event of the year, drawing thousands for the daylong celebration.
But like most events that include a crowd, it had to be canceled this year due to the coronavirus.
The organizing committee decided it wouldn’t make sense to hold the celebration, according to Kathy Eagleson, one of the committee’s members. So, for the first time in its 62 years, the event won’t take place.
“It was decided that because of insurance and liability, it would not be following the governor’s protocols for no more than 50 people,” she said.
She said the economic impact from not having the celebration won’t be too large, as Sibley doesn’t have many businesses. But it will hurt the band booster clubs, wrestling team and other groups that set up food stands at the celebration to raise money.
“It’s the nonprofit groups that we felt bad for,” Eagleson said.
Since this year’s event was canceled, the organizing committee is now preparing for next year’s.
“We already have the budget done, since we didn’t do it this year,” Eagleson said.
They considered just holding the fireworks but decided it wouldn’t make sense without the other events, she said.
Bruce Weiman, president of the Arthur Rotary, which organizes the Freedom Celebration Fireworks there, also said asking people to watch the fireworks from home didn’t make sense.
“It’s a fundraiser for the Rotary. We charge to park,” he said. And watching from home “wouldn’t have the same effect.”
He said the Arthur fireworks draw 30,000 people to the town of 2,200, with 10,000 in the park itself.
“They’re cheek to jowl,” Weiman said.
Rotary uses the funds it raises to support different projects at the schools and with other organizations.
“I don’t think we’ll be able to support those as well,” Weiman said.
Without the Arthur celebration, he said residents will likely shoot off plenty of their own fireworks in their backyard, though they already did that.
Impact on sales
Richard Shields, president of North Central Industries, a fireworks importer with a store in Terre Haute, Ind., said it’s too early to tell how fireworks sales will compare with last year.
“So much of the sales of the total season happen in the last four days,” he said.
Shields also has stores in Georgia, which reopened earlier than Indiana and did well over Memorial Day weekend.
“We have five stores and a warehouse in the Atlanta market, and those five stores had anywhere from a 100 percent to 300 percent increase during that holiday,” Shields said. “I don’t know if it was because people didn’t get to celebrate graduations or exactly the circumstance, but we were glad to see it.”
While fireworks stores closed for COVID-19, Shields said they were considered essential businesses so that fireworks wouldn’t pile up at ports.
“They have to move. They can’t sit in a port,” Shields said “ So we brought in workers just to unload shipping containers to make sure we could get it off the container and into proper storage.”
He said fireworks companies that sell to cities and country clubs could be struggling this year.
“A lot of those companies now have seen a substantial amount of shows being canceled,” he said. “That’s going to have a big impact on this type of business.”
While Indianapolis announced this past week that its downtown fireworks show would be canceled, the Lake Wawasee fireworks in northern Indiana are continuing.
“They claim it’s the largest in Indiana, and they were going to do there’s out on the water and you can see it from shore or from a boat,” Shields said.
Likewise, New York City’s Fourth of July fireworks will go on this year.
“It gives them a little normalcy and something to look forward to,” Shields said. “It’s pretty easy to social distance at a fireworks show, especially one of that magnitude.”
But with the shows that are canceled, Shields said that could drive up sales to individuals.
“The public has a tradition of shooting off fireworks, and I believe they’ll continue to do that,” he said. “All indications are that maybe we’ll have more backyard shows. … It may be negative on the public display business, but it may turn out to be a positive for myself and other people in the consumer fireworks industry.”
Shields also said the industry will benefit from having July 4 fall on a Saturday this year. He said people will want to have something to celebrate.
“They’re looking for something to be happy about, and I think it’s a traditional time of year to have parties and celebrations,” Shields said. “It’s a little bit of a shame we wont’ be able to see fireworks shows come to these towns, but trust me, when you look outside, you’re going to see fireworks.”