The Man Behind The Fireworks Counter

Jul 5, 2013
Originally published on July 4, 2013 5:02 pm

Eli O’Connell is general manager of Shelton fireworks in West Harrison, Indiana.

We check in with him about business today.

He tells Here & Now he went to bed at 5:30 a.m. this morning and got up at 7:30 a.m., he expects to be working late tonight too.

O’Connell says business starts picking up around Memorial Day.

Tonight he and his staff may celebrate the end of the busy season with a few fireworks of their own.


Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit


So, the Fourth of July is and has always been my favorite holiday of the year. When I was a kid, I used to do the same thing every year. My tradition started on the third, at night, when I would go over to the main road where the parade was held on the Fourth and dragged two big picnic tables over to a prime position. Then I'd come back home to put on a little mini-firework show for the neighborhood.

Now, you couldn't actually buy fireworks where I grew up in Illinois, so we had to drive across the border to Indiana to get them, which is a phenomenon that Eli O'Connell knows very well. He is general manager of Shelton Fireworks in West Harrison, Indiana, which is near the border with Ohio. So, Eli, how is business today?

ELI O'CONNELL: It's picking up quite a bit this morning.


O'CONNELL: So - but it's been pretty good so far.

HOBSON: And when you say picking up, I mean, how many people are coming in?

O'CONNELL: We probably have 20 or 30 cars in the lot right now, which is pretty good for, you know, being this early in the morning on a holiday. So...


HOBSON: Well, explain how the sort of Fourth of July rush goes. I mean, when do people start coming in to get their fireworks, and do they go right up to the night of the Fourth?

O'CONNELL: You know, it kind of depends on when the day falls. You know, with the Fourth being on a Thursday this year, people have the opportunity to celebrate, you know, the weekend after a little bit. But usually, you know, our business really starts picking up around Memorial Day. People start coming in, and they kind of see what we have in stock and all, and it kind of ramps up and escalates from there.

HOBSON: All the way back to Memorial Day. People are thinking ahead.

O'CONNELL: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah.


HOBSON: And what kind of stuff are they buying? Give us some examples of some of the top sellers this year.

O'CONNELL: Out top sellers are usually our (unintelligible) 500-gram multi-shot cakes. You light one fuse, they shoot off, you know, anywhere between nine shots, all the way up to, you know, like, 144 shots. For people, they're pretty less labor-intensive than, like, the artillery shells, where you've got to load the canister each time and run back and forth and do some wind sprints and stuff like that. With the multi-shot cakes, you just light one fuse, and you can kind of sit back for a few minutes or fuse a few together and, you know, kind of create your own show.

HOBSON: What if you're not a cannon person? What's another alternative to that?

O'CONNELL: You know, we have the ground fountains. They just kind of shoot sparks up in the air, change colors, crackle, mix and pops. We have pretty cool sparklers. I mean, everybody loves sparklers. We've got giant, 36-inch ones that change colors as they burn. We've got some that whistle. And we've got smoke bombs. We've got a, you know, parachutes. We even have a parachute that shoots up in the air, and a little Army man comes out and kind of (unintelligible) to the ground. So that's pretty cool. It's always a crowd pleaser.


HOBSON: Well, so, you are also in a position that many firework stores around the country are in, which is you're right over the border from a state that does not have the lax fireworks laws that Indiana does. So you must have a lot of people driving over from Ohio.

O'CONNELL: We do draw a crowd from Ohio just because we're so close to Cincinnati. You know, it's one of the big factors. It's a big metropolitan area. But we do get a lot of Indiana sales, too, as well, and people from Kentucky. And, you know, we really have a broad spectrum of people that travel, you know, to our location at this store. We have 14 stores nationwide, so we kind of catch people everywhere. But, yeah, that's seems to be the typical setup for most firework stores. They set up along the border of another state where the laws are a little stricter.

HOBSON: So when you go home for the day today, are you going to shoot off some fireworks yourself?

O'CONNELL: Oh, I don't go home right now, sir.


O'CONNELL: I pretty much live in here. We do shoot things off from time to time. So we'll probably shoot a few things off tonight, just to kind of, you know, celebrate being done with kind of the busier time of the year and kind of relax a little bit.

HOBSON: But it's going to be a long day for you.

O'CONNELL: Oh, yeah. You know, I went to bed at 5:30 this morning and woke up at 7:00. So we're rocking and rolling today.

HOBSON: Wow. Well, Eli O'Connell, general manager at Shelton Fireworks in West Harrison, Indiana, thank you so much, and happy Fourth of July.

O'CONNELL: Happy Fourth of July.


HOBSON: And we would love to hear about your Fourth of July traditions. You can go to and let us know. We're back in one minute. HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.