Governing of fireworks sales continues to evolve

Pro Fireworks opens in Roseville

By: Sara Kandel | Roseville - Eastpointe Eastsider | Published June 7, 2013

 James Sajos shakes Police Chief James Berlin’s hand at the grand opening of his Roseville Pro Fireworks store June 1.

James Sajos shakes Police Chief James Berlin’s hand at the grand opening of his Roseville Pro Fireworks store June 1.

Photo by Sara Kandel

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ROSEVILLE — Just a week before welcoming Pro Fireworks, a fireworks retailer, to the city June 1, the Roseville City Council consulted with their attorney in private session to discuss the legality of enforcing the city’s open-air tent sales ordinance on fireworks sellers.

The ability to enforce the ordinance, which requires that the tent sale feature inventory available from that store year-round and that represents at least 15 percent of the store’s sales year-round, would be the end of the line for the multiple fireworks tents and trailers that have sprung up around the city since the Michigan Fireworks Safety Act was signed into law last year.

It was the fireworks act that had local authorities unsure if it was still legal to enforce the open-air ordinance, so to play it safe, they waited to see how banning such tent sales worked out in other communities.

“There’s been some controversy on whether or not to enforce the ordinance,” said Police Chief James Berlin. “We were initially advised to wait it out and see what happens.”

But during a closed session at the regular City Council meeting May 28, council was updated on the implications of the state law.

“Last year, we were under the impression that the state law trumped our local ordinance, but we have been advised that under the state law, we are able to enforce our open-air tent sales ordinance on firework sales,” explained Building Director Glen Sexton.

Now that they’ve been given the go-ahead, the city has already started drafting letters of intent to notify the owners of firework tents in the city just what they plan to do — begin enforcing the ordinance again Oct. 1.

To avoid possible legal backlash, the city is giving such tent sales a wide window to sell off the products they invested in and stay for the remainder of their permitted time through the end of September, before kicking them out. 

“We are not telling people you can’t sell fireworks; we are just applying the open-air ordinance we already have in place to fireworks,” said Mayor John Churkin.

The city actually has been pretty welcoming to fireworks stores, and if a fireworks store wants to have a tent sale, officials say it won’t be a problem because it would meet the requirements in the ordinance. The ordinance will affect the tents not attached to a permanent business or only attached in name for short periods to a permanent business.

“If we started enforcing the ordinance again right now, the only place that could have a firework tent is Pro Fireworks, and I don’t think he’s interested in doing that,” Sexton said.

Pro Fireworks recently opened in the old Acropole diner after months of remodeling. It’s a business that Berlin, who isn’t a huge fan of fireworks, can even offer a nod of respect.

“He is a taxpaying entity, he’s part of this community and so he’s going to want to make this community shine,” Berlin said. “These tent salesmen are fly-by-night; they are in, they’re gone and they have no stake in the community. Whereas here, (Owner James Sajos) has obviously invested a great deal of money into this facility and he wants it to be a success here, and he is going to do everything in his power to make it a success.”

Sajos definitely has invested a lot into the property. Prior to opening, he gutted the inside and remodeled the entire space, and he’s already ordered the bricks and stones needed to give the building a much-needed exterior facelift, which is scheduled for completion sometime this summer.

In addition to sprucing up the space, he’s also invested in the community by hiring locally.

“We always hire locally,” Sajos said. “We’ve hired 12 people so far and we are still accepting applications.”

And his store isn’t just a seasonal operation; it opened year-round, with longer hours during peak times for fireworks, like Independence Day and New Year’s Eve, and shorter hours — likely 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. — during slow months.

But the most impressive thing about Sajos’ business is that he fought to bring it to Michigan.

“I grew up in Lansing and used to design and wholesale fireworks,” Sajos said. “We were based out of Lansing and I sold to stores all over the country, but I wanted to be in the retail business because that is where the money is.”

Carving out a piece of the retail pie, Sajos opened fireworks stores in Pennsylvania and Indiana, but he never stopped dreaming of bringing the business back to his home state. For five years, he petitioned the government to legalize fireworks sales in Michigan to no avail.

Finally, two years ago, he met up with Roseville state Rep. Harold Haugh and, together, the two drafted the Michigan Fireworks Safety Act, which legalized the regulated sale of high-grade fireworks.

“Once I got the law changed here in Michigan, I sold off everything else — all my stores in Pennsylvania and Indiana and opened up here,” Sajos said.

He’s opened eight Michigan stores in the past year, including locations in Sterling Heights, Taylor, Oak Park, Wayne, Grand Rapids, Comstock Park and Traverse City. He still produces fireworks, too, making Black Diamond- and Pro Fireworks-brand fireworks in Lansing.

“The people who just want to come in, make some money and get out are the kind of people we don’t want in town,” Berlin said. “It’s people like Mr. Sajos, who want to invest in their property and our community to make it better, that we want here.”

For more information on Pro Fireworks, visit www.profireworks.com.

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