July 4 events will sparkle despite recession

Omaha World-Herald

By Emily Babay

When Lyons, Neb., celebrates its 125th year this Independence Day, the recession isn’t going to get in the way.

The town of about 1,000 in Burt County is spending twice as much as usual on its fireworks display, said Denise Johnson, chairwoman of the Fourth of July committee.

About four years of fundraising efforts have gone into the fireworks show and a weekend-long bluegrass festival.

The town supported suppers, barbecues and dances to raise the funds, Johnson said. And this weekend, the streets will be filled with games, music and fireworks.

It’s a sharp contrast to cities large and small throughout the country, including Miami and Ridgefield Park, N.J., that have canceled Independence Day events because of the economy.

In Lyons, scaling back wasn’t an option.

“It’s our 125th. We really didn’t want to do that,” Johnson said.

In the Midlands, even communities not celebrating milestones aren’t cutting back on festivities. Fundraising has been a bit tougher, celebration planners say, but a less-severe economic downturn here and communities willing to support long-standing traditions are keeping celebrations alive.

Groups selling fireworks also expect a good year. Representatives of those groups say the Saturday holiday and close-to-home celebrations could boost sales, which began Thursday in Nebraska.

In Ralston — where the holiday lineup includes a picnic, music, food vendors, games and a fireworks display — the dollar amount for donations is slightly down from last year, but the number of sponsors stayed steady, said Marlene Hansen, president of the Ralston Area Chamber of Commerce.

And, she said, organizers printed fewer raffle tickets because they don’t expect to sell as many during the city’s two-day bash.

It has been harder for Fremont to raise money for its fireworks show this year, said Brad Diers, who is involved in the fundraising. Organizers had to seek smaller sponsorships from a wider range of donors.

“We didn’t have to cut back,” Diers said. “We just had to work harder.”

The economy here is stronger than in most of the country, where sponsors have been hard to find and cash-strapped cities can’t pay for events. Nebraska’s unemployment rate was 4.4 percent in May, compared with a national average of 9.4 percent.

Donations for Seward’s festivities stayed level with last year, said Pat Coldiron, director of the Seward Area Chamber of Commerce.

“You can kind of tell all over that people are a little more cautious with their dollars,” she said. “But the Fourth of July celebration is very dear to the people.”

People also are giving their time. Ralston volunteers run games and handle parade logistics. The event’s popularity makes it attractive to volunteers and sponsors.

“People know that we’re going to do it right,” Hansen said.

Widely known events with a long tradition are likely to see continued donations, said Michael Nilson, a spokesman for the Association of Fundraising Professionals, a national trade group.

Fireworks suppliers are offering options to communities struggling to raise funds, said Julie Heckman, executive director of the American Pyrotechnics Association.

Those alternatives include slightly shortening displays or substituting costly fireworks with less-expensive types.

But Heckman and local groups selling fireworks expect strong sales to individuals and families.

More families celebrating at home this year, Independence Day falling on a Saturday and a federal holiday Friday are expected to help.

Business during Nebraska’s 10-day selling period is usually fairly slow until July 4, merchants say.

But Lauren Woods, working at a Bellino Fireworks tent in La Vista, said there was a steady stream of customers during the first morning of sales.

She said she didn’t expect a big hit due to the economy because the tent has inexpensive options. Best-sellers include artillery shells and bricks of firecrackers, both of which sell for 99 cents.

Items like 99-cent midget bombs and 89-cent 25-shot missiles were selling well at a tent manned by La Vista Vipers Wrestling, tent manager Tiffany Schrotberger said.

She said people also were purchasing larger items, and she expects even bigger sales closer to the Fourth.

“People are more willing to buy fireworks than to travel,” Woods said.

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