TNT Fireworks Warehouse manager shares his experiences with COVID-19 and the Fourth of July spectacle
VANCOUVER — This year’s Fourth of July celebrations didn’t have a guarantee of fireworks until earlier this month, and now they are taking center stage via big sales in spite of the pandemic.
The “largest fireworks tent in the world,” according to its operators, stands here in Clark County, just off Highway 99 and I-5. The TNT Fireworks Warehouse has been a local constant around the Fourth for years, but it’s operators are finding themselves in an unconventional year of selling their only product.
“That is the understatement of all fireworks history,” said General Manager Beau Leach. “This year, we were wholly surprised. Five weeks ago, we didn’t know if we were even gonna open. Instead, our opening day was eight times bigger than last year. Every day has been significantly busier than last year. And when I say significantly, I don’t mean like a little bit. It’s been spectacular.”
The warehouse is a well over 10,000-square-foot tent with much more room than many other tents in the area. Leach said they have a COVID occupancy cap they must maintain around 360, and everyday have been able to stay at least 90 under.
As far as precautions at the tent go, the large staff are all masked and two people are devoted full-time to cleaning and sanitizing all shopping carts and other frequently touched surfaces. The warehouse is also handing out masks for those who forget them or did not bring them, and large amounts of hand sanitizer is also available.
“I think people are looking for something fun, something safe that they can do as a family,” Leach said. “Even when you take the anomaly of opening day out, we’ve still been way, way up. People are pent up, they want something to do. They’re tired of being told what they can’t do, and they’re going to go blow something up and have some fun, but in a safe manner. COVID is not an issue with fireworks because you can stand 100 feet apart and still enjoy them just as much.”
Leach explained that one of the most difficult challenges for operating this year was finding employees. Each year the warehouse hires well over 100 people. This year after reaching out to 1,000 people, they could only find 100 that wanted to work, he said.
During the process of seeking out workers, Leach said they were told nearly 200 times by people they contacted that they no longer wanted the position because they were receiving more through unemployment.
“That was an anomaly,” he said. “I will say the people that are coming to work, gosh, they’re excited because it’s something fun for them to go do. We’re blessed with people that come back year after year. I’ve got economists, engineers, school teachers that work for us, EMTs. We have people that have real jobs and they still come out for two weeks worth of this.”
With COVID-19 case numbers rising in Clark County and Public Health Officer Dr. Alan Melnick asking people to stay home during the holiday weekend, normal fireworks parties are under fire. Leach explained that even though he is profiting off the rush for entertainment, he also takes COVID-19 quite seriously for some very personal reasons.
Leach’s sister tested positive for the virus and was sick for weeks. After recovering from the significant fever and symptoms, she developed fibrosis of the lungs. It is difficult for her to even go upstairs, he said.
“I take it seriously. My family didn’t leave our property in Oregon for 10 weeks. I kept our businesses running and kept groceries, and toilet paper to my in-laws,” he said. “But that doesn’t mean you have to hide in a cave. It just means you have to use common sense.”
Leach expressed criticism for the high level of alarm around the state and the country, but equally criticised those espousing the “whole thing is a scam.” If a fireworks tent is required to be 30 percent below capacity then doing our part looks like being even more below that, he said.
The warehouse is also leasing an area nearby this year to allocate extra space for their employees during breaks. The actual eisles in the warehouse are 24-feet wide, and fans continuously circulate the air.
“You don’t have to go to a spot where you’re hemmed in, you get to go to your backyard. Well, how many people can fit in a backyard or in a piece of property?” Leach said. “Here, we sell something that you literally could have 20 people and they can be 10 feet apart at all times, and nobody would miss out on the show.”