Sign, sign, everywhere a sign

By Bob Buckel | Published Saturday, July 19, 2014

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“NOW OPEN!” the signs scream, in capital letters the size of Stanley Marsh’s Cadillacs, upended at a jaunty angle in the Panhandle dirt.

Bob Buckel

Bob Buckel

Some go a step farther, proclaiming they’re “NOW OPEN TO THE PUBLIC!” – as if they had been privately open before, but were now throwing the doors ajar for Mom, Dad and all the neighborhood kids.

Problem is, for 300-plus days of the year, those large, permanently painted-on signs are simply not true.

Does this bug anyone?

I wonder if somewhere on the books there’s a law, approved at the last minute of a legislative session, years ago, that says fireworks vendors are not held to any standard of truthfulness in their exterior signage.

They also boast, “LOWEST PRICES ANYWHERE!” – a claim that might be true if it were only painted on one of them, but – like “World’s Best Coffee!” – can’t possibly be true if it’s painted on all of them.

Maybe Sparky Spangler, executive VP of the Confederated Association of Pyrotechnics Sellers (CAPS – and I made that up) elbowed his way past the chicken tycoons on the Senate floor years ago and slipped a few thousand into lawmakers’ pockets so fireworks vendors would be spared the burden of keeping it real.

It’s not as if the state never steps into this arena, because it does.

For example, it’s illegal to have a going-out-of-business sale that never ends. You will get the attention of the Better Business Bureau and, eventually, the Attorney General’s office.

It’s also been statistically proven that you’ll get more bargain-hungry customers.

That’s why, to some, it’s worth risking a visit from an angry bureaucrat.

This has long been an issue with fly-by-night oriental rug sellers and sketchy furniture stores. It moved into the pyrotechnics industry a few years ago when the retail selling of fireworks shifted from temporary stands on the side of the road to warehouse-type metal buildings.

Used to be, regular folks had these small, mom-and-pop concession stands parked in the tall grass behind the barn. In advance of July 4 and New Year’s, they’d hitch them to the pickup and drag them to the roadside, clean out the spiders, prop open the front and stock the shelves with fireworks.

Put up a few signs, string some lights, and you’re in business. If you’re lucky, the newspaper comes out on a slow day in late June and takes your picture.

Most of these folks never bothered to even get a permit. They worked hard, made a few grand, then after the holiday was over they’d shut it down and tow it back to its spot behind the barn.

Then, like all good things seem to do, the fireworks biz went corporate.

Now, apparently, there’s enough money in bottle-rockets to allow manufacturers to buy land, build a metal building, open a few days a year and then leave it sitting locked and empty the rest of the time.

Seems to me if they tried, they could find some other use for that building during non-fireworks season.

Given the regrettable decline of roadside produce vendors, maybe those fireworks warehouses would transition nicely to fresh fruits and vegetables.

I’ll bet cantaloupes, watermelons, blackeyed peas, corn and tomatoes would fit nicely in shelves designed for mortar shells, cherry bombs, whistlers, rockets, Roman candles and firecrackers. Residual gunpowder might even give those homegrown jalape os a little extra kick.

They could even leave up the “Lowest Prices Anywhere!” signs. Who’s going to check? And best of all, that boast, “Now Open to the Public!” would be true at least a couple more months out of the year.

Maybe that global mega-conglomerate, the Consolidated Amalgamated Fireworks Corporation (again, I made that up) makes so much money during those few midwinter and midsummer days, it’s not worried about abandoning its property the rest of the year.

I just wish they’d cover up those signs.

Bob Buckel is editorial director of the Messenger.

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