David Hoppe

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::Fireworks tourism

Indiana's claim to fame

by David Hoppe

Last spring’s RFRA debacle made many Hoosiers anxious. What, they wondered, would people in other parts of the country think of us? What if Indiana was no longer thought of (when it was thought of at all) as a welcoming place? Would folks ever want to visit us again?

No worries, Indiana. This summer has proven once again that, when it comes to attracting neighbors from other states, Indiana has an ace up its sleeve that no amount of civil rights palaver can deny.

We sell fireworks.

Up in Northwest Indiana, “fireworks tourism” is, well, booming. In July, before the Fourth, there were 100 businesses licensed to sell fireworks — this according not to the Chamber of Commerce, but the Department of Homeland Security. Located near the Illinois border, these places get a lot of trade because Illinois bans most consumer fireworks.

The Illinois folks are all too happy to come to Indiana for fireworks. According to a storeowner quoted in the Northwest Indiana Times, it’s not unusual for them to spend $400 or $500. “People had been buying lesser products, but no longer,” John Panchisin told the Times’ Joseph Pete about the way his trade has picked up since the Recession. “Now they’re looking for big and extravagant fireworks. They’re definitely spending more money.”

I can attest to this. I live in an area that’s popular with Chicagoans. They own or rent summerhouses near the Lake Michigan shore and they make it pretty obvious that fireworks is one of the things they like most about Indiana. You can tell when these visitors have arrived by the high-pitched whistles and explosions that punctuate our summer nights.

Our town claims to have a rule limiting the detonation of fireworks to four days on either side of the Fourth of July, but no matter. They were still bursting in air a couple of days ago.

It seems some people just love blowing stuff up. I remember a night in Indianapolis, not long after one Fourth. Someone in my neighborhood must have scored a trunk full of firecrackers because it took until dawn to set them all off: One. At. A. Time. I could imagine the poor guy (with firecrackers it has to be a guy) sitting there with a glassy look in his eye, crushed beer cans strewn about his ankles, grimly determined to have every last bit of his fun.

Call it the American Way. If it ain’t loud and more than a little drunk, it’s hard for an awful lot of us to know whether we’re having a good time or not. Fireworks fill this bill. They’re a great way to get your mind off work, and with all the noise, there’s no need to actually talk with anyone, apart, that is, from the occasional “ooh” and “ahh.”

So let others kvetch about Indiana’s image, and whether we can “attract and retain” the talented young professionals everybody seems to think are such a big deal. As long as we have fireworks, this state is a blast.