Southgate Mall must break a 30-year tradition this Fourth of July after its longtime fireworks provider canceled its show.
“They informed us five weeks ago they couldn’t pull the show together this year,” Southgate marketing director Trisha Shepard said on Thursday. “Since then, I’ve visited with every single fireworks company west of the divide that does shows of our magnitude. Securing another company that does the larger shows, five weeks before the Fourth of July – those things book up pretty quickly.”
Shepard said the provider cited “changes in the industry” as the reason it couldn’t produce the Missoula show, but did not provide more details. She declined to name the company or how much Southgate Mall spends on its production because she was negotiating for a provider in coming years.
“Without a doubt, we’ll resume next year,” she said. “Many companies would love to do a show our size, but it’s just not enough time to set up this year.”
A fireworks show with choreographed music and industrial-grade pyrotechnics takes about 14 hours to set up and 20 or 30 minutes to launch. While several companies offered to provide the Class B fireworks and mortars, finding someone licensed to fire that kind of display proved impossible on the busiest day of the pyrotechnic year.
The Southgate Mall fireworks attracted between 2,000 and 9,000 people to the shopping center’s parking lot, plus uncounted thousands more who parked in nearby neighborhoods or along the Missoula Valley’s hillsides to watch the display. Shepard said the 2016 show was expected to be particularly large.
“Monday Fourth of Julys are usually one of best days,” Shepard said. “Everyone has had a long weekend, and then they come home and want to see the show before going back to work.”
Those numbers had been growing since restrictions on private fireworks displays have tightened. The city of Missoula bans almost all fireworks ignition within the city limits, except for sparklers, small smoke bombs and party poppers.
Last year, the county governments of Missoula, Lake, Ravalli and Lincoln banned fireworks in county parks and private property as temperatures exceeded 100 degrees for several days.
The Missoula Osprey game on July 1 will feature a professional fireworks display at Ogren Park along the Clark Fork River. But the team will be on the road July 4 and has no plans for a hometown display on the holiday.
"We have four shows planned for the summer," Osprey Vice President Matt Ellis said. "We've always avoided the mall show date on purpose so the community could have two shows instead of one."