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With Few St. Louis-Area Fireworks Shows, July Fourth Weekend Looks Different

After a five-year, $380 million renovation to Gateway Arch National Park, Fair St. Louis and Independence Day fireworks returned to the Mississippi Riverfront. July 4, 2018
Ryan Delaney | St. Louis Public Radio
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After a five-year, $380 million renovation to Gateway Arch National Park, Fair St. Louis and Independence Day fireworks returned to the Mississippi Riverfront. July 4, 2018

The deafening booms and brilliant flashes of many big-budget Independence Day fireworks shows will be muted this year.

The coronavirus pandemic has forced dozens of towns and organizations in the St. Louis region to depart from tradition and cancel fireworks displays and parades. Meanwhile, sales at fireworks stands are soaring as area residents are lighting their own shows. And some out-of-town campground managers report a blaze of campsite rentals in recent weeks.

Fair St. Louis is the biggest Fourth of July celebration in the area to be called off. In a typical year, the fair would draw 300,000 people over the holiday weekend.

David Estes, the fair’s chairman, said calling off the 40th anniversary of the festival was a “gut punch” that was necessary to keep crowds safe.

Instead, Fair St. Louis will be condensing the three-day event into a one-hour virtual show at 10 a.m. Saturday with performances by Chingy, the Little Dylan Band, Alexandra Kay, Jordan Suter and other hometown artists.

America’s Biggest Birthday Parade, a downtown tradition for over 130 years, also has been canceled. The parade usually starts at St. Louis Union Station and kicks off Fair St. Louis.

But Independence Day traditions haven’t been scrapped everywhere in the region. A handful of cities will host fireworks displays this weekend, including St. Charles, Union, New Melle, Grafton and Edwardsville.

Edwardsville Director of Parks and Recreation Nate Tingley said he wanted to host the show to give people hope amid the gloom of the coronavirus pandemic. 

To make the 12-minute show possible, the city moved the event to Edwardsville High School. Organizers will let in 650 cars, to take up every other parking spot. The city chose the location because it is near businesses, churches and neighborhoods where people can park and also watch the show.

"We’re not looking to do a festival atmosphere,” Tingley said. “We’re just really looking to be a bright spot and help them remember to celebrate.”

Instead of driving out to watch shows, some St. Louisans are planning to light their own fireworks displays. 

Already this month, the St. Louis County Police Department has received nearly three times the number of calls for fireworks complaints as last year, a spokesperson said. Meanwhile, calls to St. Louis’ police department about illegal fireworks between May 1 to June 24 were four times higher than during the same period in 2019. 

Related: Map: St. Louis Fireworks Complaints Up Sharply Over Last Year — See Where

Powder Monkey Fireworks President Chris Sanders said all five of his fireworks tents are setting daily sales records. That includes three in the St. Louis region and two in Cape Girardeau. 

Even though cities and fire departments have canceled large orders for this year, Sanders said he had to order an additional 4,000 cases of fireworks to meet demand.

“I’m trying to buy more, everything I can get … to keep the shelves full,” he said.

People are also finding new ways to celebrate, including camping and float trips along Missouri streams.

Doyle Isom owns Blue Springs Ranch, a campground about an hour southwest of St. Louis along the Meramec River. He said both he and his local competitors have seen crowds flock to their sites since March, and this weekend will be no exception. 

“Never seen nothin’ like it in my life,” he said. “I’ve been in the business 43 years.”

Isom says he’s sold out all 160 campsites this weekend, plus his cabins and RV spaces. 

Blue Springs Ranch has increased cleaning at the facility but is not strictly enforcing social distancing. 

The ranch is still having its annual fireworks show Saturday night, and Isom said he expects to attract more people than usual because towns near him in Bourbon have canceled fireworks displays.

“This year, we’ll probably be invaded by the locals.” 

Follow Kayla on Twitter @_kayladrake

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