A potential boom in fireworks sales in Maine might be on a delayed fuse.

Beginning Jan. 1, it will be legal to sell, possess and use consumer fireworks in Maine.

But people aren’t lining up to open stores, said Richard Taylor, senior research and planning analyst with the state Fire Marshal’s Office.

Taylor hasn’t received any permit applications for retail operations.

“No, I haven’t,” he said. “I kind of thought I would by now.”

In July, Gov. Paul LePage signed a bill to reverse a decades-old ban on fireworks in Maine. Individual municipalities, however, have the right to enact ordinances prohibiting the sale or use of fireworks, as has been the case in Augusta, Bangor, Portland and Winthrop. And, on Monday, town councilors in Winslow approved a 180-day moratorium on the sale of fireworks.

Municipal ordinances, however, might be overkill. According to several people in the pyrotechnics industry, the new law’s restrictions, particularly regarding building codes, might prevent stores from popping up anyway.

Steve Marson, 56, has been in the pyrotechnics industry for 40 years. He owns Central Maine Pyrotechnics in Hallowell.

Last year, the company engineered fireworks displays in 225 towns in Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont.

In the wake of Maine’s new law, Marson intends to expand his business to include consumer fireworks.

If everything goes according to plan, Marson would have stores in Brewer, Edgecomb, Manchester, Presque Isle, Searsport, Winslow and somewhere in the Lewiston and Auburn area.

The stores in Manchester and Presque Isle could open in late January or early February, but finding suitable locations for the other stores has been difficult, he said.

“There’s not a lot of retail space available that meets the guidelines,” he said. “I travel all over the state, and it’s very difficult finding buildings that are currently empty that meet the criteria set up by the statute.”

The law states that a retail location must be “a permanent, fixed, stand-alone building dedicated solely to the sale of consumer fireworks.”

Building codes require sprinkler systems, adequate ceiling height and more, Taylor said.

Marson said it’s tough to find suitable buildings, particularly when most urban areas are off limits because of local ordinances.

“The big cities have retail space that meets the guidelines, but guess what? They said they didn’t want it. Therefore, you have to go to surrounding communities,” he said.

Once you move into smaller communities, you run into a separate problem, he said. The buildings need sprinkler systems, which rules out the financial viability of opening stores in areas without municipal water systems.

“It’s a $100,000 expense to put in a 20,000-gallon holding tank, a fire pump and a sprinkler system. That’s before you even bring in the product,” Marson said.

Taylor with the state Fire Marshal’s Office said he recommends building stores from scratch to meet the codes, but Marson said that’s not economically feasible because of another aspect of the law.

“You can’t sell anything but fireworks,” he said. “It’s different in other states that allow fireworks. For example, you can go to a store in New Hampshire that sells gasoline out front. Inside the store you can buy beer and liquor, you can buy a gun, you can buy groceries and pizza and you can also buy fireworks.”

Marson estimates a new building would cost between $200,000 and $500,000. Fireworks sales would offer a slow return on that investment, he said.

“I would not be building new buildings to do this. If I could not find buildings in these communities, I wouldn’t be doing it.”

Pauline McNeil is owner of PDK Pryro, a division of PDK Drilling and Blasting in Yarmouth. McNeil’s company provides fireworks displays for Portland Seadogs games and from 12 to 15 municipal fireworks shows in southern Maine every year.

McNeil also intends to sell consumer fireworks in Maine, but not yet.

“I’m going to wait a year and probably get into it in 2013,” she said. “There’s a lot of uncertainty right now. To open up a store with all the rules and regs that you need to do, you’re probably going to spend $150,000 per store. That’s just to open it. That’s not even to stock it.”

McNeil said she’s concerned about unsettled ordinances in municipalities.

“I think you’re going to see a lot more towns south of Augusta pass rules,” she said.

The shifting landscape might not prevent larger companies from setting up shop, though, McNeil said.

“I think what you’re probably going to see are a lot of the big guys coming in,” McNeil said.

One of them is Stephen Pelkey, CEO and artistic director of Atlas Fireworks Companies in Jaffrey, N.H. Atlas has been operating since 1990 and has six stores in New Hampshire.

“We’ve been actively pursuing several different areas throughout Maine,” Pelkey said. “Of course, 60 or 70 percent of those locations have been dismissed because the local municipalities have determined that they don’t want the sale or the use of consumer fireworks.”

Pelkey said Atlas plans to open about six stores in Maine eventually.

“Our anticipation is it’s going to be slow going, but we continue to evaluate locations where it would best fit the interests of our company and will be well received by the community,” he said.

“We’re hoping to open at least one store by mid-to-late spring,” Pelkey said.

Morning Sentinel Staff Writer Ben McCanna can be contacted at 861-9239 or at:

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