'God bless America! We're back!" says Jim Souza, CEO of Pyro Spectaculars by Souza
From: San Bernardino Sun
Published: June 20, 2021 at 9:10 a.m
This Fourth of July, Jim Souza will have something extra special to celebrate: the rebounding of his family pyrotechnics business that was crippled by the coronavirus pandemic last year.
When the pandemic prompted restrictions of public events nationwide in March 2020, Pyro Spectaculars by Souza in Rialto, one of the biggest producers of pyrotechnic extravaganzas nationwide, took a major hit. Sales declined by 90%. More than 300 scheduled Fourth of July events dwindled to less than 20, and Souza was forced to furlough 38 of 50 full-time employees.
It was a day Souza would like to forget.
“That was really one of the most devastating things for me,” Souza said. “It was very devastating to watch them all drive out the gates of our facility that day.”
Now, as pandemic restrictions ease, cities, counties and park districts across Southern California and the nation are resuming their annual Independence Day events and welcoming the public, although some are still only livestreaming their shows or having the public view from a distance. As a result, Pyro Spectaculars is rebounding — operating at about 50% of its annual revenue and 75% of revenue for its Fourth of July events compared to the pre-pandemic year of 2019.
“God bless America! We’re back!” Souza said. “This year, we’re looking at over 250 (pyrotechnics shows nationwide), so we’re happy. 2020 is gone. We don’t want to hear about it anymore.”
Long Road Ahead
Still, it will be a long road ahead for Pyro Spectaculars to return to its pre-pandemic glory. California’s shutdown nearly sank the 115-year-old company founded by Souza’s great-grandfather, Manuel de Souza, in the Bay Area in 1906. The company set up headquarters in Rialto in 1976.
Souza said the COVID-19 pandemic put the company millions of dollars in debt.
Pyro Spectaculars, which also has plants in Oakland, Sacramento, San Diego, Fresno and Rocklin, has been working with its banks and landlords to restructure the company’s debt as it recovers. He said two rounds of federal aid under the Payroll Protection Program helped keep the company afloat during the pandemic.
“It may take a few seasons to get back to what normal would be,” Souza said. “We’ve never seen anything like this and could never have predicted a pandemic. It’s just amazing what happened, and very devastating.”
While business rebounds at Pyro Spectaculars, cities and counties across Southern California are preparing for the Fourth of July with excited anticipation after a rather hardscrabble 2020, albeit belts have been tightened and more fundraising has been necessary this year.
While some cities will reopen their gates to the public for Fourth of July festivities, others have elected to livestream the displays or havie the public view them from a distance.
In Redlands, Fourth of July festivities are scheduled to resume at Sylvan Park, which will include a Red, White and Blue Children’s Parade for children under age 12. The fireworks show, however, will not be the traditional publicly attended event at the University of Redlands’ Ted Runner Stadium. Instead, it has moved to Moore Middle School, a more centrally located area that can provide expanded visibility to the public from the comfort of their yards. The show also will be broadcast live at youtube.com/watch?v=JMGScR9S1cQ.
The Redlands Fourth of July Committee, a nonprofit that has planned and hosted the annual fireworks shows and Sylvan Park festivities for decades, has had to rely on donations of more than $50,000 this year from the city and the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians. Traditionally, the money has been raised through ticket sales, said committee Chair Tim Murone.
“Due to the lack of ticket sales, we need to make that up through community sponsorships,” Murone said, adding that the committee is also raising money by selling T-shirts.
The Jurupa Area Recreation and Park District’s fireworks show on July 3 also will be a distance event at Centennial Park, which is centrally located so more people can see it, said Colby Duiguid, general manager for the agency.
“We had to plan this back in March, so it was too late to change our show and allow people to be there in person,” Duiguid said.
Lost half of deposit
The JARPD took a hit last year when it lost half of its deposit for its Fourth of July fireworks show — $6,200 — to Pyro Spectaculars after the pandemic struck, forcing cancellation of the event. A clause in the contract called for the deposit, if not used for its intended purpose, to be used for any other event by the end of the year. If unused, the deposit would not be refunded.
Pyro Spectaculars did, however, agree to return half of JARPD’s deposit.
“It’s frustrating, obviously; because of the pandemic and the stay-at-home orders, we weren’t able to have our show, so it was out of our control.” Duiguid said. “Nothing much we can do about it, unfortunately. Nobody anticipated a global pandemic shutting down the world for 15 months.”
Souza understands Duiguid’s frustration, but said the vendor deposits cover myriad prepaid expenses, including insurance, fireworks purchases, shipping, and employee wages, among other things.
“Our objective is to keep everybody happy, but at the same time it’s very expensive to run a business,” Souza said.
Lake Elsinore was in a similar situation as Jurupa Valley when it was forced to cancel its Fourth of July fireworks show last year — a week before the scheduled event — and faced losing half of its $44,000 deposit. So, the city opted to host a fireworks show on New Year’s Eve for the public to watch from a distance or while parked in their vehicles.
“We did know that we were at risk of losing that deposit, and that’s why we held the fireworks show on New Year’s, before the end of the year,” said Nicole Dailey, assistant to Lake Elsinore City Manager Jason Simpson.
While some cities and venues still plan to live stream and/or have the public view their fireworks shows from a distance, others across Southern California are inviting the public back for their annual Fourth of July celebrations.
Disneyland announced last week it would restart its summer fireworks extravaganza, in time for the Fourth of July.
Pyro Spectaculars also is producing Independence Day fireworks shows in Torrance, El Segundo, at the Queen Mary in Long Beach, at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, and the 4th of July Hometown Celebration, featuring Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, at the Calabasas High School football field.
In Lake Elsinore, meanwhile, the city’s annual Fourth of July Fireworks Spectacular is on again this year and will be open to the public. It will feature a boat parade before the scheduled fireworks show at 9 p.m. From 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., the city will host a “Party in the Park,” featuring a barbecue, bicycle parade and other activities.
“We’re doing the whole shebang!” Dailey said.