SCARBOROUGH – Maine’s largest fireworks store is slated to open “by the first week of June” in The Gateway Shoppes complex in Scarborough that houses Cabela’s, among other retailers and restaurants.
“We’re very excited,” Bill Weimer, vice president of Ohio-based Phantom Fireworks, said on Monday. “We think Scarborough is a great area. We’ve been treated very well by everyone we’ve dealt with.”
The Scarborough site is the fourth-announced fireworks store in Maine, and the first in southern Maine, since the products became legal Jan. 1.
“This has been a long time coming,” said Weimer. “We’ve very happy that the Legislature finally decided to make our product legal, as it is in so many other states.”
Founded 30 years ago, Phantom operates 54 showroom floors in 14 states selling so-called consumer fireworks – low-powered noisemakers between the novelty items previously legal in Maine, such as hand-held sparklers, and more powerful items like M-80s and “cherry bombs,” which remain against the law in Maine.
Phantom specifically targeted Scarborough as its first Maine location, Weimer said, as part of a new company strategy to open near Cabela’s stores. Although Maine is the first link, more pairings will follow in other states, said Weimer, noting, “We have a very similar clientele to Cabela’s.”
Among restrictions created when the state de-criminalized consumer fireworks effective Jan. 1, any retail space set up to sell the product must be located in its own, free-standing building. That will cause some shuffling at the Gateway Plaza.
According to Greg Feldman, vice president of Feldco Development, parent company to The Gateway Shoppes owner New England Expedition – Scarborough LLC, Phantom signed a lease for the 8,000-square-foot building that currently houses Haven’s Candies and the Thai 9 restaurant, along with two vacant shops.
To accommodate the fireworks store, the two businesses will close for “about a month,” said Feldman, while new digs are outfitted in now-empty storefronts in Gateway Building 2, alongside Portland Pie Co. and Kitchen & Cork.
Thai 9 closed Sunday. Haven’s Candies was slated to close Wednesday, after The Current’s deadline.
“We will be pushing hard to reopen as soon as we can,” Haven’s owner Andy Charles said on Monday. “Any time you close down and relocate a store it’s a risky proposition – some people may think we’re gone and not coming back – but I’m confident that this will be good for all of the merchants.”
The new Haven’s shop will be slightly smaller, said Charles, adding that he hopes clustering restaurants and food stores together will help all to “achieve critical mass.”
“I believe that our customers will find our new location equally or more compelling,” he said.
Haven’s Candies has 30 employees among its Scarborough, Portland and Westbrook locations. Generally, up to four people are stationed in Scarborough at any one time, said Charles. All will be given jobs at other Haven’s sites during the month the store is closed, he said.
Thai 9 owner Sourasay Senesombath said most of his six full- and part-time workers will temporarily relocate to one of two other Thai restaurants owned by his mother, in Bar Harbor and New Hampshire.
All will return when Thai 9 opens “in early June,” he said, confident despite an expected loss of seats, from 46 to 38.
“We will come back a little smaller, but we really like that we will be on the side of the complex with Portland Pie, where all the action, all the foot traffic, is,” said Senesombath. “We also think having the fireworks store will be a big benefit to everyone.”
Once the move is complete, The Gateway Shoppes will reach 85 percent occupancy, said Feldman.
“When we first opened the project with Cabela’s and started renting spaces, they went pretty quick,” he said. “But then with the economy and everything, things kind of fell off. Every place, but especially in Maine, has been slow to rebound, but we are now starting to see an uptick.”
A Maine-owned franchise of Phantom competitor, Pyro City, opened Maine’s first fireworks store March 1 in a 2,700-square-foot Manchester site located in a former auto dealership. Pyro’s second store, at 1,500 square feet, opened April 16 in Edgecomb. A third 5,500-square-foot store is expected to open in Winslow by mid-May in a former Ken’s Restaurant.
The fear of such stores sprouting up sent many Maine municipalities scurrying last fall to take advantage of a provision in the new law that let them pass local restrictions.
Portland was first out of the gate, adopting a ban on sale and use of consumer fireworks on Sept. 19. Locally, South Portland followed suit on Oct. 17, while Cape Elizabeth passed its own ban Nov. 14.
In Scarborough, however, there was far more hand-wringing over the law, with town councilors divided between safety concerns and a desire to encourage business growth.
In an informal consensus vote Sept. 7, the council backed Town Manager Tom Hall, who said the town should avoid enacting an outright ban on fireworks, instead limiting its reaction to a requirement for sprinkler systems in any store set up to store or sell fireworks in town.
The council adopted the new sprinkler rules Dec. 21. However, in the meantime, councilors Karen D’Andrea and Carol Rancourt broke ranks and introduced a full ban, saying Scarborough needed to be “a good neighbor” and not allow sale or use of a product its neighbors were outlawing. That attempt failed Nov. 16 in a 3-2 vote.
Then on Jan. 31, with cooperation of Council Richard Sullivan, a Portland firefighter who has previously adopted a wait-and-see attitude on local restrictions, the Rancourt-led ordinance committee tried again, this time allowing the sale of consumer fireworks, but limiting use in town to five days during the year – Dec. 31, Jan. 1, and July 3-5.
Those limitations passed unanimously March 8, with the council easing noise ordinance rules to give a free pass to dogs and other animals that react to fireworks explosions.
Weimer said he is not concerned that his product can only be used in Scarborough five days of the year. After all, he allowed, his company’s business model is geared toward a single day.
“Our product is primarily sold for use around the Fourth of July anyway,” he said. “In other states we see some use on New Year’s Eve as well, but I’m not sure even that will apply to Maine, because of the weather.”
KeepMeCurrent.com / by Duke Harrington