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Piccolo Petes, Morning Glories, and Ground Bloom Flowers: Selling fireworks in Alhambra

Fireworks sales are banned in most of Los Angeles County. But in Alhambra they’re sold legally the week before the 4th of July. John Anthony Denovel, 65, runs a stand which supports AYSO in the parking lot of the car wash at the corner of Atlantic and Main Street. The retiree has been selling fireworks for nearly 20 years. And for decades before that he has been buying fireworks in Alhambra. Denovel told the Alhambra Source about how the sales are an important fundraiser for local organizations, 14-hour workdays hawking explosives, and the watchmen who protect the wares at night.

What is the protocol for getting a fireworks stand?

Every city is different, but in the City of Alhambra they have five different groups: churches, elementary education, secondary education, general non-profits like AYSO and veterans groups. They allow three stands for each group. It’s like a lottery, sometimes you get picked and sometimes you don't. So that means that there are 15 different stands throughout Alhambra.

Do you like working the fireworks stand?

It’s fun, and I’m semi-retired. It’s a good way to break up the monotony in my life. It’s only a week, and I really enjoy seeing the other volunteers because they’re the same ones every year. It's the same volunteers that work for the other stands. It’s nice to see everyone coming back year after year to raise money for their organizations. 

Do you know anything about the history behind Alhambra allowing the sale of fireworks?

I know that they have been out forever. I’m 65 and I have been buying them here since I was five. A lot of cities are doing away with them, but Alhambra thinks they’re important, so they keep them.

How do you feel that so many cities in Los Angeles County do not allow the sale of fireworks?

It’s been like that forever. San Marino, Temple City, South Pasadena—even Los Angeles doesn’t allow it. It’s usually the smaller cities that allow it. Everything is safe and sane. I mean it’s only for one week. I’m glad that cities like Alhambra and Monterey Park allow them to be sold.

How long is your typical workday?

Fourteen hours. We’re allowed to be open 24 hours a day, but at night we have to have a watchman here and the stand has to be locked.

Are your customers mainly locals or do you see many coming from far away to purchase fireworks?

The majority of the people are local. Some come from other cities but they only buy small stuff, like sparklers, because they can’t shoot fireworks off in their cities. They purchase things that won’t get them in trouble.

What are the most popular fireworks?There are so many fireworks that I like, that’s like asking me what is my favorite car? I think the most popular selling fireworks are the smaller ones, like the Piccolo Pete, Morning Glories, and Ground Bloom Flowers.

What is the most expensive firework you sell?In a box set, $260. A single cone, which is mainly used for grand finales can be up to $25.

Have you ever had a firework explode inside the stand?No, because we’re not allowed to have any kind of fire source inside the stand. That’s why we have signs around the stand that say “No Smoking”.

Does a rivalry exist between different firework stands?

No. I don’t feel any rivalry between stands. I think the closest one is about five blocks away. I think if we can all make a little bit of money, then that’s something to be happy about.

This interview has been edited and condensed. 

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