After 56 years, Lea’s business still ‘booming’

Published 5:00 am Thursday, July 3, 2003

For more than half a century, Coleman Lea has had a hand inhelping people celebrate the Fourth of July and other holidays.

“We never run out of fireworks here,” said Lea, owner offireworks wholesaler LeCole, Inc., on Field Lark Lane.

Lea said he buys from three different fireworks importingcompanies and then sells to churches, schools, and generally smallmunicipalities that want to put on a fireworks show. He also sellsto several retail stands and has a retail business of his own.

“I don’t have boundaries,” Lea said about his fireworksdistribution. “A lot of it goes out of state. I’m not limited.”

Lea, 76, said he has been in the fireworks business for 56years.

When he was 20, Lea would travel to seven counties as a foodproducts distributor.

Shortly after World War II, he happened to meet a fireworksdistributor who sent him $5,000 worth of fireworks. That led to thestart of the business.

“I’ve been at it ever since,” said Lea, adding that he continuedto sell when he was county sheriff and tax collector.

Today, Lea maintains other interests in addition to fireworks.He mentioned cattle, timber and some real estate.

“It isn’t a big thing. It’s a hobby business,” Lea said abouthis fireworks operation.

With the business, Lea said he is able to continue a childhoodfascination while also interacting with customers.

“I like to see the people,” Lea said, “and since I was a littlekid, I’ve always had fun with fireworks.”

Lea said the business has changed over the years. He saidfireworks, nearly all of which are made in China now, reallyblossomed after World War II.

As a child, Lea recalled the familiar firecrackers, Romancandles and sparklers. Today’s fireworks include things like BuzzBombs and more elaborate items such as Lightning Storm.

Lea said it would be hard to identify his favorite.

“I like the artillery shells,” said Lea of the fireworks thatare shot from a mortar and explode into colorful arrays about 150feet in the air. “We have several different makes and designs ofthose.”

As fireworks have changed, so too has the most popular times forshooting them.

“New Year’s is probably the biggest of the three main days: NewYear’s, Christmas and July 4th,” Lea said. “The Fourth of July hasalways been the lightest.”

Lea said that represents a reversal from some years ago whenChristmas was the big fireworks holiday.

“If you didn’t make it during Christmas week, it was all over,”Lea said.

Lea is proud of his track record in handling fireworks and thatthere have been no serious injuries from products he’s sold overthe years.

“Everything we handle is approved by both the federal and stategovernments,” Lea said, adding that he doesn’t sell to anyone underage 16 unless they are accompanied by an adult.

The wholesaler is also glad to see progress of the area ofoutlawing things like M-80s and Cherry Bombs. Lea said those aremore like explosives than fireworks.

In places where all fireworks have outlawed, Lea expressedconcerns about people making their own. That, he said, leads toproblems.

“That’s when they start getting killed,” Lea said.

For many families, fireworks at holidays are a family tradition.And for some families, Lea said getting their fireworks from him isa family tradition.

“It hasn’t been a holiday without their fireworks,” Lea said.”It’s good clean fun if handled right and families have a good timewith it.”