The Firework Emporium: 20 Years Later
Returning to a shop I first visited two decades ago!
Back in 2001 when UKFR was less than two years old, I made my first ever visit to an all-year fireworks shop. At the time, I was based in Norwich which didn’t have such a shop, so a long drive down the A140 to Ipswich was in order. Like many enthusiasts, I’ll never forget my “first time” so to speak; walking into a shop with wall-to-wall pyro. Plus, getting instant pyro gratification from not having to wait for a courier to deliver a mail order.
Popping back into The Firework Emporium over the last Bonfire Night period, in 2021, to pick up some fireworks for a friend’s party brought with it quite an emotional moment when I realised that a full two decades had elapsed since I first shopped there.
With that in mind, I’ve returned with my camera to document the shop as it is today, reflect on some of the changes and interview the current manager.
It’s no exaggeration to say that literally everything about this shop has changed since 2001. Starting with the name; on my first visit the shop still had the old name over the door: The World Of Fireworks. The externals have been changed to reflect the new name, The Firework Emporium, which came along in 2002 or so. Stepping inside and there’s different display cabinets, flooring, ceiling and even the internal walls have moved!
To understand these changes it’s necessary to have a brief recap of Firework Emporium history. In 2001 and throughout the noughties, the owner was Warren Thomas who will be familiar to many of my long-term readers. He’s one of the true visionaries of the fireworks trade, being one of the first retailers to understand the value of “see before you buy” product video and public demo nights. He’s also known for pushing the boundaries of firework names with some wonderfully politically incorrect and humorous product names (the “Psychodelia” dig at Norwich City FC being a good example).
Warren exited the fireworks trade some years ago and sold the business to a firework company just south of Ipswich, in Essex, called Dynamic Fireworks. Dynamic are a true family-run business with both retail shops and a professional display arm, so FE was always going to be in good hands. And in case you’re wondering, Warren didn’t stay away from fireworks for long and currently has a shop up in Norwich called Trafalgar Fireworks.
Dynamic Fireworks decided to keep the shop name as The Firework Emporium given how well known it is locally, but set to work modernising the shop and its internals. The results are a modern, bright and welcoming shop. Note the bright yellow floor arrows are the remnants of Covid social distancing:
It’s all change with staffing too; behind the counter now you’ll find a welcoming smile from Neil. I asked him to tell me how he came to be working in a fireworks shop. “I joined the company nearly five years ago,” he said. “Before this I was a driver in the motor trade, so this is quite a difference. Not just fireworks, I’d never worked in a retail role either.”
I asked him whether the seasonal nature of fireworks was a bit of a shock. “It’s a world of difference,” he replied. “It’s manic in peak season but it’s also a real buzz. The days go very quickly.
“Out of season there’s fewer customers but the focus then is on parties, weddings, gender reveals and so on. It’s also a good time to work on updating the website, adding new products and even attending wedding fairs.”
Given the difference to his previous job I asked Neil what serving the firework-buying public was like. “It’s actually very rewarding,” he replied. “Unlike many retail jobs, if you think about it you’re selling people things that help them celebrate and make them happy. Even the occasional ashes into fireworks request is good natured.”
When I explained to Neil that back in 2001 product video didn’t exist, he found it difficult to imagine trying to sell fireworks without this. “It’s not just being able to show the customer what a firework does,” he said, “It’s also being able to improve your own product knowledge and make better recommendations. It sounds almost impossible to do this without video clips!”
I asked Neil about the “Girl or boy?” poster on the front of the counter. “Gender reveals are so popular now,” he said – these were almost unheard of back in 2001. “They’re actually a lot of fun to do and sometimes I am the only person who knows the gender if the customer wants it to be a surprise to them too.”
I enquired about how this works in practice. “The customer asks the hospital not to tell them the gender after their scan but to give them a copy of the scan in an envelope. They hand this to me and I then pick either a blue or pink firework as appropriate and wrap it up, concealing the colour. I feel very privileged!”
Low noise fireworks are a big thing these days and FE now have a section dedicated to these. In 2001 there were plenty of low noise items but there was less of a demand for them. “The quality and range of low noise pyro just keeps getting better and better,” Neil explained. “With so much choice it’s easy to do a big low noise fireworks display using fountains, candles and an increasing number of low noise cakes.”
One of the more popular low noise candles, the Parade series, is pictured above. Not everyone needs to keep the noise down of course; it’s nice to see huge F3 rockets still taking pride of place in the shop. Back in 2001 these were Whoppas and Orbs (if you remember either of those, well done), followed by FE’s own “WMD” rocket (a humorous reflection of various political issues of the day). Today there’s Ultra, Zeus and my favourite for sky-filling effects, The Hulk, pictured below.
It’s hard to miss the bright yellow social distancing arrows on the floor, which you can see in my photos. I asked Neil how Covid and lockdowns had affected trade. “Well the first lockdown seemed to be over in mid-2020 so we were expecting a normal season,” he explained. “However cases rose again and Boris decided to shut us down on November 5th itself, the irony!
“Thankfully we managed to maintain a good level of service through a combination of deliveries and click and collect. It was hard work but at least we managed to continue trading. There was certainly no lessening of the public’s keenness to celebrate with fireworks. 2021 was a lot easier in comparison and I’m crossing my fingers that 2022 will be back to normal,” Neil continued, looking thoughtful. “Though with everything that has happened I’m not sure what normal is any more,” he added, grinning.
Take a look around:
Click on the image below to launch a 360 degree view of The Firework Emporium which you can explore at your leisure:
With Dynamic Fireworks having a well-established professional display arm, I asked Neil if he gets involved with letting off fireworks too. “Yes, I do,” he replied. “My main focus is of course this shop, but I manage to fire around 20 shows a year, mostly weddings in the summer months.”
He continued: “I’ve done all of the training relating to professional firing and am now a senior firer, known as BPA Level 2.”
I asked him how firing compares to retail. “It’s totally different,” he explained, “There’s a lot of setting up and wedding displays are hard work, especially if the weather isn’t good. But there is a huge sense of satisfaction when you hear the crowd cheer at the end.”
Finally, I asked Neil if he’d had any strange requests over the years. “I’m quite often jokingly asked whether we can put ashes into fireworks but this is actually a service we offer, much to people’s surprise. Other than that, do we sell rockets that spell out a name is another not uncommon request and sadly not something we can do!”
You can check out more of the FE shop in the 360 degree photo above, or click on the thumbnails below to view my gallery. With thanks to Neil for his time.