COVID-19 disrupts and changes July 4th celebrations across Indiana

By Isaac Gleitz
TheStatehouseFile.com

INDIANAPOLIS—Communities across Indiana that usually put on large celebrations for the Fourth of July are scaling back or outright canceling fireworks displays and surrounding events because of the threat posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

From Indianapolis to Evansville, many of the state’s largest cities are canceling events, while smaller ones like Zionsville, have shifted venues and set up multiple viewing areas to spread out the audience. Kokomo’s Haynes-Apperson Festival is cancelled, along with the Madison Regatta, an annual hydroplane race. Many small towns have also cancelled their shows, like in Akron, where some residents have vowed to hold their own parade.

Fourth of July fireworks

Meanwhile, fireworks vendors are seeing increases in sales of products, a sign that people are putting on their own shows at home.

Phil Jenkins, mayor of the town of Nappanee in northern Indiana, said his town postponed its event for public safety. 

“We were waiting to see what was going on in Elkhart County, and our numbers continued to climb,” Jenkins said.  The event is now slated to coincide with the town’s annual apple festival in September but there is a chance that both events will be canceled, he added. Elkhart has seen a rise in cases of the contagious virus.

“We’ll continue to look for a way to have it eventually,” Jenkins said.

Rebecca Hartzler, clerk-treasurer for the town of Akron, said their show usually draws between 3,000 and 5,000 people, but it’s also cancelled this year. 

The decision was made, Hartzler said, because safety is the priority, and Indiana hasn’t fully reopened yet. Still, that doesn’t mean the holiday isn’t important to the town, which was founded on July 4, 1836. Families and businesses support the cancellation and plan to decorate their buildings with patriotic symbols this year to make up for the loss, she said. 

But one group of residents have pledged to hold their own parade because they think their constitutional rights are being infringed upon with the cancellation, Hartzler said. She understands that the holiday is important, but it doesn’t justify irrational behavior. 

“It’s huge, but it’s caused a lot of headache and pain that we didn’t really need,” she said.

Topeka Clerk-Treasurer Naomi Miller said her town has also cancelled their show due to COVID-19. Businesses, she said, aren’t in a good position to make the donations the town needs for a show because many have been closed for more than a month.

Still, other local officials said that they’re going ahead with their celebrations and are hopeful that they will run smoothly. 

Gas City Mayor Bill Rock Jr. said he expects the typical turnout of about 2,000 to 3,000 people, adding they will spread out in the park like they do every year. 

“Social distancing has actually been in place for years without us recognizing it,” Rock said. 

He added that 99% of his town’s residents are glad the event is still going to happen; yet, he understands that some are hesitant to attend, and promotes discretion. He hopes his city draws people from other towns that have cancelled their shows.

But the residents of Bluffton, a 45-minute drive to the northwest from Gas City, won’t have to look elsewhere for their show. John Whicker, the town’s mayor, said they will still have their fireworks, although they’ve cancelled all accompanying activities. There will be no music and no food, and town officials are also asking those who attend to stay in their cars.

“It’s something the public looks forward to each year,” Whicker said, explaining the show is part of the town culture, so he expects a large turnout.

As many communities cancel or limit their fireworks displays, many Hoosiers are turning to homegrown celebrations as some fireworks distributors say they’ve had a surge in sales to smaller buyers.

Tom Tracy, chief operating officer of Spectrum Fireworks in Fort Wayne, said that mail orders have spiked this year, despite the fact that they couldn’t mail out catalogs to potential customers because of the virus. He said household gatherings are taking the place of community events.

Fireworks for sale before July 4. The Statehouse File.

Rick Pridemore, co-owner of AAA Fireworks in Indianapolis, also said business during COVID-19 has been better than usual for them. 

“I hate to say it, but it’s kind of helped us out,” Pridemore said. “We’ve seen a great response from the public.”

Only the huge buyers who normally put on shows for hundreds of people are hesitant to buy, he said, but the medium-level shoppers who buy about $1,000 worth of merchandise are spending more than usual. 

“A lot of the big municipalities are cancelled, so I think a lot of the little guys are looking to fill the position,” Pridemore said.

In addition, the store has had to turn down some requests to put on shows, he said. They are getting overwhelmed with calls, and his team doesn’t have enough time to host all of them. 

Isaac Gleitz is a reporter with TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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