The roadside stands pop up almost overnight, scads of them in June and July set up strategically along South Carolina routes with large signs that scream for your business in bright red lettering: FIREWORKS!

Some of these makeshift structures are made from wooden pallets. Jeff Rush, the owner of Coastal Fireworks, made his three stands from shipping containers.

From the sales counter, he leans forward, his head barely poking out of the clean rectangular holes he cut into the sides of his stand years ago to make windows.

He sees cars zip down the street. And he waits.

"Fireworks is an impulse buy," Rush said from inside his stand at 1216 Central Avenue in Summerville. "You won't sell a lot of fireworks until the last couple of days before the Fourth.

"But I set up early. It's advertising. I want people to know that I'm here and remember me," he said.

For the past 18 years, Rush has been selling explosive commodities out of roadside stands to neighbors and tourists during two major seasons for fireworks vendors: July 4th and New Year's Eve.

Independence Day? That's the money-maker. Rush estimates he'll make about 90 percent of his profit next week but turns coy when asked how much that is. 

"I can tell you this: It sends my kids to college," the 48-year-old said, winking. "It's very good business or I wouldn't be in it. Fireworks is big business in South Carolina."

'The fireworks state'

The S.C. Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation reports there are 520 licensed fireworks stands scattered across South Carolina ahead of this Fourth of July season with 435 of them temporary stands.

Counties with the highest number of temporary stands are Richland, Charleston and Greenville counties, all of which have licensed more than 35. Richland alone licensed 57 temporary stands.

The S.C. Department of Revenue could not provide data on the economic impact of fireworks sales in the Palmetto State, but national groups say the fireworks business is, well, booming.

The American Pyrotechnics Association, a national trade group for fireworks manufacturers, distributors and retailers, is anticipating another record-breaking year for consumer fireworks sales. And it's not only because of patriotic tradition.

"We predict revenues could exceed $900 million for the 2018 fireworks season," said Julie L. Heckman, executive director of the American Pyrotechnics Association.

That's up from 2017, when American consumers spent approximately $885 million on fireworks for the Fourth of July —  a $60 million increase over fireworks sales in 2016.

She attributes part of that rise to a continuing trend of states relaxing their consumer fireworks laws.

Since 2011, 11 states have lifted restrictions on the sale of most types of consumer fireworks. The only state that has continued its ban on consumer fireworks is Massachusetts, meaning the remaining 49 have sales of some type.

South Carolina, by contrast, has been known as "the fireworks state" for the past 50 or 60 years, said Paul Abbott of the Fireworks Association of South Carolina.

"For most of that time, we were the only state on the East Coast that allowed what was then known as full consumer fireworks, which included things like rockets and firecrackers," Abbott said, noting people bought fireworks here all year-long simply because they could.

Though other states have adopted a friendlier attitude toward fireworks, South Carolina still benefits, he said.

Abbott's family owns Abbott Farms. The business primarily sells peaches, but it also sells fireworks year-round at its six locations off busy interstates in the Upstate.

"We've been carrying fireworks for 50 years and we still get tourists coming in," he said.

But you have to pay to play.

Red tape for red sparklers

Despite having less overhead for stands than traditional brick-and-mortar outfits, fireworks operations are still a heavily regulated business.

Temporary stands, like the one Rush operates, must obtain 90-day permits from the state, which cost $100.

Annual stands for brick-and-mortar fireworks shops, like the ones Abbott's family operates, are required to get a one-year license for $200.

In addition, state law requires vendors to obtain a $1 million bond or liability insurance coverage before local governments and municipalities can issue their own permits. A fire marshal must also inspect the business before it can operate.

Along with state laws, stand vendors must be mindful of county and municipal codes. For example, fireworks sales are banned in the city of Charleston.

"There's a profit to be made, but there's also a cost to it. At the end of the day, these stands are a mom-and-pop business, but you have to be smart. I want my buildings to look clean and crisp, so I have them painted every other year," said Rush.

In April and May, Rush takes his family to "shoot shows," where fireworks distributors demonstrate their products to entice vendors like him to buy their goods ahead of the July Fourth season. When the season ends, Rush said he will store whatever product is leftover in a climate-controlled environment.

"But we almost never have anything left," he said.

For Rush, it's still worth it. It's a side job for him to generate extra money outside of his repair business, and he works alongside his family.

On the night of July 4, Rush will be selling fireworks until after midnight.

He said he still admires the sound and the spectacle of fireworks, but he also sees something else when they light up the sky.

"That's money right there," he said.

Reach Caitlin Byrd at 843-937-5590 and follow her on Twitter @MaryCaitlinByrd.

Political Reporter

Caitlin Byrd is a political reporter at The Post and Courier and author of the Palmetto Politics newsletter. Before moving to Charleston in 2016, her byline appeared in the Asheville Citizen-Times. To date, Byrd has won 17 awards for her work.