Spectators watch a 2015 Grucci fireworks show at Eisenhower Park in...

Spectators watch a 2015 Grucci fireworks show at Eisenhower Park in East Meadow. Defense contracts help the company endure leaner times for the pyrotechnics business, such as the pandemic. Credit: Howard Schnapp

A unit of Long Island's Grucci fireworks business has landed an $11.7 million Defense Department contract for ground-burst and hand-grenade simulators as the company reaches "the home stretch" leading up to a burst of Independence Day fireworks shows around the country, chief executive and creative director Felix "Phil" Grucci said.

Grucci, a member of the fifth generation to lead the iconic family fireworks company, said contracts from the U.S. military have helped provide ballast during the COVID-19 pandemic, when demand for fireworks shows dried up and some competitors were forced out of business.

Pyrotechnique by Grucci Inc., the manufacturing arm that supplies explosives to sister company Fireworks by Grucci Inc., won the U.S. Army-funded contract that is expected to run through June 9, 2028. Grucci is CEO of both corporate entities. 

The American Pyrotechnic Association, based in Southport, North Carolina, calculates that revenue from fireworks shows nationwide tumbled from $375 million in 2019 to $93 million in 2020, when the pandemic hit. Revenue rebounded somewhat in 2021 to $262 million.

"You come out of these hard times," said Grucci, who cited the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks as another period when demand for fireworks shows went into a steep decline. "Displays came to a halt. It took a year to come out of that."

In the 1950s, the company provided the U.S. armed forces with explosives designed to simulate the noise and shaking of an atomic bomb blast, he said. After a lull, in the 1990s, the company revived its government business by bidding on contracts for hand-grenade simulations that include the delay after the pin has been pulled.

Government contracts accounted for roughly 95% of revenue at the height of the pandemic, but can go as low as 30%-40% in years when demand for fireworks shows is strong, he said.

The Grucci companies employ 197 full-timers, including 35 on Long Island and 150 at its manufacturing facility in Radford, Virginia, plus about 400 part-time pyrotechnicians, Grucci said. By year's end, the head count of full-timers is expected to exceed 200 as workers are added to fulfill the latest Defense Department contract.

Grucci, who purchased the Bellport business from his aunt and uncle seven years ago, said the company is dispatching 90 trucks for shows around the country.

On Friday, Grucci will stage a computer-synchronized fireworks show at Eisenhower Park's Lakeside Theater. The "Celebrate America" show, scheduled for 6-10 p.m. and sponsored by TD Bank, will include The Captain Jack Band, which covers Billy Joel songs. 

Among the other shows will be displays in Las Vegas, Yonkers, Westhampton and Key Biscayne, Florida,

Later in July, Grucci plans to fly to Saudi Arabia, where the company will stage a massive fireworks show when that country marks its national day on Sept. 23.

Grucci holds several Guinness World Records in the fireworks category, including the largest fireworks display in multiple cities (utilizing almost one million devices) staged for Saudi Arabia's national day in 2018 and the largest pyrotechnic image, a depiction of the Saudi flag, at the same event.

The Grucci family's fireworks business originated in Bari, Italy, in 1850 and the U.S. company was founded in 1910, Grucci said.

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