PAWTUCKET — To a seasonal fireworks retailer like Keith Lambert, the Fourth of July generates 30 to 40 percent of his sales. As such, he was unhappy with the City Council's decision Wednesday night to deny a holiday sales license for his retail operation at the former Quiznos sandwich shop at 484 Newport Ave.
According to city officials, Lambert is already allowed to sell fireworks at the former sandwich shop because the location is zoned for retail and he has fulfilled all of the other requirements in both the city and state ordinances.
The General Assembly has made it legal to sell fireworks as long as certain conditions regarding fire safety are met, and Pawtucket's city ordinance only bans fireworks from being sold by peddlers outside, such as on a street corner or under a tent.
The City Council however, is in charge of holiday sales licenses, and Lambert, of New England Novelty, had to apply for one if he wanted to be open on July 4.
Because the store is in his district, City Councilor Terry Mercer was involved in the license application. Mercer also happens to live almost directly behind the Quiznos location, which shares a parking lot with an adjacent Domino's Pizza.
On Wednesday, about a half dozen neighbors came out to speak in opposition to the license. They cited concerns about additional noise and car traffic from customers coming and going from the fireworks store, as well as loitering. From their comments, it was apparent that several speakers were displeased that fireworks were going to be sold from that location at all during the 15-day period that Lambert is planning to be open.
Ann McCarthy said that in addition to more traffic and noise, she worried about the store's proximity to Slater Park and feared people would go there to light off the pyrotechnics they had purchased.
Marilee Arsenault noted that there were plenty of other places to buy fireworks, including major retailers such as Stop and Shop. She and other speakers also noted that the neighborhood suffers from the extra cars and noise generated by the fireworks displays at nearby McCoy Stadium and argued that the neighborhood should be entitled to one “peaceful, family holiday” on July 4.
Mercer, who said he had informed the neighbors of Lambert's July 4 licensing request, also said he had checked with the PawSox and found the team to be out of town that day. Therefore, he also argued in favor of the neighborhood being able to enjoy a quiet July 4 in light of all the hubbub on the other days there are fireworks at McCoy Stadium.
Mercer said that in light of his proximity to the store, he would abstain from the vote. However, several other councilors spoke against the holiday license, agreeing with the neighbors that they deserved a break from traffic and noise. Councilor John Barry, who has been a critic of the state's decision to legalize fireworks sales, reiterated his contention that this should never have been approved by state lawmakers. The vote was 6 to 0 against the holiday sales license, with one abstention.
For his part, Lambert told the Times that he thought Mercer had purposely brought out the neighbors to speak against his business, given that he lives so close to it. He said he runs a professional operation, and sold fireworks last year from the former Tim Horton's restaurant, near the intersection of Newport Avenue and Central Avenue, without any complaints. He said last year's sales period included the July 4 holiday, for which the City Council had granted him a holiday license.
“I think it was handled improperly by the council. I did everything they asked and they denied me,” said Lambert. “I don't understand why they wouldn't give me the holiday license when they did it last year.”
Mercer said he was upfront with Lambert about where he lives during their first conversation, and also said he felt it was his duty to inform the neighbors about the holiday license request. He said he realized that some who spoke were under the impression that the retail license itself was up for debate, not just the single holiday. “Overall, some would like that it not be there at all, but it is what it is,” he said, noting that the location is appropriately zoned for retail sales.
In the wake of the board's decision, Lambert said he will be open from June 21 through July 3, closed on July 4, and open again on July 5 and 6 “when everything will be 50 percent off.”