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Fireworks 'kingpin' bursts onto the scene

By Evan Ramstad

Associated Press

ANOKA, Minn. -- Malcolm Trott wants to be Minnesota's first fireworks kingpin.

During the three months legislators talked about easing the state's ban on novelty fireworks, he developed a plan and began raising capital to open at least 20 stores to sell them.

And three weeks after Gov. Jesse Ventura signed the bill into law, Trott last weekend opened his first Magic Sparkler store. Before he was even done stocking it, he put out a news release proclaiming it the first fireworks store in the state.

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"I'm not the sharpest businessman," he says. "I just want to be fast."

On Tuesday, TV crews outnumbered customers for a time, and deliverymen were still dropping off merchandise. A newspaper sales rep stopped by with a mock-up of Trott's first ad, which boasts "safe" and "legal" products. His only other advertising is a yellow sign outside the building that says "Fireworks and Magic."

"We're seeing people straggling in," he says. "But I'm very confident."

Trott, 40, grew up playing with sparklers and other fireworks in International Falls, Minn. In the past few years, he's tended bar and run restaurants in the Minneapolis area.

When he heard in February that legislators were considering easing the 1941 ban on fireworks and novelty items, he started a list of cities where he could sell the items, calling hundreds of city clerks and fire chiefs to gauge reaction.

"Some said it'll snow in June before they legalize fireworks," Trott said. A few people told him they had a friend or relative who'd like to sell them, which Trott took as a discouraging sign.

When he got his list to 50 cities, he hired a leasing consultant to drive around the state and assess locations. He snagged the first store himself, a 500-square-foot vacancy in a strip center near the intersection of two highways in this suburb north of Minneapolis.

With help from a friend in the fireworks business in Wisconsin, Trott stocked about three dozen popular items, which range in price from 25 cents for fast-burning, ashen "snakes" to $81.50 for a mega-collection of sparklers, fountains and glowing items.

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To keep customers coming in year-round, he filled half the store with magic and party items. And he's got ideas to combine sparklers and other items in sets that are just right for birthday parties and special occasions such as weddings.

With such items likely to appear soon in many types of stores across the state, Trott says he's depending on his legwork for an edge. For instance, he's discovered local fire officials can influence the amount of inventory he can keep in a store. As a result, he worked with suppliers on a way to quickly replenish shelves.

But Trott believes Magic Sparkler's future lies in further easing of the state's fireworks law to include firecrackers and other exploding items.

For that to happen, he knows people will have to use sparklers safely. So he's handing out safety tips with each purchase.

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