Fifty years ago, a Great Bend summer institution kicked off modestly with a small stand in front of a house on 24th Street.
This summer, T&L Fireworks, who kicks off it’s golden anniversary year Saturday, expanded into a new location as original owners Tom and Linda Barnes get set to pass the torch to a third generation of capable family hands.
“We’re loosening the reins completely take that in the kids kind of take over,” Linda said. “So other than kind of keeping an eye on everything, the kids have been pretty much doing it all so we’ve been very fortunate.”
Though the business has grown to multiple locations over the course of 50 years, Linda said the start was modest in 1970
In April 1970, Tom was hired at Ruskin Manufacturing, and their house in Kansas City sold faster than anticipated, so with nothing to do yet in Great Bend, Tom decided to pursue a childhood dream to have a fireworks stand.
“We made our first little stand out in front of the house on 24th Street,” Linda said. “We made it out of the $1.99 cheap paneling that they used to have available and put rollerskates underneath so we could roll it in and out of the garage at night.”
Things were a lot different in the early days of the stand. Back then, it was legal for residents to shoot fireworks all eight days the stand was open, from June 27 to July 4.
“A lot of kids didn’t have any money at that time so we actually took pop bottles that had a deposit on it so the kids would bring us the pop bottles we trade it for fireworks,” Linda recalled. “Then at night when we close we’d had take all the pop bottles to the store to get our money back.”
From the modest beginnings, though, broad community support helped the business continue to grow over time.
“We appreciate all of the all of our customers, our community, they’ve been very supportive,” Linda said.
From the first home stand on 24th Street, Linda said they’ve had several tent locations over the years, and moved into their current location on N. U.S. 281 in 2000. They’ve also added a location in Larned operated by the First Christian Church, and this year are launching a third location at 5215 10th St., which will be managed by their grandchildren.
And their customers are no longer just local. Linda said they see people come in from out of state locales such as Colorado and Oklahoma each year, as well.
What she feels like keeps people coming back each year is their attention to high quality and local, personal service.
“If anybody has any problems, we take care of it right away,” she said. “We stay open late on the Fourth so if anybody would have a problem with any product then we can replace it or give them back their money. They know that we’re not going to be one of these people that are here today and gone tomorrow.”
She said outside of the eight days a year they are open for fireworks sales, they spend a lot of time the rest of the year ensuring they have the highest quality products to sell their customers.
It requires a lot of time and attention to detail she said, to prepare for those eight days, because staying in business for a half-century means being prepared for any problem that might arise, which she said happens invariably each year.
“We make sure every “i” is dotted and ever “t” is crossed before we open,” she said.
The people are what Linda said she enjoys most about the job, and what has kept her and Tom doing the work every year.
“(I enjoy) greeting and meeting the neighbors and friends that we don’t see but once a year,” she said. “It seems like a meeting place for people and they come congregate and catch up on what’s happened in the past year.”
And, as the new generation of the family takes the reins, she wants to make sure people know, “We’re here for them and we’ll be here for years to come.”
T&L Fireworks Locations:
159 N. U.S. 281, Great Bend (Open June 27-July 4)
5215 W. 10th St., Great Bend - just west of Playa Azul ((Open June 27-July 4)
718 Fort Larned Ave., Larned - Run by First Christian Church, Larned (Open July 1-July 4)