Above Photo: Lew's Fireworks of Watertown, SD
By: Nicole Zempel
I was like a kid in a candy store! I did not expect to see isles upon isles of some pretty amazing fireworks. Yes, I knew the place was called "Lew's Fireworks," but I'd never seen anything like this.
Maybe it's a Minnesota thing...I wondered aloud as Lew, a man with the kindest eyes I have ever seen, seemed to understand. He rattled off the short list of what is typically found in Minnesota...the little grey pellets that once lit expand into a grey squiggly worm like thing. Sparklers, fire crackers, smoke bombs, and if we're really getting crazy the little cones that spray sparks about a foot in the air.
Lew felt my pain, but he also felt my excitement. As he showed me around, I had pointed to certain things that stood out to me. Fireworks that go up in the shape of Walleyes - sixteen high shooting, loud booming swimming fish in the air! My mind was blown...no pun intended.
Or, how about "Summer Rain" fireworks that mimic a rain shower - which I found out was inspired by and named for his two granddaughters, Summer and Raine who donned the front of the packaging.
Then there's the ones that go up in the shape of buck antlers, paying homage to Lew's love of the outdoors and hunting. And on this package, appropriately, an image of Lew in blaze orange.
He also points to fireworks that mimic a school of fish, Vikings and Packers fireworks, fireworks that sound like goose calls, even religious themed fireworks!
I was completely in awe of the unique variety, but even more than that - the thought, attention to detail, and inspiration that seemed to be behind the large collection of fireworks before me. I sensed that Lew didn't just sell fireworks - he was passionate about them!
That old saying about loving what you do and you never work a day in your life echoed loudly in my mind and seemed to personify Lew's presence. I asked him how long he'd been in business to which he replied, " A few years," before adding, "Since 1959."
I mentioned that my family was throwing a surprise 60th birthday for my Dad - who so happened to love fishing and hunting. Needless to say I left Lew's that afternoon packing fireworks that consisted of the sixteen shot Walleye, two of the twelve shot schools for a total of 40 swimming fish in the night sky - and last but not least I took Lew's advice and went for what he said were fireworks that were designed to be incredibly bright - keeping with the aquatic theme - blue.
In addition to selling fireworks year round, they also keep busy year round - they have teams that put on fireworks shows for all kinds of events, fairs, and of course the Fourth of July.
I left feeling that there was something special about Lew. And I was curious about his start in the business. I actually kicked myself for having not asked, but we were having such fun visiting about the fireworks! When I got home I paid a visit to the Lew's Fireworks website and discovered exactly what I had suspected!
I'll leave off by saying the fireworks were a huge hit at my dads surprise party - and that fireworks are still illegal in Minnesota if they "shoot up into the sky." To which I ask myself - what other kind is there?
What follows is an excerpt from Lew's Fireworks website - have a read and find out how Lew's was born!
"Lewie's entrepreneurial spirit was ignited at the young age of 10 when he figured out that dollars were necessary to buy the things he wanted. So, he set out to work and was hired by a Watertown businessman to run a fireworks stand...Little Lewie actually made pretty good money! But he knew he could make even more money, and even as much as his boss, if he had his own stand."
“Lew’s” was born."
"Lew’s father built a fireworks stand and young Lewie was in business for himself the very next year. Lew was in business for a few years until he took a brief hiatus with the United States Army. Upon his return
from service in 1958, he managed his parents’ business, the Elco Motel."
"But fireworks were never far from his mind and never left his heart. In 1959, twenty-one year old Lew remembered his first love (fireworks!) and built three 7 foot-wide stands while also working in hotel management. He continued to add stands every year until he had 14 stands! His company, again named “Lew’s,” was in business!"
"In 1961, he started selling fireworks to the wholesale market. And in 1979, he retired from hotel management and dedicated himself to fireworks fulltime. Lew was now focused on his true passion and expanded his operations to the East side of Watertown. He also started importing his products, shipping up to 40 containers to the United States each year."
"But that wasn’t enough! Lew’s creative business acumen was sparked yet again, and in the mid-80’s, he began development of his own products. He now has over 100 signature products."
"Today Lew and son, Dan, focus on their wholesale distribution facility where they specialize in product development. Currently, they have over 55,000 square footage of storage. They have 10 major retail centers and supply over 400 retailers, wholesalers and community displays. They supply retail products to a 5 state region and supply wholesale from as far west as Idaho and east to Indiana."
"Today, Lew is 78 years old and enjoys working each day. His lifelong philosophy has been, “The difference between work and play is a mental attitude.” Lew continues his hands-on approach to business
and customer service, infusing his incredible entrepreneurial spirit and business acumen into a business that has spanned three family generations and continues to thrive today."
Photo Below: Lew of Lew's Fireworks - Watertown, SD