Hempfield’s former Toys R Us to sparkle again – as a fireworks store
A changing retail market and change to Pennsylvania law helped pave the way for a Hempfield building that until recently was filled with plush dolls, binkies and countless nursery must-haves to seeing its shelves stocked with bottle rockets, Roman candles and other popular pyrotechnics.
The former Toys R Us on Donohoe Road soon will be occupied by Phantom Fireworks.
The Youngstown, Ohio-based chain is slated to open its newest location in the space located across from Westmoreland Mall by the end of May, depending on construction and permits, said William Weimer, company vice president.
A change in Pennsylvania law has more brick-and-mortar fireworks stores popping up across the state, Weimer said. In 2017, regulations were altered to allow people to buy Class C fireworks, including firecrackers, bottle rockets and similar fireworks containing a maximum of 50 milligrams of explosive material.
Fireworks containing 130 milligrams of explosive material and professional-grade aerial shells can still only be used by professionals or with a permit, according to state police.
The Hempfield store — which the company calls Phantom of Greensburg — will sell mortar kits, fountains, rockets, sparklers and more, bringing with it year-round and seasonal positions.
Weimer could not say how many people the store will hire, but he said Phantom Fireworks typically has between six and eight regular employees — a number that swells to between 50 and 60 workers during the peak summer season.
“We’re an employer. We’re a tax generator. We take old buildings and make them usable again,” he said.
The Toys R Us store closed last year. The company filed for bankruptcy in 2017, citing almost $8 billion in debt. Less than a year later, all 800 of its stores closed nationwide, including Westmoreland County.
The former store at 135 Donohoe Road, with rainbow-colored tile decorating the entrance, has stood empty since last spring. Though the letters have been plucked off the building, a trace shadow of the former Toys R Us sign is still visible outside.
Phantom Fireworks will use the entire 36,000-square-foot space for a showroom, storage and offices, Weimer said. A small “coming soon” sign sits in the window.
Once construction is complete, the space is not expected to look like a typical fireworks store. Instead, it will resemble a normal store, such as a Rite Aid, Weimer said. Product will be displayed on shelves and employees will use iPads to show customers what specific fireworks will look like and to show safety tips.
According to the company’s website, Phantom Fireworks has nearly 80 brick-and-mortar locations in 16 states, from Las Vegas to South Florida, and more than 1,500 roadside tent stands in 17 states.
Phantom Fireworks also sells products directly to mail-order consumers and through national retail chains.
Locally, the company has Phantom of Monroeville, which opened last year in a former Giant Eagle store at 4680 Old William Penn Hwy. That location is open daily from 9 a.m.-9 p.m., as will be the Hempfield store.
Bruce Zoldan, the owner of Phantom Fireworks, got into the fireworks business as a college student in 1968 by selling sparklers out of the trunk of his mother’s Chevrolet Impala, according to The Vindicator. Company revenues in 2017 were more than $100 million, the newspaper reported.
Consumer fireworks sales in the U.S. climbed to $885 million in 2017, the latest figure available from the American Pyrotechnics Association, a Bethesda, Md.-based trade organization. In 1998, that figure stood at $284 million.
Megan Tomasic is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Megan at 724-850-1203, [email protected] or via Twitter .