While residents will hit the parks and lakes this week to celebrate the United States’ independence, a local business is marking its own banner year.
Dixie Lee Fireworks, which is located near the Knox County border in Loudon, has been in business 65 years this year, a benchmark that members of the Sharp family have said few, if any, fireworks shops in the Southeast can boast.
“There might be a fireworks business that was started before Dixie Lee Fireworks, but they’ve changed ownership and hands,” Bill Sharp said. “I don’t think there’s anybody that’s celebrating 65 continuous years of the same (ownership), fourth generation.”
Sharp’s son, Jackson Ray Sharp, 4, represents the fourth generation of family ownership, which began when William “Benny” Goodman founded the business in 1948 and operated out of a walk-up trailer.
Deanna Sharp, Benny’s daughter, said her father opened the shop inside the Loudon County border because of a ban on selling fireworks in Knox County.
“I grew up right here at Dixie Lee Junction,” Deanna said, noting that as a child, she assisted her parents with running the store, just as Jackson does today. “My mother and daddy used to let me take my naps out here, and they’d tell me, ‘If you sleep and not cause us any trouble, we’ll let you go over ... and get ice cream afterwards.’”
Deanna said Bill and her daughter-in-law, Dottie, will take over the operation when she retires, and, in time, Jackson will follow suit.
“We plan on staying for a long, long time,” Deanna said.
After Benny opened the shop in the late 1940s, the family added the current building a couple decades later and subsequently added various renovations and additions as the need for space increased. The store now offers more than 300 items.
Robin Roberts of Lenoir City, who has been a customer at the shop for about 10 years, said he and his family have held parties at their home using products almost exclusively from Dixie Lee Fireworks.
Store owners offered “reasonable prices and good customer relations with a knowledge of their product,” Roberts said, noting that the store has become a gathering place for loyal patrons.
“Whenever they’re open we stop in and talk with them,” Roberts said. “It’s like sitting around the old general store.”
Bill said that in his mind, the fireworks store has become an essential part of the Dixie Lee Junction neighborhood.
“It’s really what the community means to this store, I’d say,” Bill said. “When you get a business that’s been here this long, a family business that’s been here, it really becomes kind of thankfulness to the community. Selling fireworks every year to me has become almost like I’m a service to the community, rather than serving the community, so we really would not be around if it wasn’t for a lot of our customers coming and bringing their kids.”
He said he is now noticing that some of his peers, who would travel to the shop on bicycle in the 1980s, are now browsing the store with their own children.
“I remember when I was growing up every day there would just be a constant caravan of kids on bicycles coming from all around the surrounding areas, and, of course, those kids are grown with kids now, and they talk about remembering driving their bicycles down here,” Bill said, adding that he thought the store had been one constant in the community amid an ever-changing landscape of businesses coming and going.
“A lot of people around here they see things change so quick,” Bill said. “I think it’s almost like they’re excited and happy when they see that there’s one thing that doesn’t change down here. Every year something new seems to pop up, close or open, and we come down here, and it looks kind of the same every year.”
Bill’s earliest memory of helping at the shop was in 1982 when he was 6 years old.
“I remember looking at three cases of bottle rockets,” he said. “It was like I was in a maze. Every year I would come down here, and I would hide in the cases. ... I don’t know when the year is when I started being expected to carry cases around. At first, I couldn’t lift one case, and then one year I came down here and started stacking the cases.”
Today, Jackson assists as a stock boy. According to family members, he will one day take the reins of the business.
Deanna said the fireworks store gets an abundance of customers from Loudon County, other parts of East Tennessee and even neighboring states.
“We get a lot (of customers) from Loudon County, yes,” she said. “We get them from all over. We get some from the state of Georgia, some from the state of Kentucky. They’ve learned where we are, and they patronize us.”
Dixie Lee Fireworks is open during the Fourth of July and New Year’s Day seasons and by appointment at other times during the year.
Dottie Sharp, Bill’s wife, said the family was proud to be known as the oldest fireworks store in the state to be continuously under the same leadership.
“We usually like to say we’re pretty confident about any time we set foot out of our doors, they’re shooting our fireworks,” Dottie said. “Whether or not that’s true, we still choose to believe it.”