This year’s Fourth of July festivities on Bainbridge Island will go silently into that good night.
Revelers enjoying the Grand Old Fourth of July on Bainbridge Island this year may find themselves without a fireworks show for the first time in at least a decade.
In fact, it’s looking quite likely this year’s holiday will not go out with a bang.
The yearly mailer outlining the slated festivities on July 3, 4 and 6 — including the Street Dance, Stars & Strikes Old Timers Alumni Baseball Game and the Rotary Auction & Rummage Sale — from the Bainbridge Island Downtown Association recently arrived in mailboxes round the Rock, and savvy readers no doubt flashed on the glaring lack of fireworks amongst the lineup of holiday happenings.
The fate of the fireworks show had been uncertain for nearly a full year, since Laurie and Scott Isenman, founders and primary staff members of Bainbridge Fireworks, the nonprofit behind the beloved holiday-capping show for the past 10 years, announced last June they would set to step down after the 2018 show.
They said at the time they were looking for a fresh face to take over the grassroots enterprise and ensure the show goes on.
“Fireworks [are] not in the plans,” Scott Isenman said. “We didn’t get any response by our cutoff date, which was [last] Friday.”
A bit of last-minute hope was kindled, however, by an unexpected — yet oddly omnipresent — source: Amazon tycoon Jeff Bezos.
“We were calling it, and then [last] Saturday did get get an expression of interest back from Jeff Bezos’ company Blue Origins,” Isenman said.
Nothing is official yet, and time has realistically all but run out in which to put such an operation together, even for a man of Bezos’ means.
But still, there’s always next year…
“[It’s] not clear if they can come up with the money and in time but the word is they will give us a commitment by [Saturday],” Isenman said. “It is exciting. They’re obviously a big, noteworthy company and are interested in doing it and if not this year, next year.”
Arranging the show, and fundraising for it, is more work than most people understand, the couple said, and now, as they’re fulfilling a dream of living on their boat and hope to do more traveling, the responsibilities at last became a bit much.
“Between Memorial Day and July 5 we’re stuck here,” Laurie Isenman told the Review last year, upon announcing she and her husband would be stepping away from the job. “Now we have this boat, and we’d sort of like to do some traveling in that time of year if we had the option and right now we don’t have the option.
Preparation begins in late April, she explained, and doesn’t technically end until she files the nonprofit’s tax paperwork — early April the next year.
“The whole operations part I pretty much do solo — [the pyrotechnician] really does it,” Scott said at the time. “The rest of it’s really planning with the fire department and doing the loading at the city dock in the morning, and the barge set up, and the fire safety perimeter, that sort of thing.”
It’s a lot of work for few hands — and there are few nonprofits with fewer hands than Bainbridge Fireworks.
With the Isenmans, this year’s Bainbridge Fireworks volunteer committee includes Karin Lehotsky, owner of Lollipops Children’s Boutique, and Bonnie McBryan, owner of Eagle Harbor Inn.
Some years have seen even fewer helping hands, some more — but Bainbridge Fireworks has always operated with a skeleton crew.
“We’re not spending money on us,” Scott Isenman laughed. “There’s no company car or anything.”
That the iconic island fireworks show is actually put on by a volunteer-run operation, made possible by donations and completely independent of the various other holiday happenings — the Rotary auction and rummage sale, the parade, the street fair, etc. — has long been a difficult distinction for the nonprofit’s founders to make clear to the public.
“We’re very sensitive to that,” agreed Laurie. “When we see posters around town and they say the Grand Old Fourth’s put on by the chamber [of commerce] and there are fireworks at 10 o’clock, it’s like well, that’s not really your show. Give us some money for it if you want to take credit for it.”
Last year, however, the Isenmans said the city has been more supportive of the endeavor.
“We did for the first time last year get a little bit of support from the city,” Laurie said. “Just small things, like waiving the permit fee, [they] dealt with getting port-a-potties down at the beach, helped us dispose of all the trash the next morning — just simple things that would have come out of our budget, and they’ve agreed this year to do the same thing.”
Also, there’s been no charge to Bainbridge Fireworks for the additional police kept on duty patrolling the beach on the holiday, Scott said, another appreciative nod from the city.
Many local businesses have chipped in financially as well, and residents, too.
The average cost of the show is about $30,000, the Isenmans said, including the fireworks themselves and the pyrotechnician’s contract and the tug and barge services.
The origins of the first generation Bainbridge holiday fireworks show are shrouded in mystery.
“It was actually done many years ago and stopped; that’s been lost to history,” Scott said. “We don’t know who the organizers were and why it stopped, but the genesis of our generation of it started 10 years ago.”
It was then that Tod Hornick, founder and past president of Bainbridge Fireworks, began the show anew as a memorial tribute to Arnold Erik Jackson, a lifelong island resident and volunteer firefighter for nearly 50 years.
The show was put on by him and a small club of boaters, the Bainbridge Island Yacht Club, which is now disbanded.
The idea to take over began as a safety concern, Laurie recalled.
“Scott’s an elected fire commissioner on the island and fire safety is really important to us,” she told the Review prior to last year’s show. “Before the fireworks show in Eagle Harbor, we saw so many home shows on the shore. This was just a way to make it safer and I think it’s worked. There are still a few [home shows], but nothing like it used to be.”
Officials apparently agree.
“The fire and police both say that calls and incidents have been down since we started doing it,” Scott said.
And if last year should truly be the last, if the finale should end up being final, is there a Fourth without fireworks?
“We always said if the community wants it, we’ll do it,” Scott said. “If they don’t want it, they don’t contribute the money, we won’t do it — and if the community wants it to continue then it’s reasonable to ask the people to step up not just with money but to support running the operations.”
“We recognize we’re not curing cancer and doing these wonderful things other nonprofits do,” Laurie added. “But we’re providing a safe show, and we’re setting a tradition for Bainbridge Island. It’s the culminating event on the day.”