Clear weather plus a generous gathering of spectators helped make the annual Oak Bluffs Firemen's Civic Association fireworks a booming success this past weekend.
A cloud-free night sky provided the perfect backdrop for the world-class fireworks display, which dazzled the crowd with shell bursts, candle bursts and rockets. On the ground, onlookers stuffed the association's donation bucket, helping to ensure this year's display was a success both technically and financially.
"We did very well. The weather was good, and the people dug into their wallets," said Ken Davey, head of the association's fireworks committee.
Last week, Mr. Davey said that waning financial support and volunteer involvement have placed the annual mid-August event in jeopardy.
While Mr. Davey acknowledged that Friday's fireworks were a success, he said the future of the fireworks - or more specifically the association's involvement with the annual tradition - is still in doubt.
"I hope this weekend was a good indicator for the future, but at this point we can't be sure of anything," he said.
Mr. Davey said the Oak Bluffs Firemen's Civic Association will meet sometime in the fall to discuss plans for next year. He said the association's fund-raising efforts were down leading into the weekend. Many volunteers in the Oak Bluffs fire department this year also had less time to solicit local businesses for donations.
There are also limitations to the fund-raising process, Mr. Davy said. The association usually starts fund-raising after the Fourth of July, when the busy summer season is in full swing, and donations are often linked to how local business is doing. If it is a slow season - as it was this summer into July - donations are harder to come by.
Mr. Davey said this year's display has been paid for, and that all the leftover funds in the association coffers will go to year-round charitable endeavors, like scholarships for students at the Martha's Vineyard High School and food baskets for the poor at Christmas.
The cost of putting on the fireworks is about $20,000. The principal sources of income for the event have traditionally been T-shirt sales, donations from businesses and $100 tickets for a cruise to watch the fireworks from the Sound. In recent years, however, the revenue stream has slowed to a trickle, and the association has had to rely more on donations on the night of the fireworks. The amount raised is unpredictable and often can depend on the mood of mother nature the night of the display.
"You can have the best fireworks in the world, and people won't give because their view was obstructed by the fog. It's really a shame that we have to rely on donations the night of the fireworks, but that's what it comes down to a lot of years. And if the weather is bad, it makes reaching our goal more difficult," Mr. Davey said.
Mr. Davey said the association still wants to sponsor the fireworks, but he said the task of raising the money and organizing the display has grown more difficult in recent years.
"I don't think people realize just how much work goes on each year to put the fireworks on. And each year it seems to get a little harder," he said.
Renee Balter, the former longtime president of the Oak Bluffs Association, the business organization she helped form in 1991, said the fireworks display is an integral part of the summer and a boon to local businesses. Even during slower summers, businesses can count on the fireworks to keep the cash registers ringing.
"It's wonderful to have a weekend when you know there will be thousands of people in town," she said.
Mrs. Balter said she thinks the firemen's civic association should continue to sponsor the event, and she pledged the Oak Bluffs Association support in the future.
"The fireworks are very important to the entire town. Even businesses that aren't directly affected by the fireworks receive some kind of a boost. We have helped in the past, and we will do whatever it takes to make sure the fireworks continue in the future," she said.
Judy Hartford, the owner of Vineyard Lights on Circuit avenue, said the fireworks are vital to the businesses of Oak Bluffs. She said more could be done to promote the event, and suggested making it the centerpiece of a downtown festival.
"[The fireworks] have a lot of potential to increase business even more. There is a lot more that can be done with it," she said.
Ron DiOrio, the co-owner of Craftworks who was recently elected selectman, said the entire town has a responsibility to support the fireworks - not necessarily because it provides a bump in business, but because it is part of the town's past, he said.
"It's a town tradition and an American tradition, and it's one that needs to continue. It's sort of ingrained into the character of Oak Bluffs, and I think it would be a shame if we ever lost that. I hope all of us can find a way to make sure the fireworks continue in town for a long time to come," Mr. DiOrio said.