HUDSON, Ohio — It’s a billboard that quickly stood out to drivers traveling westbound on Interstate 480 eastbound near Bedford Heights.
For about a week, the American Fireworks billboard has been upside-down, advertising their sales ahead of the Fourth of July.
Owner Roberto Sorgi told News 5 that the billboard “mistake” was intentional and is attracting quite a bit of attention to his Hudson-based business.
“People on our social media are posting, ‘you had one job,’ ‘you messed it up,’” he said. “It’s a lot of fun what’s coming in right now in relation to the billboard.”
Sorgi said he got the idea several years ago, after spotting an injury lawyer’s billboard upside-down on a backroad in southern Ohio and realizing he remembered the attorney’s name for a month afterward.
But the reality is Sorgi is about to live in an upended world than what he’s used to since the rules and regulations around fireworks in Ohio are about to change.
“We’ve been selling a legal product but it’s illegal to shoot,” he said of the old law.
Sorgi told News 5 it's too soon to tell what business will look like this year given that about 80% of his retail revenue comes over just four days in July.
“What we’re seeing is new customers finally coming in that were a little hesitant to shoot in the past because they were abiding by the law,” he said.
New Fireworks Law Goes Into Effect July 1
Back in November, Governor Mike Dewine signed into law a bill that allows fireworks to be set off by residents around certain holidays including the Fourth of July, New Year’s Eve and Day, Diwali, Cinco De Mayo, Lunar New Year, Juneteenth, and Memorial and Labor Day weekends.
Before this new law, those caught setting off fireworks could face a $1,000 fine and up to six months in jail. The previous law allowed consumers to purchase and possess consumer-grade fireworks but requires consumers to transport them out of state within 48 hours.
However, since the bill was signed into law, some communities such as Cleveland, Parma, and University Heights have worked to tighten their own local ordinances surrounding fireworks.
Cleveland Councilman and Public Safety Chairman Mike Polensek told News 5 that Cleveland's new restrictions ordinance, brought forth last month with the intent of increasing penalties, is on hold and waiting for an administrative review.
“We have a prohibition on fireworks in the city of Cleveland,” he said. “It was to try to reign things in because what we saw last year and the year before was outrageous displays of fireworks last year to the point we had parks that were torn up.”
Polensek said he and other council members are already receiving phone calls about fireworks being set off in densely-populated neighborhoods.
“We want to better define and be clear and provide greater penalties and we also make it very clear - if you’re going to have a fireworks display, based on our provisions, you have to pull a permit,” he said.
The law also addresses safety concerns at buildings where fireworks are displayed and sold and concerns the governor had about Ohio residents handling fireworks while under the influence.
"The compromise bill also reduces, by half, the allowable increase in showroom size originally offered in Senate Bill 113, while requiring enhanced fire sprinkler systems," DeWine said when signing the bill. "The measure further prohibits the discharge of fireworks while in possession of, or under the influence of alcohol or controlled substances or on another person’s property without that person’s permission."
As for the billboard, Sorgi told News 5 he’s enjoying the phone calls and posts it’s bringing in leading up to his busiest time of the year.
“We’re two years into COVID and still everything in the world is backward,” he said. “The state of Ohio is legalizing fireworks for the first time in 40 or so years. But now with the state legalizing, communities are now banning it. So now, we’re all backward again. So what’s going on here? Do we want them? Do we not want them? So it’s just a little play on our advertising sign this year.”