Cash-strapped towns across the country are cancelling July Fourth celebrations to save on the hefty price tag. But one city will be celebrating, thanks to local businesses.
Lowell, Massachusetts used to be a wealthy town. You can see that in the grand city hall, built during its prosperous days as a textile manufacturing center. But the mills began to close in the early 1900s, and this latest recession - with its foreclosures and layoffs - has severely cut down Lowell's tax base.
"Because of budget constraints, we could not fund the fireworks this year," explains Mayor Bud Caulfield, who couldn't justify the $45,000 price tag.
"We have laid off 48 employees. Had we had the fireworks, we would have had to lay off 49 employees. And just morally, it wouldn't be right to do that."
Banker believes show must go on
But it also didn't seem right not to celebrate America's birthday, at least to Rich Bolton, who runs the Lowell Cooperative Bank. Bolton doesn't blame the mayor. In fact, his bank's bottom line is not where he wants it to be either. Some local construction companies went out of business recently and defaulted on their loans.
"The $45,000, I wish I was a big enough bank that I could write the whole check and just make it happen," Bolton says. "Because that's the way I felt at the time."
Bolton knew that with so many people out of work, Lowell needed some fireworks. The bank's loan officer, Ziggy Burns, says many of his clients can't afford even a modest vacation. The Fourth of July celebration is their time to let loose a little.
"A lot of people in the city, that's their summer!" he says.
So Rich Bolton did some quick math, counting up the number of banks around town, the number of big businesses. And he made out a check for five thousand dollars and gave it to the mayor for fireworks.
"I said [to him], 'Hopefully, that's enough money to get things going. We're the smallest bank in town. Everybody else should give more.' And I said, 'That should get you there,'" he recalls.
Still reasons to celebrate, even in hard times
"When I heard it was on, it was extremely exciting," says Lowell resident Nancy Crocker. She says people here need the Fourth of July celebration.
"I would think it would remind them of what they've got, versus what they haven't got. Even in this economy."
So this weekend, down at the Pavilion by the Merrimack River, there will be hot dogs and popcorn for sale. The Lowell High School Band is going to play a mix of Broadway tunes and patriotic numbers. And the city will burn through $45,000 worth of fireworks in about 45 minutes, a blazing reminder to residents who need a better economic outlook that they still live in the land of opportunity.