Bow’s first family of fireworks carries on without matriarch
Deb Cabot, owner of Champny's Fireworks in front of a showcase of the stock in her store in Bow.
(GEOFF FORESTER/ Monitor staff)
Brian Sargent of Allenstown has his hands full while buying fireworks with his sister Wednesday, July, 2, 2014 at Champny Fireworks in Bow. The family is carrying on her tradition, the first Fourth of July without their matriarch.
(GEOFF FORESTER/ Monitor staff)
Deb Colby talks like the daughter of a firework fanatic.
“As long as you’re not lighting these off at 2 a.m. and bothering your neighbors, you should be fine,” she told a customer inside Champny’s Fireworks in Bow yesterday morning. It is peak season at the family owned shop, the one her mother, Nancy Champigny, opened more than 15 years ago and the one that lures Colby from Naples, Fla., to Bow every summer.
“Even my job in Florida would let me have the summer off so I could come up here,” Colby said.
In May, Champigny died of the breast cancer she had been diagnosed with 19 years earlier. She was a member of the state fireworks advisory committee and in 2010 helped pass legislation allowing members of the military to purchase fireworks at age 18 – members of the general public are not allowed to buy fireworks until they are 21. When she died, her obituary called her “Fireworks Lady.” Her death left the family with a decision: Let the business fizzle or try to make it sizzle.
The decision was easy, Colby said.
“This is what our family did, and this is what we do. I like to say we bleed gun-powder,” Colby said. “We decided we were going to come back and do it as best we can.”
Three generations worked the store yesterday, shuffling between boxes or “cakes” of fireworks, some with gilded wrapping paper and others bearing punchy names like “Toxic Rain” and “Funky Fantasy.” About 10 relatives – all older than 18 – help out at the store during the summer. The seasonal shop, which also opens for the winter holidays, does about 80 percent of its business in the two weeks before the Fourth of July.
Yesterday, today and tomorrow figured to be the busiest days at Champny’s.
“We may need a tractor-trailer by the time we get out of here,” said Brian Sargent of Allenstown. He was shopping yesterday for fireworks for the annual display he hosts at his house. “I want something that goes up high with a lot of color and a lot of noise.”
Colby uses sales as a barometer of the economy, and business has been good this year, she said. About 880,000 out-of-state visitors are expected to descend upon the state for the holiday weekend, according to the Institute for New Hampshire studies, and they’re anticipated to spend about $131 million.
“We sell fun. We sell memories. We sell excitement,” Colby said. “When customers come in the store we know they are bringing home fun, but when the economy got soft, it was the first to get cut. It can be a little bit of a risk.”
Nancy and her husband, Joe, expanded Champny’s Market to include the sale of fireworks when they saw a chance to combine an interest of theirs with a good business opportunity.
“When the state allowed businesses to sell them it was always something they loved doing so they decided to get it on a small scale,” Colby said. Eventually, the family closed the market and now only sells fireworks. “It just took off and exploded,” Colby said.
Champigny was a fixture at the market, chatting up customers, sharing safety advice and explaining each firework. After the store opened this April, visitors making their annual trip asked Colby about Nancy’s health. Colby struggled with sharing the news.
“I thought, ‘I’m not sure I’m going to be able to get through this,’ ” she said. The outpouring of support has changed her outlook.
“Now, rather than it bringing me grief, it’s bringing me comfort and joy, seeing the lasting impact my mother made, and how much love is being poured out for her,” she said.
The family scrambled after Nancy’s death to place orders with a half-dozen suppliers. Colby will stay in New Hampshire at least until the shop closes in mid-October.
“It’s fun because you get to visit with the family. This is our family time,” said Colby’s uncle, Al Perkins of Boscawen. Perkins wore a red Champny’s T-shirt and leaned over a pile of fireworks, and said the summer is dedicated to Nancy.
“It’s a good thing for the family,” he said.
For most of Michael Colby’s life, summer has meant kicking around the family shop and the family home, located behind the store. At 16, he’s too young to work at the shop, but said he expects he’ll spend at least a summer at Champny’s.
“For a little bit,” he said. “But I want to go in the Army.”
(Iain Wilson can be reached at 369-3313 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @iainwilsoncm.)