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The fireworks show must go on

Fireworks display

TEXT OF STORY

Kai Ryssdal: The 4th of July's a big deal everywhere, but somehow it's bigger in Boston, where the Boston Pops play patriotic medleys along the Charles River, fireworks and all.

The thing's televised nationally, corporate sponsors, the whole bit. This weekend, a lot more people might be watching those big-city fireworks on TV than actually seeing them in person. Cash-strapped towns across the country are cancelling July 4th celebrations to save on the hefty price tag. But in one city not far from Boston, local businesses chipped in. Curt Nickisch reports from WBUR.


CURT NICKISCH: Lowell, Mass., is less than 30 miles from Boston. And it used to be a wealthy town, something you can see in the grand city hall built during fat times as a textile manufacturing center. But times got pretty thin, and this latest recession has slammed Lowell with foreclosures and layoffs, bringing down the tax base.

BUD CAULFIELD: Because of budget constraints, we could not fund the fireworks this year.

Mayor Bud Caulfield couldn't justify the $45,000 price tag.

CAULFIELD: 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.

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.

RICH BOLTON: The $45,000, I wish I was a big enough bank that I could write the whole check and just make it happen. Because that's the way I felt at the time.

Bolton knew that this city, with so many people out of work, was going to miss the fireworks event. The bank's loan officer, Ziggy Burns, says many of his clients can't afford even a modest vacation. The 4th of July celebration is their time to let loose a little.

ZIGGY BURNS: A lot of people in the city, that's their summer!

So Bolton, the bank CEO, did some quick math: the number of banks around town, the number of big businesses. And he made out a check for five grand and gave it to the mayor.

BOLTON: I said: Hopefully that's enough money to get things going. We're the smallest bank in town. OK? Everybody else should give more. And I said: That should get you there.

It did.

NANCY CROCKER: When I heard it was on, it was extremely exciting.

Lowell resident Nancy Crocker says people here need the 4th of July celebration.

Crocker: 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 river, there's gonna 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's going burn through $45,000 worth of fireworks in about forty-five minutes, a blazing reminder to residents who need a better economic outlook, that they still live in the land of opportunity.

In Lowell, Mass., I'm Curt Nickisch for Marketplace.

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This was a great story, especially in the face of all the black economic news we've had. I'm no fan of banks, but Lowell, MA should be proud of the Lowell Cooperative Bank and the other businesses that stepped up to the plate for their town. Many years ago when I lived in Iowa, the local Lions Club did fund-raising during the year to finance a magnificent fireworks show on the fourth. In most cases these days, it's local governments that foot the bill. Kudos to Marketplace and Banker Bolton!

Americans have gotten into the habit of depending on their governments to do things for them that they ought to be doing for themselves. This town couldn't afford a fireworks display, the local businesses did it themselves. These are True Americans.

Reminds me of my hometown in Chenoa, Illinois - never more than 2000 residents, but they raise money throughout the year to have a great fireworks display every 4th of July - along with the all day flea market and the afternoon parade, it's one of the best things about being from a small town.

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