Heather Gobet doesn't have a short fuse. She better not. She and her family, owners and operators of Western Display Fireworks--which will be responsible for Boise's Fourth of July fireworks extravaganza in Ann Morrison Park--are absolute experts in their field. But they also know that they're in the joy business; and Gobet says it's an honor, and even "humbling," to be responsible for the hundreds of fireworks spectaculars that they'll ignite throughout the Northwest on Friday, July 4.
In preparation for their busiest week of the year, Boise Weekly sat down to talk with Gobet about her explosive profession and how her family's history with fireworks is almost as impressive as its displays.
How many generations of your family have been in the fireworks business?
Five. I'm the fourth generation; I started with Western Display Fireworks in my early 20s. Now, my son is working here full-time, and my daughter, a student at Oregon State, is helping out this summer.
Which leads me to ask about your great-grandparents.
Mickey and Dorothy Weygandt. They had a farm near Canby, Ore.; they grew medicinal herbs--mostly ginseng and goldenseal--that they exported to China. But there was one year that they had difficulty getting payment from their Chinese customers, who offered to ship them fireworks instead. My great-grandfather was quite the entrepreneur--he sold several patents for berry-picking machines to International Harvester--so it was not unlike him to see the opportunity in this. So they started selling fireworks. Things were very different in the 1940s, and you could ship fireworks through the mail, so they had a successful mail-order business.
And it's my understanding that for most of 60-plus years, the business was passed down through the women of the family.
The second generation--my grandmother--loved the business and took it over from Mickey and Dorothy. My grandmother had two daughters who each ran the two parts of the business--the display division and the consumer division--for 15 years. My parents took over in 1984.
How many fireworks shows does Western Display service each year?
About 300--more than 200 of them for the Fourth of July.
Talk to me about the next week-and-a-half. Is it madness, or absolute organization?
Somewhere in between. We start planning for the Fourth on July 5 of the previous year. We have to have our orders to China by August.
Do most of the fireworks come from China?
We get products from all over the world, but China has become the predominant manufacturer of fireworks. There's a woman in China, my counterpart, and we talk about how her parents did business with my grandparents.
What's the one thing that really threatens a fireworks show?
Wind is the major enemy of fireworks. We're used to setting up and firing in the rain, especially in the Northwest, but in a major metropolitan area, there isn't a lot of room for error. So, we're careful about wind speeds.
How big does your staff get this time of year?
We have a team of 1,200-1,500 people who work for us over the Fourth of July. We've trained them over the years to work on different crews and they all mobilize over the next week.
How big is your business?
There are a handful of companies that are huge and do shows across the globe and the U.S. We're the next tier down. We're the premiere company in the region, but we've made a calculated decision not to reach too far, and take care of the region that we serve.
Are you putting shows together for very small communities in Idaho, Oregon and Washington?
We do them all. Frankly, some of the shows may not make a lot of financial sense for us, but those communities may have been our customers for 50-plus years, and we always make sure that they have a Fourth of July. From small towns to Seattle, we'll be there.
Talk to about the mechanics of setting up here in Boise.
We'll arrive on site on Wednesday, July 2; we'll set up our equipment--the mortars to launch the shells will all be put into place.
And do you need extra security for the overnight storage of the shells?
Actually, the shells will leave Canby at midnight on July 4. About 90 percent of the time, we deliver the fireworks on the day of the show.
When you sync a fireworks show, such as Boise's, to music, do you provide the score or do the local radio and television stations send you the music?
It's collaborative. We know what works well from a fireworks standpoint, but the local station knows what works musically with its audience. I'm actually putting the finishing touches on your display as we speak. We think it will be a pretty tremendous show--a lot of patriotic themes and some contemporary songs.
And it never gets old?
It's pretty cool and pretty humbling. You look at a venue like Boise and realize the magnitude of what's going to take place and how many people will be entertained. It's a rare opportunity. I have to constantly remind myself not to be too stressed over it. I've been doing this my whole life and, no, it never gets old.