The Highlands Board of Commissioners, acting on a request by Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Kaye McHan, voted to support a possible postponement of the town’s annual Fourth of July fireworks celebration until Labor Day.
Commissioners unanimously approved the Chamber’s request to use Labor Day weekend, Sept. 5, as a backup date, citing COVID-19 concerns.
Whether or not there will be July 4 fireworks on Independence Day this year is a big and undecided “if” across the country as some municipalities started canceling July 4 fireworks as early as April in light of COVID-19 coronavirus concerns.
In Highlands, nothing has been finalized yet, according to McHan.
The Chamber of Commerce, which pays for the fireworks display, has not made a decision on whether to postpone the fireworks or not, but is considering its options in light of the recent “safer at home” directive from Gov. Roy Cooper.
McHan said the July 4 fireworks is a tradition that has been sponsored by the Highlands Chamber of Commerce for many years and the Chamber’s intent is to see the tradition continue for many more years to come.
“Due to COVID-19 there are a lot of factors that must be considered for the 2020 fireworks display,” she said. “We have spoken in depth with our local Town of Highlands officials and the surrounding communities. Considerations such as restaurant, accommodations and retail occupancy are of utmost importance as we estimate the number of individuals that could be in town for the holiday weekend.”
McHan said the Chamber must also comply with Cooper’s mandates.
“The July Fourth weekend falls on the cusp of the potential transitioning to phase three or remaining in phase two,” she said.
Highlands Mayor Patrick Taylor said while reopening the town for July Fourth events would be good for the economy, the health and well-being of the town’s residents are first and foremost in his thoughts.
“We have to proceed with caution,” the mayor said by phone on Tuesday. “The Chamber of Commerce has always run the annual fireworks display and they sought a secondary date in the event there is any delays in reopening.”
The mayor said it is critical for social distancing practices to be observed.
“So far, in large gatherings, proper social distancing has not been observed,” Taylor said.
Town Manager Josh Ward said the Chamber asked the town to consider a backup date just in case conditions aren’t conducive for the fireworks to go off on July 4.
“The Chamber of Commerce is in charge of the fireworks and they are still deciding whether to continue with the fireworks on July 4, or wait until Labor Day Weekend,” Ward said on Tuesday. “The Labor Day weekend (Sept. 3-5) is reserved as a backup date.”
Ward said, Highlands is continuing to follow Cooper’s orders under phase two.
“We will continue to monitor the information coming from governor’s office pertaining to the status of phase two,” he said. “Currently, the projection is phase three of the governor’s order would begin on June 26, if the numbers and conditions remain stable.”
Not every business owner in town is happy with the decision regarding a possible fireworks postponement.
“I don’t get it,” said Pizza Place Owner Nick McCall, “Getting rid of the Fourth of July fireworks takes away my busiest day of the year, and this year the fourth falls on a Saturday.”
McCall said, with July 4 on a weekend, this year’s influx of tourists would help him recover much of the revenue lost during the COVID-19 shutdown.
“The third and the fifth are my busiest days of the year,” he said. “I’ve been looking forward to this year’s Fourth for six years. No fireworks would kill my four-to-five day weekend. What’s the reason behind it? The crowd will already be there anyway, so what’s the point?”
McCall said for something this big and impacting so many local businesses, commissioners should have convened a public hearing to get the town’s businesses input.
Commissioner Brian Stiehler praised the Chamber for its efforts during the COVID-19 shutdown.
“I think the Chamber has done a fantastic job with its forward thinking, proactive and creative approach to help the business community work through this,” Stiehler said on Friday. “The Chamber has played a major role in the community for the last couple months and I personally appreciate their flexibility in recognizing that we need to keep people safe, but also allow us to potentially enjoy the traditions we’re used to.”
Ashley Clark, owner of Kilwin’s on Main Street in Highlands said, while the postponing of fireworks would be a sad decision, business owners must take it in stride.
“The Fourth of July is such a special time for the town of Highlands as we celebrate the birth of our great country,” she said. “It’s sad news hearing the town may postpone the fireworks, but that just means the merchants will have to work a little harder to make the week special for everyone celebrating the holiday in Highlands.”