The Fourth of July conjures up images of booming, skyrocketing, jaw-dropping fireworks displays that light up the night sky. If you’re lucky enough to see one at your county fair, in your city, or on TV, chances are Pyro Spectaculars by Souza produced it.
We asked Jeff Thomas, San Francisco Bay Area representative and Pyro Show Producer, about the national reputation that his California-based company has built.
ISBB: How did the Souza family get into fireworks displays?
Thomas: The grandfather, Manuel de Souza, came to San Francisco about 100 years ago and started creating fireworks for the Portuguese community celebrations. He was nicknamed “papagayo” (“parrot” in Spanish) for his colorful shows.
Who runs the company now?
Manuel’s grandson Bob ran the firm for decades beginning in the 1950s and his son Jim took over about 20 years ago. They’re both considered pioneers in pyrotechnic entertainment and are known as “Fireworks Ambassadors to the World.” Today, we’ve become the largest pyrotechnic production company in America. Even though we host some of the biggest displays in the world, we’re still family owned and based in Southern California. In fact, we’ll be doing San Francisco’s waterfront display again this year, which is a plum of a venue.
How did your company get so popular?
We would be asked to do one great show with high quality production. After we pioneered electric firing to music, we kept getting asked back the next year to produce another great show.
What kind of challenges has the company overcome?
The fireworks business is dangerous. Our founder was badly injured during the firing of a display. So was his grandson Bob. Safety and fire regulators are more aware of what we do. After 9/11, we’ve been even more strictly regulated because of the heightened concerns over the handling and storage of explosives.
I’m happy to report that Pyro Spectaculars by Souza has led the industry with a proven track record of safety. At our Pyro University, we train beginners and licensed pyrotechnicians with annual hands-on workshops.
We’ve overcome just about every kind of obstacle to be successful, but it’s hard work and always has the potential to be dangerous.
What are the “big bang” shows we’ve likely seen?
We’ve created displays for the World Series, Super Bowl, World Cup, Statue of Liberty, Disneyland and Walt Disney World, Pink Floyd and Rolling Stones concert tours, the Golden Gate and Bay Bridge 50th Anniversary Celebrations (pictured above) and a presidential inauguration. We also do fireworks for all the California Major League Baseball and National Football League teams.
What are some of your showcase events?
We’ve done many Summer and Winter Olympics Games through our contacts and relationships, but in New York City, we’re very proud to do the Macy’s 4th of July Fireworks display annually – the biggest in the U.S. We’ve been doing that for 20 years. It takes about 10 days to set that up with a crew of approximately 50 people.
How has the economy affected your business?
Though we’ve been gradually growing, we’ve seen an overall decline in revenues with some of our municipal clients. Many cities have smaller budgets now, so it’s always a challenge to entertain their audience for less. Fortunately, corporate parties hire us, too, even though some of their budgets have also been cut.
Who is your competition?
We have several big, well-known American competitors, but we’ve got a great reputation around the world. We’re also proud to be the biggest in California.
Where do you buy your pyrotechnics?
A lot of our products are purchased in China for their different colors and patterns. We also purchase from Spain, France, Japan, and other countries.
You’re not family. How did you get involved?
I started working for the Souza family part-time over 35 years ago. I got laid off from the phone company in 1989, and have been a full-time employee ever since. I’m considered a member of the Souza family after all that time.
To view videos or photos of Pyro Spectaculars or to create your own fireworks display, visit their website.
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