Sunday, September 02, 2001

The sky's the limit for Rozzis

Fireworks business keeps growing

By Tom O'Neill
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        SYMMES TOWNSHIP — Every arching burst of technicolor, every floral peony splashing the night sky like paint, comes down to one thing: further polishing a renouned family name.


        The Symmes Township-based fireworks firm has been a family business since its initial incarnation in New Castle, Pa. in 1895.

        “It's made all the difference,” Vice President Art Rozzi said of being a family business. “To maintain the certain standards and quality. Being a family business made it what it is. Everyone works harder.”

        Riding the resurgent interest in fireworks following America's Bicentennial in 1976, and the initial Riverfest in Cincinnati a year later, Rozzi's Famous Fireworks Inc. continues to be among the worldwide leaders in pyrotechnics.

        The Rozzis, whose company isn't publicly traded, declined to discuss financial growth. But the firm, Mr. Rozzi said, has grown each year since the first Riverfest — which marks its 25th anniversary tonight.

        And it remains resolutely family.

        Seven of the company's 35 full-time members are relatives. They do about 70 shows a year, 40 at Fourth of July celebrations throughout the country. They put on Paramount's Kings Island's nightly displays and Reds games. They've done shows in Canada and Spain, and yet Labor Day in Cincinnati remains their showcase.

        “As far as the shows, it's the number one show,” Mr. Rozzi said. “The crowd becomes more sophis ticated each year, and they appreciate something different. The challenge is to pace the show in such a way that it keeps their interest.”

        At the first Riverfest in '77, one of about 35 shows that year, Rozzi exploded a few hundred shells. Tonight, 6,000 shells will grace the sky in intricate layers, shot from barges and bridges. All coor dinated with a dramatic soundtrack.

        “They're definitely within the top 10 (in the world),” said Julie Heckman, APA executive director. “Fireworks do more "wow' now. Just the technical advances, in terms of precision choreography. Now you're seeing the pyrotechnic is using the sky as art, as a pallet.”

        And this, she said, is the Rozzi signature, a name forged decades ago by Joe Rozzi Sr., now 79 and still a vital part of the company.

        “He was such a strong leader in safety, and the advancement of the pyrotechnic industry,” Ms. Heckman said. “But also, he has a phenomenal reputation for shell-building. He was a master craftsman.”

        Years ago, each shell was lit by a hand-held flair. Now, everything is set off by electric activators driven by a computer program. The closest person to the shells, Mr. Rozzi said, will be about 200 feet away.

        In 1999, Mr. Rozzi Sr. was given the APA's most prestigious honor, the Milton Dropo Award for lifetime achievement.

        “And Art, he's an amazing designer, he has quite a reputation for that,” she said. “How much is that peony (a perennial plant with ornamental pink, white, red or yellow flowers) going to stay in the sky, and what music will match that?”

        The answer changes every year but is easy to find: Just look up.

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