RIVERVIEW — Owen Young certainly wasn’t famous but thousands — maybe even millions — of people around the world have viewed his work.
In fact, the chances are good that anyone who has watched a Gasparilla Parade or a Tampa Bay Buccaneers game, in the stands or on television, has seen them. And that doesn’t count the people who frequented the 30 tents he put up for the Fourth of July and News Year’s — or customers at the permanent store he operated as Universe Novelty & Fireworks Co., Inc. at 8818 U.S. 301 in Riverview for more than 30 years.
Until his death in July 2011, Owen Douglas Young sold fireworks for some of the biggest events in and around Tampa Bay and many other cities.
A member of the International Independent Showman’s Association and a veteran of the United States Army, Young, who spent most of his adult life in Riverview, died at the age of 64.
People came from miles around to the fireworks store that had become such a well-known stop on Riverview.
I interviewed Young about 10 years ago concerning Florida’s contradictory fireworks statute – Florida Statute 791 – that on one hand forbids the public from lighting any fireworks not considered a “sparkler” and yet the state’s consistency in allowing people to do so without imposing the penalty (which can include $1,000 fine and a year in jail).
Under the law, sparklers are defined as “traditional hand-held sparklers, snakes or glow worms, smoke devices, trick noisemakers, party poppers, booby traps, snappers, trick matches that produce a spark, and cigarette loads.”
All the rest are illegal to set off unless you fit into one of the “specialized categories” listed in the statute; and of course, you have to have obtained all the proper permits for them.
Cities and other large entities that put on shows for masses of residents on holidays may get special permits but are required to set them off in specific ways.
I remember Young joking about the law and saying that as long as sellers have people sign waivers they’re safe selling all kinds of things that are technically not permitted under the law. The waivers say things like “I’m buying them to chase away birds” or “to warn railroad trains.”
Young saw humor in that.
After Young died, his store closed as he had no family in the area.
He did have friends, however, that he called his “adopted” family.
Ron White called him “Dad” and often helped him with the big events like the Superbowl. White and his wife Rose and two children, now grown, Doug, 24 and Nicole, 17, worked stands for Young and learned the business. But they also became a steady part of his personal life.
Nicole says she remembers him saying he had had a daughter but she wasn’t in the area, yet no children are mentioned in Young’s obituary printed by Southern Funeral Care in Riverview.
“I remember being in the stands with my dad when I was 8 years old,” Doug said in an interview last week. “He (Young) was always a part of our lives.”
When interviewed, the Whites were setting up a fireworks tent on property adjacent to Young’s closed-up store.
“We helped liquidate his inventory at New Years,” Doug White said. “Then we applied for a permit. There’s never been a tent here before.”
The Whites said they were hoping to be able to satisfy Young’s former customers as well as make a living for themselves now that he is gone.
“We knew so many of the Bucs. Brad Johnson (the Bucs quarterback in 2001 who set many records) used to come in all the time,” he continued.
So they’ve made a deal with Fireworks Unlimited to supply their tent.
The Whites helped Young through his battle with cancer.
“We all miss him,” Doug Young said.
After we finished talking about Young, I checked a copy of the waiver citing Florida Statute 791 to be sure it was still the same as it was when I wrote my original “fireworks” story so long ago.
It looked the same to me but to be sure I checked with both the county and state.
Although State Fire Marshall Steve McCausland was in meetings and unavailable for an interview, county spokespersons referred me back to the regulations in 791.
The Whites hope they can carry on the tradition that Riverview is the place to buy the best fireworks. A tradition that Young believed in and carried on for many years