Skip links

From a car trunk in ‘78 to 15 showrooms: The journey of Michigan’s largest fireworks business

By Ryan Boldrey |

LANSING, MI — James Stajos got his first glimpse of the fireworks business as an 8-year-old boy in 1978, watching his father sell fireworks out of the trunk of his car.

It’s been the family business ever since, even though it wasn’t always legal, James Stajos said.

Stajos has made a life out of lighting up people’s holidays — from helping his dad sell fireworks to lobbying for consumer fireworks legislation in 2011 to now operating Michigan’s largest brick-and-mortar fireworks chain.

As CEO of Pro Fireworks out of Lansing, Stajos operates 15 fireworks stores across Michigan, with a 16th on the way in 2025.

Stajos refers to his Pro Fireworks stores as the “Apple or Costco of fireworks stores.” The stores are clean and spread out like Apple, he says, but also offer quality products in mass quantity like Costco.

“We are not only the biggest, largest and least expensive, but we’re the prettiest as well,” Stajos said, referencing his epoxy-coated floors and wide, customer-friendly aisles.

“If you come to one of our signature stores, you will be blown away,” he said.

From Grand Rapids to Sterling Heights and Kalamazoo to Petoskey, Stajos’ stores have more than 100,000 square feet of combined showroom space.

With so many options, it can be hard for customers to decide what firework to buy. So Pro Fireworks developed its own unique, in-store “pro player.” The system allows shoppers to scan any product in store and watch a demonstration on a 65-to-85-inch TV.

Shoppers can also watch videos online for every item his stores sell, he said.

“Whether it’s a fountain, artillery shell or a cake with 50 shots on it, you know what you’re buying,” he said. “That’s something a (roadside) tent can’t offer.”

Tents also can’t offer consistency, he said, referencing how fireworks purchased from pop-up tents sometimes are prone to moisture buildup, which lead to duds.

While the first fireworks he ever sold were out of a tent on the side of the road, Stajos will give you a number of reasons why it’s better to shop at a store like his. Aside from consistency, it’s about ensuring you are buying regulated, safe fireworks at a fair price and supporting Michigan business, he said.

Many tents that pop up around the Fourth of July are run by out-of-state businesses, he said. Stajos has more than 100 year-round employees and numerous seasonal employees — all background-checked and all from Michigan — and prides himself on being a part of each community he has a store in.

That means paying property taxes, renovating vacated, beat-up buildings and being involved in local charities, he said.

The road to legalization

While his family has been involved in the fireworks trade since 1978, it wasn’t until Jan. 1, 2012 that the retail sales of consumer fireworks became legal in Michigan.

For the Stajos family, that meant getting hit with a lot of misdemeanor citations over the years.

“We would get busted every year,” he said. “Then they would let us sell the rest of the year. It was sort of a cat and mouse game. You could drive down to Ohio, Indiana or the Indian reservation an hour from here and you could buy them — so it wasn’t that big of a deal.”

Prior to legalization in Michigan, Stajos ran retail stores in Indiana. He and his brother, Eric Stajos, would also sell fireworks wholesale out of Michigan, operating within federal guidelines. Eric Stajos is still involved and now operates the other half of the company — a South Carolina-based wholesaler called Big Fireworks.

“We were among the top 10 importers in the United States and we were selling all over the country,” James Stajos said of the days before legalization. “It was federally legal in every state, so you could possess it and transport it. So, I was able to import into Michigan and then ship out of the state.

“What I couldn’t do was sell retail out front for you to go shoot.”

Stajos studied pre-law at Michigan State University before dropping out to help his ailing father with the family business roughly 20 years before legalization. He lobbied heavily for change at the state level.

“I met every state rep over a course of two years,” he recalled. “I had dinner with them, went out for drinks with them and ultimately at the end, it was a state fire marshal that made one comment. He said, ‘Listen, they’re already here and they’re not being regulated.’ And that did it for the politicians.”

While helping craft regulations, Stajos proposed a 6% safety fee in addition to Michigan’s 6% sales tax that goes directly the Bureau of Fire Services. The fee helps pay for fire safety programs, advanced firefighter training classes and on-site inspections of retailers to ensure illegal fireworks aren’t being sold.

Prioritizing safety

Almost all accidents from consumer fireworks come from illegal fireworks or fireworks that are altered by the consumer after purchase, Stajos said.

“When these people get hurt and killed and maimed, they almost always just say fireworks in the news, but it’s these professional fireworks, this overloaded stuff that is not meant for consumer use,” Stajos said.

No firework is more dangerous, he said, than metal sparklers.

“Metal sparklers are the most legal item and most dangerous,” he said. “They are like welding rods. We give them to kids and they burn at 1,300 to 1,500 degrees and the kids run around with them and then drop them in the grass and try to pick them back up or someone else steps on them.

“If you are going to do metal sparklers, drop them in a bucket of water when you are done where another kid can’t step on them.”

An alternative for those?

“Wooden and paper torch sparklers that are totally safe, prettier and last longer, and designed by Pro Fireworks,” Stajos said.

In addition to selling Black Diamond Fireworks, Pro Fireworks designs a lot of their own fireworks — such as the sparklers and some innovative pull smoke products, Stajos said.

In addition to being the largest retailer in the state by store count, the business also distributes all over the country.

When it’s not the holidays, how do they continue making money?

“Oh, we’ve got stuff for birthdays, smoke for photography, we do a lot of gender reveals, exploding golf balls, pink and blue smoke,” Stajos said. “Whatever you want, we’ve got it.”

Consumers fireworks are legal for use in the state of Michigan from 11 a.m. until 11:45 p.m. June 29 through July 4. Local ordinances may vary.

For more information on Pro Fireworks, visit