LINDSBORG – It’s been a blast, but Robert Ahlstedt is ready to extinguish the fuse on a 45-year tradition.
After this Fourth of July, Ahlstedt will permanently close Ahlstedt’s Fireworks, a seasonal business he operates inside the Crackerbox, a 30-by-44-foot red painted building that sits near the rural Lindsborg home he shares with his wife Cathy on a one-acre plot of land in the 200 block of South Coronado.
Inside the air-conditioned facility, Ahlstedt’s business has provided thousands of fireworks to generations of local and area residents since 1998. Before that, Ahlstedt sold fireworks from two tables in a parking lot and then on top of a bar counter in a small shed.
What started in 1974 as a way to make a little extra summer cash for this former Smolan Grade School principal and teacher soon turned into a lifelong passion for "things that go boom," as well as an opportunity to give back to the community.
"I always believed that everyone who came in here was important," he said. "I’ve had kids who came in here when I first started who now bring their kids and grandkids. I’ve served about four generations here."
After this year, though, Ahlstedt said he’s calling it quits. It’s not that he still doesn’t enjoy watching kids come into the building to stare wondrously at the massive array of firecrackers, sparkling fountains and colorful megapacks filling dozens of shelves and counters. It’s not that he still doesn’t love talking about all the different products he sells. It's not that he still doesn’t love composing dozens of notecards describing how his products work and attaching them to each counter.
It’s just that after 45 years, he and Cathy are ready to do something else.
"In some ways it’s sad, because my brother Gordon died in December, and he was always here every year and enjoyed it so much," Ahlstedt said. "But we’ve bought a camper, and we’re looking forward to spending our summers traveling, camping, fishing and sightseeing."
After the last customer leaves the Crackerbox on July 4, the Ahlstedts will have a traditional family dinner, followed by a massive fireworks shoot-off. The next day, they’ll sell off as much of their inventory as possible.