Dixie Lee Fireworks celebrating 70 years May 26

Three generations of Sharps gather in front of Dixie Lee Fireworks, which is commemorating 70 years in business at Dixie Lee Junction. Gordon Sharp, center, joins his son, Bill Sharp, right; Bill’s wife, Stephanie Sharp (all three owners of the business) and their 9-year-old son, Jackson. The first day of the season will be Saturday, May 26, starting at 10 a.m. Gordon’s daughter, Dottie Sharp (not pictured), also is an owner of the business.
Dixie Lee Fireworks at Dixie Lee Junction is starting its season with a bang Saturday, May 26, as it commemorates its 70th anniversary this year.

The store will open its doors starting at 10 a.m. and begin operating seven days a week.

“We urge people to get here early (before Independence Day, July 4),” said Bill Sharp, one of Dixie Lee Fireworks’ owners. Bill joins his father, Gordon; sister, Dottie Sharp, and his wife, Stephanie, in that ownership.

“I’m proud that we’ve been here that long,” Bill said. “I would love to see it go another 70 years.

“I don’t think I can imagine a time when I would not be here.”

“I think it’s great,” Gordon said about the years of success. “It’s a little tiresome at times, but it’s been great.”

Whether it carries on depends on Bill and Stephanie’s 9-year-old son, Jackson. When asked if he plans to continue the business, he replied, “Yeah, I guess.”

“If you ask him on the Fourth of July, his answer might be different,” Stephanie said.

Two generations with foresight precipitated the business’s success over the years, Bill said. “My granddad (William Marvin “Benny” Goodman) first started (the business, which opened in 1948 at 19696 state Highway 11 just inside Loudon County next to the Knox County line),” Bill said.

When Goodman retired in 1985, his daughter — and Bill’s mother, the late Deanna Sharp — took over. Bill said her foresight in making decisions built the business.

“She was probably more responsible for the way Dixie Lee Fireworks is today than my granddad,” he said. “We wouldn’t have been here for 70 years if it wasn’t for my mom. I don’t know if my granddad would have seen it — would have even known we would be here at this time.”

Bill said his grandfather first started selling a variety of items all over Knox County.

”It wasn’t just fireworks,” Bill said. “That was before the Interstate came through. He sold touristy things — bird baths, quilts, knick knacks … and fireworks.”

When the Interstate was built, Bill said his grandfather “had the foresight to know the business was going to go toward fireworks.”

When Goodman opened Dixie Lee Fireworks, Gordon said Goodman had been selling fireworks in a Cas Walker store, but that year fireworks were outlawed, so he set up shop across the county line in Loudon County.

The brick-and-mortar store was not built until the early 1960s.

“Before this building was here, there were just trailers on the side of the highway,” Bill said. “In fact, granddad’s business of (selling) fireworks started out in several trailers he had set up.

“It was always set up here at the corner of Dixie Lee Junction, but he (also) had trailers in Jamestown, Harriman, Oliver Springs and all over this area.”

Then Goodman decided to build an “open air” brick-and-mortar store at the Junction, which

started out as a 32-by-50-foot structure with a sliding garage-type door.

In the early days, Bill said fireworks season took place during Christmas and New Year’s instead of Independence Day.

“That was when fireworks were most in demand back then,” he added. “It was not until the ’60s and ’70s that fireworks became real popular during the Fourth of July.”

While Bill’s mother had two other siblings, she was the one who took over the business.

“She had ‘black powder in her veins,’ as she always liked to say,” Bill said.

After Gordon and Deanna married, Gordon joined Dixie Lee Fireworks in 1970.

“I married into the family [business]” Gordon said and laughed.

Bill, who was born and reared in Farragut, said his earliest memories of the store were during the 1980s.

“I was about 6 years old,” he said. “All I remember are stacked cases of fireworks, looking at people’s belt buckles, how crowded it was and being in people’s way.”

Through the years, the business and the store grew.

In the early days, the store sold about 20 fireworks items. Now, it sells more than 300.

In the 1970s, Gordon increased the size of the store to 300 square feet.

Bill remembers when his mother brought in cash registers in the late 1990s.

“She thought it was the wave of the future,” he recalled. Those registers now are obsolete.

Before cash registers, the family and their seasonal workers had to figure costs in their heads and on paper bags, Bill said.

But, he said because of his mother’s forward thinking, “We have never fallen behind our competitors.

“She was a smart person,” Bill said of his mother, who died in 2015. “She was always thinking before anyone else.

“I am trying to get better at what she did,” he added.

”You’ve got to keep up with the changing times.”

To make an appointment during off-season hours, call 865-986-8423.