Chris Rutland and son Julian buy fireworks from the Big House of Boom stall at Boom City on Thursday in Tulalip. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Chris Rutland and son Julian buy fireworks from the Big House of Boom stall at Boom City on Thursday in Tulalip. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

At Tulalip’s Boom City, fireworks are a family tradition

Generations have grown up at the Fourth of July institution. “Some people make good money, some are just out here for the pastime.”

TULALIP — Each summer for a few weeks, an empty lot behind the Tulalip Resort Casino transforms into a bustling fireworks bazaar.

For Tulalip tribal members who run the stands and their customers, Boom City is a tradition.

Rows of brightly colored wooden structures with names like “Porno 4 Pyros” and “Wally World Jr.’s” are spaced evenly throughout the area, with throughways as wide as city streets. Often a distant crackle or boom punctuates the air.

Tribal members have been selling fireworks on sovereign lands for generations, exempt from state laws that regulate sales.

Decades ago, tribal members would sell out of their cars on the side of the road. It was dangerous, resulting in accidents and chaotic traffic. The Tulalip government decided to designate a location for temporary stands.

Around 1980, the first two Tulalip fireworks stands opened for business.

Harold “Juju” Joseph owned one of them. He was 19. He spent his teenage years helping his mom sell fireworks out of her car. In the four decades since, children and grandchildren have helped, some moving on to start their own stands.

Now, as chairman of the committee of Boom City stand owners, he oversees the planning of what has become an ecosystem of over 100 fireworks stands.

“It evolved fast,” Juju Joseph said. The committee starts planning for Boom City months in advance, and every year, the marketplace must be approved by the Tulalip government.

Juju Joseph said cash from the sales means “a lot for a lot of families.”

“Some people make good money, some are just out here for the pastime,” said Anthony Lane, stand owner and marketing director for Boom City.

Lane’s stand has been in his family since his grandmother first built it over 30 years ago.

“It’s not just about selling fireworks and making that money. There’s so much history here,” Lane said.

Juju Joseph said it’s also a chance for tribal members to spend time with friends, Tulalip or not, and even family members who they may not see much the rest of the year.

Two rows over, Juju’s granddaughter Matilda Joseph, 23, worked with her parents at the stand they own, as she has done for the past ten years. Her family also owns the shaved ice truck parked in the food vendor area.

“We kind of have our whole family down here,” she said.

Rocky Harrison has run a stand with his brother for 15 years. Many cities in Snohomish County have banned the use of fireworks in recent years, but Harrison and others said it hasn’t had a significant impact on sales.

In response to injuries and wildfires, nearby cities have passed fireworks bans and increased fines. According to the state Fire Marshal’s Office, 110 fires due to fireworks were reported in 2021, as well as 70 injuries.

Deputy State Fire Marshal Greg Baruso said that though fireworks bans are difficult to enforce, they are still effective at reducing firework-related incidents around the Fourth of July.

“When the ban is greater, the percentages go way down,” Baruso said.

The city of Marysville, which neighbors Tulalip, passed a fireworks ban in 2017. Since then, the Marysville Fire District has seen an overall decrease in fireworks accidents, said Christie Veley, spokesperson for the district that covers the city and part of the reservation — including Boom City.

Around the Fourth of July in the district, the majority of fireworks incidents happen outside the city in areas where fireworks are legal, Veley said.

Harrison said being able to sell and use fireworks on the reservation is a form of independence.

“It’s another way that we can practice our sovereignty,” he said, pointing behind him to a firework called “Sovereign Nation.”

“It’s a part of being Tulalip to me,” Harrison said.

Tony Hatch has been selling at Boom City since he was a teenager. Now, at age 52, he said Boom City is “absolutely” tradition.

“This is something our tribal members have worked hard to protect,” Hatch said.

Natalie Kahn: 425-339-3430;; Twitter: @nataliefkahn.

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