Downtown Covington Fireworks Shop Will Close - but Historic Building Will Stay in Family's Hands
In 1918, Sam Droganes - the first of three men in this story with that name - constructed a commercial building on the 200 block of Pike Street in downtown Covington. The short, narrow brick building faces Pike and reaches back to Russell Street in shotgun style underneath the railroad overpass. Droganes had moved to the United States from Sparta in Greece, and located in the Cincinnati area to learn the ice cream and candy trade from a relative in the Queen City. His own efforts landed him on Madison Avenue first, and then his own place where the Droganes family still does business.
Just not the ice cream business.
In 1932, Droganes's son - also named Sam Droganes - was 14 years old and was curious about the fireworks business. The state of the world was taking a turn for the troublesome, in terms of economics and international turmoil, and with that came difficulties in having enough sugar to keep the sweet supply of candy and ice cream coming. Young Sam's aunt Kate suggested that he start selling fireworks. "Everybody likes fireworks," she told him. He bought a box of cherry bombs, put them in the window and sold all of them.
The ice cream and candy portion of the business fizzled but the fireworks side of things exploded.
To this day, the Droganes family peddles fireworks out of the 200 block of Pike Street, only this time, the face of the operation is Sam Droganes, the third of his name. And the fireworks business will end with him.
"As part of a federal government case, the judge ordered me out of the business," Droganes told The River City News in an interview inside the historic building where the infrastructure of an old school ice cream parlor is still very much in tact. The shelves that once hoisted opera cremes and chocolates now display a large collection of toy banks, passed down to Droganes and his brother and sister from their father. In the back, there are boxes of fireworks. Most of Premium Fireworks' business is conducted out of the company's facility in Taylor Mill, but the Droganes clan has had its fill of the fireworks trade, overseeing a business that also operates multiple factories in China.
The choice was not wholly theirs.
The youngest Sam Droganes, 51, has battled with the government on multiple occasions over the family business. At one point, he was convicted of not having the proper permit for his business and he spent 14 months in a federal prison. That made Droganes a felon, and he was charged a couple years later for allegedly selling public display-style fireworks to a confidential federal informant, a violation of U.S. law since felons cannot legally possess firearms or explosives. (The feds later seized $1 million worth of fireworks and were criticized for spending more than $8 million to store them, according to contemporary reports.)
Droganes's sister, he said, has been legally running the business since but the family decided recently to sell the business. A note was posted on the door of the store on Pike Street claiming that the state declined to issue the business the appropriate permits. A state official declined to offer specifics on the case when asked by The River City News, citing privacy.
While the fireworks boom may be over for the Droganes family, the historic Pike Street building will remain in their possession. "I'm not selling this as long as I'm sucking air," Droganes said. "I can't stand to see someone come in here and mess up the place."
So, what's he going to do with it? Maybe turn it into a law practice. "I've been through so many legal cases I'm practically an attorney anyway," he laughed.
It won't be an ice cream place because Droganes doesn't think downtown Covington could support that yet. "The crowd is not here like it was," he said. But, if he did want to take the plunge back into the family's other historic business, many of the tables and chairs -- some dating back to 1911 when the first shop opened on Madison Avenue -- are still there.
He'll take some time to figure that out while he focuses on selling Premium Fireworks locations in Covington, Taylor Mill, and China. "I took over in 2005. Our factory in China, we had 102 buildings on 50 acres," he said. "We exported to 27 different countries and that was a lot of fun because I took my dad's company and now if you go to Europe or South America, you'll see some Premium Fireworks on the shelves right now."
Droganes's father has since passed, and he requested to be cremated. His remains are among the historic artifacts found in the Pike Street building.
"It's sad but I got to live out my dream for a long time. I loved this fireworks business. I loved it. It was a pleasure doing what I loved," Droganes said. "Now it's going away and that's sad. A friend of mine told me, I'm a lucky person because I did get to live out my dream for a while. How many people walking down the street get to live out their dreams? So, from that perspective, I'm a lucky person."
Written by Michael Monks, editor & publisher