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DC's only licensed fireworks wholesaler sues for discrimination

DCRA denied Capitol Works' license to sell fireworks due to "health emergency and demonstrations." Owner James Peters says it's a case of discrimination.

WASHINGTON D.C., DC — All across the country, there have been increased reports of late-night fireworks being set off. But in D.C.,they are illegal, since the District’s only licensed dealer was banned from setting up shop.

James Peters, a former firefighter and the owner of Capitol Works, provided WUSA9 emails he sent city leaders and the DC Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, dating back to May 8, 2020, when Peters was inquiring about the status of his of license. But after 30 years in business, Peters’ license was denied by the DCRA.

He finally heard back on June 17, 2020, but DCRA said they did not issue a license because of “the public health emergency and demonstrations currently happening in the city," the emails said. "Safety is our number one priority.”

Peters said he sells legal fireworks that don’t explode or shoot higher than 12 feet.

With Capitol Works not able to operate, independent vendors have also been impacted. 

Kiara Stevenson has been selling fireworks on Alabama Avenue, SE for eight years. She said the seasonal business boom helped her become her own boss at age 22.  

RELATED: Surge in fireworks disrupt sleep of already stressed Americans

“I could make my own money, establish business history, credit and employ family members and members of my community,” she said. "Now my business has been taken away from me without a reason why."

Stevenson and 26 other vendors get their fireworks from Capitol Works. Attorney Johnny Barnes said DCRA violated city law.  

“No notice, no warning, no hearing --the law does not permit that,” Barnes said. "It is a violation of the city’s Administrative Procedure Act.” 

Peters said this is a case of discrimination.  

“Black lives matter, but when will the elected officials in D.C. realize Black businesses matter also?" he asked. "The consumers are predominately Black, the retailers are 95% Black, I am the only wholesaler in this city and I’m Black."

RELATED: Four new Black businesses join DC’s coveted Sunday farmers market after vendors call for more inclusivity

Business owners and advocates said fireworks vendors should be given the same opportunities the city has given farmers markets.  

“How can you tell us, if we’re going to Phase 2 in the District of Columbia, that we’re any different?” asked former DC Councilmember Harry Thomas Jr. "These are outside temporary stands that measure up to all social distancing measures that have been put in place for every other business in this city.” 

Peters and his attorney want an emergency hearing and city leaders to reverse the decision so they can get back to work.

WUSA9 reached out to DCRA about the license and their allegations but did not hear back. 

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