DC business owner sues city over fireworks license denial

With Fourth of July around the corner, a D.C. business owner said he’s been denied a license to sell fireworks after doing so for decades, and he is questioning the reason he was given.

James Peters III has lived in the District his entire life and began his career in the fireworks industry in the 1980s, when he worked as an inspector. He went on to become a public safety consultant, and in 1997, started his own company Capitol Works Inc.

Peters began selling fireworks as a wholesaler to 27 smaller businesses, the majority of which are Black-owned, according to court documents filed Tuesday.

This year, for the first time, his license was denied by the D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, or DCRA.

Peters said he received an email from Vincent Parker, an administrator with DCRA, stating that because of demonstrations and the public health emergency, the DCRA will not issue any temporary fireworks business licenses this year.

The suit claims that wholesale retailer Costco is allowed to sell the same products Peters had been selling for years, and the lawsuit document has attached pictures of the products in the store.

Peters believes that the denial of his license has something to do with his race.

“The only difference between myself and my vendors and Costco is, one, we’re not billionaires, and two, we are Black,” he said. “Our customers are now going to Costco to buy the same thing we would be selling.”

Peters said this a case of blatant discrimination that is built into the system. “Even though we might have somebody at the top that is of color, you can take the white icing off and put the chocolate icing on — it’s still in the cake,” he said.

Peters had already purchased $150,000 worth of fireworks in anticipation of this year’s business, but said without vendors, he will now likely have to shut his business down.

To sell fireworks in D.C., a retail fireworks dealer needs a business license from DCRA and a permit from the D.C. Fire Marshal’s office for fireworks inspection and storage.

A list of products that have been submitted to the Fire Prevention Division for testing and deemed safe for consumer use can be found on the Fire and EMS website, including the name of the wholesalers.

As of Wednesday afternoon, Mayor Muriel Bowser’s office had not responded to an inquiry from WTOP about the allegations of discrimination.

WTOP’s Abigail Constantino contributed to this report.

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