Ohio entrepreneur Bruce J. Zoldan, 70, is the founder of B.J. Alan Company and Phantom Fireworks, the largest fireworks distributor in the United States. On July 2, President Trump announced that Zoldan would be one of two donors supplying all of the fireworks for the “Salute to America” Fourth of July event.
Zoldan started his business at the age of 15, selling firecrackers from the back of his mother’s car, after his father gave him $100 worth of fireworks he bought in neighboring Pennsylvania. Although fireworks were illegal in Ohio back in the 1960s, Zoldan sold them to friends and quickly made a $100 profit.
He eventually started the B.J. Alan Company and its retail distribution arm, Phantom Fireworks. As a young man, Zoldan made enough money to put himself through college and bought a car for his sister and himself.
In a 2017 interview, Zoldan revealed that his companies sell about $100 million in fireworks annually. According to their website, Phantom Fireworks has retail stores in 16 states and 1,500 temporary locations that pop up during holidays, 17 states. While only 13 states allowed fireworks back with Zoldan started his business, Phantom Fireworks sells consumer pyrotechnic products like sparklers to retail stores in 47 states.
Zoldan is a Youngstown, Ohio native. “I grew up in the city of Youngstown and I will always be a part of the city. This company could be anywhere in the United States but we chose to be here and we’re proud of it,” he said.
Here’s what you need to know about Bruce Zoldan and Phantom Fireworks.
1. Zoldan Lobbied Trump about Chinese Tariffs
Zoldan and several other business executives met with President Trump on May 22 to discuss the proposed 25% tariff on Chinese goods. According to the American Pyrotechnics Association, 99 percent of backyard fireworks and about 70 percent of professional fireworks come from China. Americans spend about $1.3 billion on fireworks annually.
Zoldan told ABC News he didn’t go to the Oval Office specifically to lobby Trump on fireworks, but to explain how Chinese tariffs would impact the U.S. economy in general. At least 10 U.S. fireworks companies signed a letter to Trump opposing the tariffs.
On June 25, Phantom Fireworks and Fireworks by Grucci announced they would be donating fireworks valued at $750,000 to Trump’s Fourth of July “Salute to America” event on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Soon after Phantom Fireworks’ donation, Trump decided to spare certain Chinese items from tariffs, including fireworks. On July 2, Trump tweeted his thanks to Zoldan for the fireworks donation.
“Thanks to “Phantom Fireworks” and “Fireworks by Grucci” for their generosity in donating the biggest fireworks show Washington D.C. has ever seen. CEO’s Bruce Zoldan and Phil Grucci are helping to make this the greatest 4th of July celebration in our Nations history!” Trump wrote.
Zoldan says the donation was in the works months before he ever met with Trump, however government watchdogs are troubled by the donation. “The fireworks companies have reportedly lobbied against tariffs, and they could be using the Trump administration’s celebration to better their business opportunities,” Scott Amey, general counsel for the nonpartisan group Project on Government Oversight said.
Although Zoldan has been criticized for meeting with Trump, he has always been politically active and supported both the Democratic and Republican parties. He made a $5,400 donation to Hilary Clinton’s 2016 campaign. He’s also donated to Ohio Representative Tim Ryan. In 2008 he contributed $632 to Barack Obama’s inagural fund.
2. Bruce Zoldan Is Married to Wife Rori
Bruce Zoldan is married to wife Rori, a Tel Aviv native who is the daughter of Holocaust survivors. Rori has a degree in psychology and once worked with mentally ill children in Israel. She now serves as the vice-president of retail sales at B.J. Alan Company, Phantom Fireworks’ parent company. She told the Cleveland Jewish News that she met Bruce while she was working in a jewelry store while on break from her college studies.
Rori Zoldan said the two fell in love, married and then moved to the United States where they raised two sons. Rori and the couple’s two grown sons, Ron and Alex, are also active in the business. Rori and Bruce Zoldan are active members of the Ohev Tzedek-Shaarei Torah Congregation, a conservative synagogue in Youngstown, Ohio. The couple founded The Bruce J. and Rori H. Zoldan Foundation in 2010 to provide grants to local organizations.
In November 2015, Rori Zoldan was in the news after she and her housekeeper stopped an intruder who had broken the Zoldan home. Linda Crawford, who claimed she was searching for her lost dog, was arrested for the crime. Bruce Zoldan stated that Crawford had previously threatened him online.
3. Phantom Fireworks Was Linked to Two Terrorist Incidents
Zoldan’s Phantom Fireworks stirred up controversy when it was revealed that fireworks had been purchased by Boston Marathon bombers and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, one of the two Boston Marathon bombers. The attack killed three people and injured 280.
Tsarnaev visited a Phantom Fireworks location in Seabrook, New Hampshire to purchase two large “Lock and Load” mortar kits for $200. The store was having a “buy one get one free” sale on the day of Tsarnaev’s visit. Phantom Fireworks Vice President William Weimer believes Tsarnaev and his younger brother Dzhokhar extracted the explosives from the kits to make bombs.
Law enforcement believe the brothers may have been following an online “recipe” provided by Al Qaeda. “We obviously need to band together to do everything we can to stop this,” Zoldan said in an interview with the Youngstown Vindicator. “The fireworks industry will do what it can to minimize this (in the future)” he added.
“What my guess is, they purchased these products in early February, experimented with them and probably came to the conclusion that they couldn’t harvest enough powder to do what they wanted to do with them,’’ Weimer told Boston.com.
Failed Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad also purchased fireworks from a Phantom Fireworks store. There were no deaths or injuries resulting from the incident. “The M88 he used wouldnt damage a watermelon,” Zoldan said to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
“Shahzad didn’t realize that consumer fireworks don’t mass-detonate, so when he ignited them and they didn’t go up, we were able to trace back the items left over in the car to one of our stores,” Zoldan told The Jewish Forward.
4. Zoldan Was Accused of Making Homophobic & Anti-Islamic Remarks
In March 2019, Zoldan made a homophobic and anti-Islamic comment about Youngstown, Ohio rabbi, politician and community leader Dario Hunter. Hunter is running as a Green Party candidate in the 2020 presidential election. Hunter was recently fired as Temple Ohev Tzedek Shaari’s part-time rabbi. Zoldan is a prominent member of the temple’s congregation.
“I will finance [Hunter] if he promises to open and manage a gay bar for former Muslims with Jewish beliefs in Ramallah,” Zoldan said in a chain email to members of Temple Ohev Tzedek Shaari Torah. Zoldan was referencing comments Hunter made that were critical of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.
“I am openly gay and was born to an Iranian Muslim father; these are things of which I am proud,” Hunter said. “Although I am a practicing Jew, I have a deep respect for the religion of my father’s upbringing. Gay, straight, black, white, Muslim, Jew or Christian, all human beings deserve respect,” Hunter replied. He went on to encourage anyone who opposed Zoldan’s remark to boycott Phantom Fireworks.
5. Zoldan Had a Stake in a Kentucky Derby Winner
Zoldan has taken an interest in horse racing. As an investor in Team Valor, Zoldan owned a stake in Animal Kingdom, the 2011 Kentucky Derby winner.
Animal Kingdom won the Kentucky Derby at 20-1 odds. Another Team Valor horse, Went the Day Well, finished fourth. “Winning a Kentucky Derby and having a second horse qualify and place the following year will always be surreal to me,” Zoldan told The Business Journal.