Chinatown streets quiet as fireworks buyers turn to Craigslist


San Francisco police searched a house Tuesday afternoon on the 3300 block of 26th Street in the Mission District and confiscated 50 M-1000s fireworks, equivalent to 12 sticks of dynamite. They also confiscated a gun and arrested a convicted felon in that house.

Normally, most of those fireworks would end up on the streets of Chinatown, but this year Chinatown is exceptionally quiet.

Runners are known to set off small fireworks on the streets of Chinatown to let buyers know they are selling the big stuff. The runners are usually young neighborhood teens trying to make some extra money on this holiday week. In the past, Chinatown's streets would be filled with them.

"You'd probably see maybe 50 to 100 runners," said San Francisco Police Department Ofc. Stewart Ng. "The business was really lucrative. The money was really good."

Officers Ng and Leon Sorhondo have been walking this holiday beat for decades.

"The gangs were very hot and heavy in selling fireworks at one time," said Sorhondo. "These kids at the end of the season... each of these kids would be able to buy a car."

But not now. We did see runners on street corners, but their numbers were few.

"It's dead. It's like the economy. It's quiet for the kids, too," said Sorhondo.

We also bumped into buyers, mostly from the suburbs, looking for the runners. While we were here, we saw patrol cars cruising down Grant Ave. regularly and a heavy presence of police walking beats.

But the Internet has taken over. Fire officials say all of these online sales are illegal, even the 'Safe and Sane' variety. However, a quick check of Craigslist uncovered loads of pitches for all kinds of fireworks like M-80s, cherry bombs, M-1000s, even a quarter stick of dynamite.

Merchants used to complain about the runners doing business in front of their shops. Not this year.

"We've not seen the kind of fireworks that you typically see in Chinatown for Fourth of July," said Chinatown businessman David Lee who has worked in the area for two decades. "I think the enforcement has been a lot of stronger."

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