Lew Raderschadt‘s entrepreneurial spirit was ignited at the young age of 10 when he figured out that dollars were necessary to buy the things he wanted. So, he set out to work and was hired by a Watertown businessman to run a firework stand. Little Lew made pretty good money! But he knew he could make even more money, and even as much as his boss, if he had his own stand.
“Lew’s” was born.
Lew’s father built a firework stand and young Lew was in business for himself the very next year. But it seemed those South Dakota winds were determined to blow his stand over every other night. So Lew’s dear father set out night after night to tip the stand right back-up so it was ready for business the very next day. Lew was in business for a few years until he took a brief hiatus with the United States Army. Upon his return from service in 1958, he managed his parents’ business, the Elco Motel (Ella and Lewis, E-L, for Elco).
But fireworks were never far from his mind and never left his heart. In 1959, twenty-one year old Lew remembered his first love (fireworks!) and built three 7 foot-wide stands while also working in hotel management. He continued to add stands every year until he had 14 stands! His company, again named “Lew’s,” was in business!
In 1961, he started selling fireworks to the wholesale market. And in 1979, he retired from hotel management and dedicated himself to fireworks fulltime. Lew was now focused on his true passion and expanded his operations to the East side of Watertown. He also started importing his products, shipping up to 40 containers to the United States each year.
But that wasn’t enough! Lew’s creative business acumen was sparked yet again, and in the mid-80’s, he began development of his own products. Lew’s Fireworks, Inc., now has over 100 signature products.
Today, Lew’s son, Dan, and his grandson, Derek, focus on the wholesale distribution facility where they specialize in product development. Currently, they have over 55,000 square footage of storage. They have 10 major retail centers and supply over 400 retailers, wholesalers and community displays. They supply retail products to a 5-state region and supply wholesale from as far west as Idaho and east to Indiana.
Lew was best known in the community for extravagant and awe-inspiring displays for celebrations and special events, large and small. The largest event in South Dakota, Lifelight Christian Music Festival, is one of Lew’s most well-known shows with over 130,000 people in attendance. Lew’s also creates the largest fireworks display in South Dakota right here in Watertown, as well as displays for events ranging from 4th of July extravaganzas to weddings and concerts. Among their extensive client list are such notable celebrities as Kenny Rogers, Martina McBride, Mannheim Steamrollers, Lee Greenwood, Oakridge Boys, Restless Heart, Casting Crowns, News Boys and Toby Mac.
Although Lew is no longer with us, his legacy and name live on. His lifeline philosophy was, “The difference between work and play is a mental attitude.” From unloading containers to negotiating prices with suppliers overseas to adding new clients – Lew continues his hands-on approach to business and customer service, infusing his incredible entrepreneurial spirit and business acumen into a business that has spanned three family generations and continues to thrive today.