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Helium shortage means price of balloons is rising

The price for helium balloons is rising because worldwide helium shortage.  |  Sun-Times Media

The price for helium balloons is rising because of a worldwide helium shortage. | Sun-Times Media

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Updated: February 1, 2013 6:08AM

If inhaling helium from balloons to talk like “Alvin the Chipmunk” is your thing on New Year’s Eve, be sure to thank your host, who probably paid double this year for the light-weight gas because of a global shortage.

Chris Doolin, who runs Doolin’s Party Supplies at Grand and Halsted, pays double for her helium, so her customers now pay double, too.

“People are willing to pay the extra price, and they’re glad to have it,” Doolin said.

A helium tank that fills about 500 balloons used to rent for $95 but now goes for $200, Doolin said. Because of the shortage, she has turned away lots of business, including graduation parties and corporate events. She usually gets 30 tanks a month from her supplier, but now she’s able to wrangle only five.

Myriad problems, including productions issues around the world, have contributed to the shortage.

“Some people are opting for a balloon drop with nets holding balloons filled with free air,” she said.

Price increases have not hurt wholesaler Lee Kaufman, owner of Brody’s 800-4-Balloons. He has been able to keep his helium stock steady by tapping a diverse network of suppliers.

“You put a balloon in a room and everybody thinks its a party,” Kaufman said. “Without balloons, it’s just another meeting. They give you a nice light kind of feeling,” Kaufman said.

“But some people are wising up and using alternatives whenever possible,” he said.

Affixing air-filled balloons to ceilings to mimic the effects of the light-weight gas is becoming popular, he said.

Kaufman and Doolin said there has been a slight break in the helium shortage in recent days, but it is a week-to-week situation.

The Jewel-Osco supermarket chain Jewel-Osco also has been affected. Fewer helium balloons are used in displays, and Jewel-Osco will no longer inflate balloons bought at other stores, according to company spokesman Karen May.

“We did absorb a substantial increase in the cost of helium in September, which led to an increase in the retail price of our helium balloons,” May said. “However, we haven’t seen a decrease in sales.”

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