Local party stores stay afloat despite global helium shortage

Sharleen Duval, owner of It’s Your Party, says her business is still able to keep its balloon offering afloat. - Photo: Taneos Ramsay

The familiar sight of airborne balloons at birthday parties and weddings may be a decidedly more earthbound visual in the future.

In the past week, news reports have indicated there is a worldwide shortage of accessible helium, with no immediate solution in sight.

Local businesses are already feeling the effects and are in the process of coming up with alternative ways to use balloons without relying on the precious gas.

“Obviously we depend on things being shipped to us,” said Founder and Creative Director of Celebrations, Jo-Anne Brown, “and with this being a worldwide problem, we’re having to be more creative with our designs by incorporating more air-filled balloons”.

She further stated that they will have to start rationing their helium, as it looks like this will be the situation for a while.

Sharleen Duval, owner of It’s Your Party, said that they have upped their air-filled game and have not yet seen a downturn in business.

“We’re looking at a long-term alternative, perfecting our air-filled balloon designs,” Duval said. “As a result, we still have a supply of helium.”

She did acknowledge that at some point, they will run out. “Right now, it’s looking like it won’t be easily available until 2020,” she said.

Party City announced on Thursday that it was closing 45 of its stores in the US, stating that the increasing scarcity of helium had contributed to the decision.

Party & Halloween Retailer magazine spoke with Greg Nash of AGP Helium about the shortage, who said that the issue actually began in 2017 when the ports in Qatar were blocked by surrounding countries. “Qatar produces almost 30 percent of the world’s helium,” Nash said. “The countries bordering it accused [it] of supporting terrorism and harbouring terrorists.”

The US Bureau of Land Management controls approximately 70% of the world’s helium, and holds an auction each year to sell a portion of it. Last September, the portion sold for 135% more than the previous year.

Although the effects on everyone’s favourite floating décor may be the first concern, not to mention the worst case scenario of the beloved Goodyear Blimp possibly being grounded, it should be noted that helium is also used by scientists, the automobile industry, in medical equipment and for space exploration, among other applications.

At present, exploration data seems to point to large reserves in Tanzania. Helium One, a company created by Australian geologists, announced from early analysis that the country could hold as much as 98.9 billion cubic feet. This would make it one of the world’s top producers.

Helium is a nonrenewable resource, extracted from natural gas mining. There is no chemical or cost-effective way of manufacturing it.