Graduation parties this month likely will be deflated, as suppliers dont have enough helium to fill balloon tanks at florists and party stores because of a shortage in the national supply.
When Grays Flower Shop, 1605 State St., Watertown, sought to purchase helium this week to get ready for upcoming graduation parties, local suppliers all said they had none to sell. The flower shop, which also has locations in Carthage and Clayton, could now scramble to fill enough balloons for its customers, said owner Scott A. Gray.
Well be taking orders for graduation parties this week, but if we cant get the helium well have to call people back, he said. We might have to ration out balloons and set a limit on how many customers can buy. And were going to have to reserve the helium for customers who buy balloons from us.
As it stands, the shop is selling balloons only at its Watertown shop, where it still has helium tanks operating. It will make shipments to stores in Carthage and Clayton, too, but those might be discontinued.
The timing couldnt be worse for flower shops, which sell the most balloons in June for graduation festivities and in February for Valentines Day. Its a trend that could make graduation parties across the country less festive without any balloons.
This is going to hurt anybody thats dealing with balloons, Mr. Gray said.
Driven by the waning national supply of helium and high demand, Grays Flower Shop recently paid $120 for a tank of helium, almost double the price it paid six months ago.
Its driven the price and cost of helium up, but going from a shortage to nonexistence is an issue, Mr. Gray said.
But there isnt expected to be any helium available for balloons in the near future, said Grant D. Hanlon, sales manager for Haun Welding Supply, 23791 Route 12. The supplier has 17 locations across New York and Vermont, and all of them are combating a shortage in the amount of helium theyre able to distribute.
Mr. Hanlon said the nations largest helium suppliers get most of their supply from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, which extracts helium from a crude helium extracted from natural gas fields in Oklahoma. The national program was launched by the Federal Helium Privatization Act of 1996, which authorized the federal government to sell its helium reserves to private companies.
But the national program is running out of helium, Mr. Hanlon said, and its supply is slated to be depleted by 2015. That trend, coupled with skyrocketing worldwide demand for helium, has made helium a treasured commodity that suppliers now cant afford to sell to produce helium balloons.
In fact, suppliers across the country have been mandated by distributors to cut back on their helium use this year by anywhere from 60 to 80 percent of what they used in the fiscal year 2011.
Thats why Haun Welding Supply, which purchases helium from Linde Industrial Gases in New Jersey, is now selling only to its customers that use it for medical purposes, research and manufacturing.
Meanwhile, balloon makers have been put on a waiting list and arent expected to get any helium until the arrival of fall and thats a best-case scenario. The company serves about 15 customers in Jefferson County.
This has been a perfect storm, and weve been scrambling for helium here since Valentines Day, Mr. Hanlon said. Were turning down new clients and only allocating it by the critical nature of customers needs.