What Goes Up, Must Come Down

A nationwide helium shortage is letting the air out of some local florists’ designs. Balloons aren’t the only things that use helium and with the nation facing a reduction in the availability of helium, local florists are arranging for different ways to satisfy their customers. Karen Garrett, one of the owners of Flowers on the Avenue in Muscatine, said her business will probably be able to fill up about 200 more balloons before her tank runs out of helium. After that, “we cannot purchase anymore helium,” for a while, Garrett said. Garrett also said they’ve had to increase prices because [helium] tank prices doubled. Karen Diercks, owner of The Flower Gallery in Muscatine, said her business has had to buy small tanks from Wal-Mart for the past few months because she’s not been able to get her tanks refilled. She said that although each tank is supposed to fill 25 balloons, she’s only been able to fill around 15. She said she’s also had to increase prices because the last time she ordered a tank “the price had gone up so high.” The path to the current helium shortage leads in several directions. Helium production was down because natural gas mining was down because of the recession. Helium is obtained as a by-product of natural gas mining. In addition, pipelines to two main helium sources in the U.S. — a federally owned reserve in Texas and an ExxonMobil facility — were shut down for a few months. Compounding it all is a possible shutdown of the Federal Helium Reserve unless unless Congress acts to exempt the stockpile from a sunset provision of a 1996 law that requires all of the governments supplies to be sold off 2015. Both Diercks and Garrett said that in order to conserve helium, they’ve both had to turn down customers who’ve brought in their own balloons to fill up. “We’re trying to find other suppliers, but if we can’t, we’ll have to consider if we’ll want to offer balloons” for now, Diercks said. In place of balloons, Diercks said her business has opted to add things like cake pops (basically, popsicles made from cake dough) to birthday bouquets. Jean Brockert, floral manager at Hy-Vee, said the department’s main supplier can’t supply them so “we’re going to whoever we can to help our customers.” Although at times frustrated, all three women said customers are understanding of the situation. “A lot of people are surprised there’s a shortage,” Brockert said.

Read more

This entry was posted in Helium shortage. Bookmark the permalink.