How the helium shortage will affect your party and your pocketbook

Mother's Day is just days away and graduation season is right around the corner, but decorations for your special occasion may be missing a key component this year. Consumer Advocate Jenn Strathman takes a look at why shoppers may have to pay more for a popular party staple.

From bar mitzvas and baptisms to babies and birthdays, it's a busy time for local balloon shops. Business is booming at Balloon Crew in Garfield Heights in Ohio.

This year balloon sales are set to exceed expectations, but, Jackie Sopko-Crolius, the owner, doesn't want to burst your bubble. She says there is a world-wide helium shortage. There are only 15 places around the globe where helium is extracted and they only have so much capacity.

"If a pipeline goes down, if there's a problem with production, it puts a glitch in everything. Then you see that, gee we're going to raise the price or gee there's a shortage," said Sopko-Crolius.
Much of the helium supply doesn't go to the party industry. In fact, most of it is used for more serious purposes like MRIs. "The medical community uses it, welding, even the military uses it. So the bad news is, our industry is at the bottom of the list," said Sopko-Crolius.

So what does all this mean for the average consumer? You're probably going to have to dig a little deeper in your pocketbook next time you buy balloons.

"We've actually only added on a small surcharge for anything that has helium in it. We've actually been able to maintain a pretty decent price. I talked to a gentlemen in Columbus who has a balloon company. He said his price doubled," said Sopko-Crolius.

If you want to make sure you have balloons at your next bash Jackie says, place your order well in advance. She's already taking orders for graduation parties. And if you're looking for a way to cut costs...

"We also do balloons where they are about 60% helium and 40% air for people who don't need them to last very long," said Sopko-Crolius.

Jackie says, by 2015 the U.S. helium supply that the government stored underground in the 1920s will be exhausted. However, a new helium plant may be opening up later this year in Wyoming. There's no word on how soon the production will begin.

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