A global helium shortage is leaving party planners in a bind and balloon businesses with deflating profits.
For Ann Marie Edgerton, owner of Balloon Expressions, 1900 NW Military Dr., the shortage is making her balloon bouquet delivery and decorating business more challenging.
"We still have helium, but it's getting harder and harder to get," she said.
And, what she can get, comes with an inflated price.
"A year ago, a tank maybe cost $50. Now, we're talking $175,"she said.
Supplies of helium, a by-product of natural gas production, are dwindling because of a number of factors, including production disruptions and the federal government getting out of the helium business by 2015.
Most of the world's helium production is in the U.S., and Amarillo is the richest minefield for helium extraction.
With supplies dwindling, hospitals and industrial users get first dibs on the element which they use for such things as MRI scanners and the manufacture of televisions.
It's all leaving party planners in a lurch.
Lizette Lozano, who was buying balloons for an event for the Southside Special Olympics, said she's called around for a way to blow them up so they'll float skyward.
"We're having trouble finding the helium for the balloons," she said.
At Amols' Fiesta and Party Supply, 710 S. Flores, manager Becky Flores was pumping up balloons the old-fashioned way, with air.
"We sell a lot of balloons, or we used to sell a lot of balloons," she said. "The shortage of helium has caused us to drop on balloons about 50 percent."
She said Amol's has been out of helium for months, so they turn to creative means, like attaching sticks to balloons to suspend them.
At party shops across town, customers are greeted with signs indicated there is no helium to blow up balloons.
Party City stores currently have no helium, neither does Helium Express.
As for when the helium supplies will improve, that's up in the air, though some businesses hope for the first of the year.