Helium shortage sends local balloon prices soaring

It may not be as valuable as gold, but helium is in short supply and local party stores are feeling the pinch.

And so are their customers, who are now paying a lot more for helium balloons than they were a year ago.

“We have the graduation season going on, we have prom season going on,” said Dawn Storey.

Dawn works with her mother Joanne at "JoJo the Balloon Lady Shop" on Chicago's South Side. She says this time of year, sales of helium balloons go through the roof. This year, though, the prices have too.

“This is the worst time for the helium, but thank god we have a supplier who is supplying us. It's a little pricey, but you know we want to be accommodating to our customers,” Dawn said.

Dawn says helium balloons make up 75 percent of the store's business. Their helium supplier from Illinois recently ran out, so they had to find another, in Indiana.

Lavern Green was buying balloons Thursday for her daughter's graduation.

“I do want Helium. Helium is a great way to give balloons,” Green said.

Just as an example, a balloon one month ago would have cost about $10. Since then, it has gone up to $12, and now $15.

“It goes up and it goes down,” said William Halperin.

Northwestern Physics Professor William Halperin says the shortage is due in part to the closing, two years from now, of the National Helium Reserve in Texas.  Suppliers may be getting ready by stockpiling their reserves. The impact, he adds, goes far beyond balloons. Helium is critical for electronics and many medical and military needs.

“It's quite a serious concern, if you don't have a steady supply,” Halperin said.

And it’s a serious concern for balloon lovers, too.

“They love it. They absolutely love their helium balloons,” Dawn said.