The recession has slowed down helium production, which drives up prices. (WRDW-TV / Aug. 24, 2012)
News 12 at 6 o'clock / Friday, Aug. 24, 2012
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- It's another one of those unbreakable pairs -- like peanut butter and jelly or cookies and milk. This time, it's helium and balloons, but this pair is starting to get expensive.
"A lot of people have complained. Are you kidding? Why have they gone up so much? So they don't like the fact that we've raised the prices," said Party N Dollar owner Susie Stephan.
It's what makes them float and what makes your voice sound like "Alvin and the Chipmunks," but it's also what's driving up the prices of balloons -- helium.
"We have had four helium increases in a year, on top of the fact that they've cut our supplies. We actually went from our special on the dozens is $8.99. We've had to go to $11.99, but our cost has doubled," Stephan said.
That's more than a 25 percent increase in price and that can make a big difference when you get to the counter.
Ann Penson is buying balloons for a co-worker's farewell party. She says when it comes to balloons, you can never buy just one.
"I would think a customer coming in to buy balloons would want to buy more than one balloon, and if they're more, it could discourage them from buying eight to 10 balloons," Penson said.
So customers have to make a decision -- expensive helium or no helium at all.
At one point this summer, the shortage nearly made the decision for them.
"The customers were coming in and saying we were the only store in town that had helium," Stephan said.
So Stephan has been creating balloon decorations that don't require helium. They're air-filled centerpieces, but many people say they're just not the same.
"Generally, when you talk about balloons, everybody assumes they're going to be floating, so most people who want balloons love them because they float," she said.
Stephan says most people don't realize why prices have spiked.
Helium is usually generated as a byproduct of natural gas mining, but the recession has slowed production and plants often close down for the summer, creating the shortage.
Stephan says she's hoping supply will increase in the fall so she can deflate her prices a little.
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