A global shortage of helium means Party City has to downsize
If you’ve tried to place a balloon order for your child’s birthday party during the past year, you’ve probably been S.O.L. Hugely popular one-stop party store, Party City, has announced it will be closing 45 stores nationwide this year after the global helium shortage has made it difficult for the store to be able to fill balloons.
The party store chain apparently closes approximately 10 to 15 stores annually, but the helium shortage “negatively impacted our latex and metallic balloon categories,” the company’s CEO, James M. Harrison, said in a statement. Currently, Party City’s website has a page explaining the helium shortage — something many of us were made aware of for the first time while trying to get a few fun, celebratory balloons filled in recent months.
Beyond being a crucial element (literally) to a child’s birthday party, helium is also used in anything from smartphones to MRI machines to space shuttles. It may sound unbelievable (I know I was flabbergasted when the two teens working Party City told me about the shortage last fall), but it’s true. Qatar produces about 75 percent of the world’s helium supply, but can no longer export it as of 2017 due to Saudi Arabia placing a blockade in the supply chain.
As a result, the U.S. government’s helium reserves in Texas and Wyoming are being depleted, forcing the Bureau of Land Management to ration its supplies. The U.S. used to be the world’s largest helium producer, but of course, we screwed that up royally in the 1990s by going into debt from storing the gas and selling off its reserves. Sigh.
So uh, yeah, it looks like the helium crisis isn’t going to be solved anytime soon. In the meantime, Party City might be closing several of its stores but assures customers the stores that remain open will be fully committed to fulfilling all our party needs — and offering substitute options for helium-filled balloons. Because who doesn’t get a nostalgic pang for a good ol’ fashioned balloon arch?
A full list of the Party City stores that will be closing isn’t yet available, but the store’s CEO remains hopeful about their future in spite of being forced to downsize.
“Most importantly, we have signed a letter of agreement for a new source of helium which, subject to final execution of a definitive contract, would provide for additional quantities of helium beginning this summer and continuing for the next 2.5 years,” Harrison explains further. “We believe this new source should substantially eliminate the shortfall we are experiencing at current allocation rates and improve our ability to return to a normal level of latex and metallic balloon sales.”