Helium shortage hits party stores and planners


Not long ago you could find these canisters of helium for personal use all over town, but the supply has dried up and that means balloon parties may cost you more.

Party planned Kenneth Samuel explained, "This has been going on since September. I have had two event since September and both events I needed helium for and I have searched throughout Houston."

Samuel needs enough helium to fill hundreds of balloons. Getting the balloons filled at a store can cost one dollar per balloon. To keep costs down, Samuel rents usually small canisters or buys containers for home use which fill balloons for pennies, but finding the smaller bottles has been difficult.

He said, "They will fill up balloons but there is a limit to how many balloons they will fill up and when you are trying to do 144 balloons, that is not going to help. So it is less cost effective that way."

While party stores have large canisters of helium, they do not have the smaller home use bottles. Store managers say production problems are behind the shortage.

Aaron Graber with Party City explained, "Helium gets mined with natural gas. It's a byproduct of natural gas and they were having some refineries that were having scheduled maintenance and they scaled back all the non-essentials, like the party stores."

Graber says earlier in the year the gas was rationed and most of the available supply went to the medical industry. The shortage is starting to ease, but small canisters are still hard to find.

"Usually I have them stacked in the front window, four or five feet high," Graber said. "I think because of all the packaging and all the extra manufacturing, even though the restrictions are lifted, they have not started flowing that product out yet."

The real concern is for parades. Houston's parade needs 22,000 pounds of helium, but parade organizers say they believe they will find the supply they need.

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