BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - For the last 34 years, Debra Fournet, owner of Party Paradise, located on Drusilla Lane, has been ordering the usual. The usual is three 244 cubic foot helium tanks.
But the last time she tried to re-up an order with her supplier, Praxair, just a few days before Mother’s Day she was stopped in her tracks.
“They said, ‘Sorry, we don’t have any and actually we won’t be supplying you anymore with helium,’” Fournet said.
That's bad news for Fournet. At times, 30% of her sales come straight from those happy birthday balloons or a parent just hours away from celebrating graduation.
“We’ve been hearing that for five years... that there was a helium shortage or going to be, but we never had any problems getting helium before,” Fournet explained.
Quiet rumbles have now turned into reality. According to national reports, helium is in short supply, forcing up the price per tank or making it completely unavailable.
“Ten years ago, I was paying $30 a tank, same size tank, and everything,” she said.
Back in February, Fournet was paying $100 per tank. Her latest bill was a shocking $160.
She says these days, people hosting parties are into big numbers, like the 36-inch number and letter balloons.
“That’s the hot thing in the balloon business right now, and they take a lot of helium.”
Fournet says during Mother’s Day weekend, they had a lot of orders to fill and were forced to turn down new orders because they didn’t have enough helium to spare. As a result, balloon prices at this party store have increased anywhere from a few cents up to two dollars. It was an inflation cost she avoided... until she couldn’t.
“What’s in there that’s so expensive is the helium itself,” she said. “When you raise the price of helium 60 to 75%, you don’t have any choice.”
Fournet says once she runs out of this supply helium, she’s not sure where her next order will come from and that’s a bit unnerving.
“If you walk in right now, I’ll fill you a balloon and I’ll tell you this is all I can do. We’ll blow them until the tanks are empty so we can return the tanks to the helium company," she said.
Fournet isn’t alone in this journey. She says her supplier for more than 30 years provided tanks to several party businesses in the parish.
Hospitals are also affected by the shortage because helium is a key part of the MRI machine, but we checked with a few Baton Rouge area hospitals and so far, no one is feeling the effects of this issue.