Hope floats at new balloon shop
LIHU‘E – Just in time for Valentine’s Day, Specialty Balloons Hawai‘i opened its doors for business on Kress Street in Lihu‘e.
Four days before Valentine’s Day, the new shop’s owner, Wendee Van Gieson, was ready to help Valentine’s Day sweethearts build their own balloon bouquet, which “is the perfect gift for the shy guy,” she said. “Tell me what your budget is, and we’ll work with it.”
A balloon business represents a big change for Van Gieson, who for 20 years was the owner and proprietor of Fast Freight Shipping and Trucking on Kaua‘i.
“Then my mom got ill in 2003 and we closed our doors,” she said. She left Kaua‘i to be near her mother on O‘ahu.
“When mom was put in a nursing home for full-time care, I brought her balloons,” she said with tears in her eyes. “She would watch them sway back and forth and smile. It brought her so much joy.”
After her mother died, she moved back to Kaua‘i and became a bookkeeper for a local construction company. But over the years, she felt the desire to go back into business for herself.
“I loved balancing books to the penny,” she said, “but I missed the interaction with people.”
Inspired by memories of the joy the balloons brought to her mother and wanting to share that feeling with others, she starting looking into what would be involved in opening a balloon shop. She researched balloons, their quality and what could make their float time last longer in Kaua‘i’s unique environment.
“This came together over the holidays and missing my mom,” she said. “Over New Year’s, I said this is it.”
She decided to go for it. She leased a shop in Hawai‘i Link Center next door to Hamura’s Saimin and placed inventory orders.
While many new business owners are frustrated by the complications and delays involved in having products and inventory shipped to Kaua‘i, the process is a breeze for Van Gieson, who attributes it to her years in the shipping and freight business. For her, it’s all about the weight rather than the wait.
Specialty Balloons Hawai‘i offers just about every type of balloon imaginable: wild animals, fish, hearts, polka dots, Hello Kitty, vinyl “walking pet” balloons, corkscrew-shaped balloons, blinking balloons and even photo balloons.
Give a photo to Van Gieson and she can screen it onto a balloon, including any text the customer wishes to add. The possibilities for such a novelty are endless, she said, and they last up to seven years.
“If only I could have done this for my mom, she could have been surrounded by her family all the time,” she said. “In long-term care, she could have had long-term balloons that last.”
Photo balloons also have practical uses for businesses, she added. Companies can have their business logo screened on them, and they can be used for garage sales, open houses, charity events or centerpieces at parties.
“We just got awarded an exclusive distributorship for Balloon Blobbers,” she said. “Blobbers are advertising balloons that don’t require helium. They’re heavy-duty for outdoor use and stay afloat through an internal mechanism. They are used by car dealerships for advertising and for open houses.”
She said she hopes to work with florists and candy and chocolate companies — “especially chocolate companies,” she said with a big smile, “to include the candies with the balloons. … I’d also like to get involved with non-profits … and make this a business that gives back to the community.”
Although the balloons are exotic, they’re not expensive. Helium balloons start at $3.50, latex balloons start at $1 to $2 and for $10, a customer can get a nice selection, she said. Balloon bouquets are about $20 to $25 dollars.
“It’s cheaper than anything you can find on the Internet,” Van Gieson said.
Inside of helium balloons, she uses a special non-toxic chemical that allows them to last up to six days as opposed to 10 to 18 hours.
Van Gieson’s daughter will soon be opening her own balloon shop on O‘ahu. “It’s wonderful to be involved in such a positive business — putting a design together and seeing the smile on a child’s face, she said, adding that her shop is keiki-friendly.
“The way I look at it, is every day is a celebration and every day is a balloon day,” she said.
Specialty Balloons Hawai‘i is located at 2950 Kress St. Shop hours are 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on Sunday. Extended hours are available by appointment. For more information, call the shop at 246-4505 or Wendee Van Gieson at 635-4236.