LOGAN SQUARE — Birthdays, engagements, marriages and graduations are still happening during the pandemic. With the world in turmoil, many Chicagoans are turning to Logan Square’s Luft Balloons for a safe way to celebrate happier occasions.
At Luft Balloons, business is ballooning. Founder Elaine Frei, who runs the small company out of the Logan Square shop Festive Collective, said she’s installed more than 200 arrangements on fences and homes across Chicago since the start of the stay at home order. Her revenue has doubled.
“I think it’s because we’re a small business and small businesses are nimble whereas big boxes are not,” Frei said. “Are competitors able to pivot? We just were. I think because we have a niche business.”
Prior to the pandemic, 85 percent of Luft Balloons’ income came from events, Frei said. When the pandemic took hold and all events were canceled, Frei began rolling out packages catered to Chicagoans coping with the pandemic like the “Bag ‘O Fun!,” a bag of loose balloons for kids to play with, and the “Crappy Happy Helium Bouquet,” a balloon bouquet made with a poop emoji balloon, among other unique designs.
Frei also started offering her signature balloon arrangements for discounted prices. The crush of yellow smiley face balloons, called “The O.G. Smiling Rainbow,” originally cost $275 but now is going for $129. The balloons last up to one week outside.
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The cascading arrangements, which create a burst of bright color on the street, have been a big hit among Chicagoans celebrating big life moments during the pandemic like new babies and 90th birthdays.
Balloons are inherently joyful, Frei said, and “provide this sense of calm.”
“It’s like a Band-Aid but in visual form.”
Frei said she and her crew are like “balloon ninjas,” quickly installing the arrangements on fences and homes and then disappearing so as to keep everyone involved safe.
“We install and we’re gone,” she said.
Frei is also installing the arrangements at hospitals to lift the spirits of front line workers. Earlier this week, she installed her first one at Loyola University Medical Center thanks to a successful online fundraiser.
The fundraiser, which sent more than $5,000 to the project, allowed Frei to enlist a group of artists to help. The team included an illustrator, who wrote uplifting messages on the balloons, and a photographer and a videographer to document it.
Frei said it was important to her to include other artists and she’ll only keep up the hospital project if she can continue to pay artists to help.
“Because Luft Balloons is … gaining revenue, I wanted to include other businesses who are being hit harder,” she said.
Soon Frei and her team will tackle Masonic Medical Center. The hope is the colorful balloons bring the health care workers joy during an extraordinarily difficult time, she said.
But you don’t have to be a health care worker or a customer to enjoy Frei’s artistry.
Frei recently launched a “Joy Finder” scavenger hunt on her website that allows people to pinpoint where the balloon arrangements have been installed throughout the city. She’s asking people to tag @luft.balloon and use the hashtag #JOYFINDER when they post photos of the arrangements “in the wild.”
The scavenger hunt is catching on, just like the arrangements did.
“I didn’t know if people would enjoy that or catch on, but ‘Joy Finder’ is taking off, which is really fun,” she said.
To place an order, visit Luft Balloons’ website.
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