OLD TOWN — Luft Balloons in Old Town is encouraging people to support local businesses by “balloon bombing” their storefronts with bursts of colorful balloon installations.
The store’s Balloon Bomb a Business initiative allows people to nominate their favorite small businesses for a chance to receive a Balloon Bomb — or decorative balloon installation — outside their store.
Elaine Frei, who owns Luft Balloons at 345 W. Armitage Ave., said it’s a way to spread joy while encouraging people to support local businesses as they reopen from a year of closures and capacity limits due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“It has been a tumultuous time for small businesses, and we believe it is important they know their hard work has been recognized by the community,” Frei said. “We hope our surprise helps small businesses feel appreciated for all they have endured throughout the pandemic.”
People can nominate local businesses by filling out a form on Luft Balloons’ website.
Frei started balloon bombing businesses last year by setting up the installations outside hospitals to express gratitude for frontline workers during the early days of the pandemic.
“We did six hospitals with more than 3,000 balloons installed just to bring them cheer and joy,” she said. “But we ran out of hospitals to balloon bomb, so it occurred to me that our businesses are still struggling and could use some help, as well.”
Frei said she could relate to small business owners’ struggles after having to navigate the past year, so she wanted to give back in some way.
“As somebody who’s had to pivot a lot during the pandemic, I understand what these small businesses have gone through,” Frei said. “Since we made it, I just want to help other people make it or celebrate that they’re trying their hardest to get out of the trench.”
Before the pandemic, 85 percent of Luft Balloons’ income was driven by events, which have been canceled or postponed for more than a year by the pandemic, Frei said.
Frei said she adapted to the pandemic by expanding the store’s balloon offerings with bursts of smiley face balloons that could be installed along fence posts and other locations. Throughout the pandemic, Luft Balloons has sold about 2,000 smiley face bursts and mapped them out so people could “take a walk and see joy during tumultuous times.”
Jake Wittich is a Report for America corps member covering Lakeview, Lincoln Park and LGBTQ communities across the city for Block Club Chicago.