Local Business Update: Balloon Saloon

Photo by Claudine Williams

Over the four decades that Sharon Hershkowitz has owned and operated Balloon Saloon, she has seen the store through the ups (Halloween crowds, where she hands out $2000 worth of candy) to the downs (9/11, Sandy). She grew it from a first-of-its-kind balloon delivery shop to a novelty emporium that supplies elaborate balloon displays for celebrations from here to Montauk.

But as any business owner here will tell you, this time is different. “Business is crappy,” said Sharon, who founded the store with her late husband and now runs it with her daughter, Tiffany, and son, Sean. “We are all praying that we can hold on to pay people’s salaries, but it’s clear we are not going to have a ‘normal’ back.”

In the before times, the retail store here was just the tip of the iceberg that was a much bigger operation. As of last February, Balloon Saloon employed 38 people and installed balloon displays at institutions all over the city, including museums, schools and hospitals and events like parades and business openings. “All of that dried up once people had to work from home. Our work was labor intensive, so we needed lots of employees. It’s such a ripple effect.”

Now they are down to four staffers and are desperately trying to eke out a business by finding some of their clients in the Hamptons. “It’s scary and humbling,” Sharon said. “As a business person I have to think: what can I do to save the business, the legacy, the spirit.”

She misses the interaction with the customer — the schmoozing, the selling, the fun of it all, especially in her business. She even misses the tourists. “We were always a happy corner. I love seeing the bags of balloons going out around the neighborhood. And there’s nothing better than the joy on a kid’s face when you give him a simple balloon.”

But she is also increasingly frustrated by the lure of Amazon, which she sees as no less than a whittling away of our social structure. Just recently she watched as a woman and her young son explored the store, chatted with staff, and settled on a puzzle for him to take home. But then the mom told the boy, “We are not getting it now — you’ll get it tomorrow in a box with a smiley face.” And they walked out.

“That mindset is so entrenched — I understand,” she said. “But when I hear something like that, it’s gut wrenching, it really is. I wish people would understand how important it is to really patronize stores and keep us afloat. Maybe it’s a dollar more or something, but that dollar more means something to our business, to our staff – and to the little kid. It doesn’t become this anonymous thing on the internet where there’s no human interaction. I think it will be a detriment to society, if you really stop to think about it.”

They have increased their delivery scope and continue to attract clients whose imaginations show no limit (see her recollections here about the time Michael Stipe came in for help creating a last-minute caviar costume). But the retail business is about 75 percent local, and that has now fallen by 80 percent.

Photo by Claudine Williams

The pandemic has given her time to evaluate the business, and also reflect. Her parents, both Holocaust survivors, first came to Duane Street to start a shoe store, back when Duane was all wholesale shoes. Her sister followed them with her own shoe business, selling to mostly city workers. Sharon took over her sister’s storefront eventually, she and her husband figuring they could make a go of it if they could clear $250 a week. They did.

With everything that she loves about New York — the energy, the theaters, the street life — nearly evaporated, she’s retreated half-time to her home mid-island, where she is using her garage as a staging area for deliveries out east. She’s waiting for business to come back, but not all that hopeful. Many of her clients say they are staying put for a while.

“It’s tenuous at best,” she says. “Mom-and-pop stores are vital — the lifeblood of the neighborhood. That’s why people come to Tribeca, to see something different than what’s on every other street corner. Every time a store closes, that’s it. It’s curtains in that spot. It’s like loosing a tooth in your mouth — you have a gap until another tooth comes in. But that’s going to take a while.”

 

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Spreading the sparkle through The Hamptons, one beautiful balloon at a time! ✨ 🎈🤩❤️✨

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So happy to be a part of making Kelly’s birthday extra special!!!! @livekellyandryan 🥳🎈🤩

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14 Comments

  1. I love Balloon Saloon. The balloons outside on the street corner bring me such joy. I even took a photo of them the night of January 21 as they looked so gorgeous. This store is a gem. I can’t imagine it not being here. There is nothing compared to a local store like this. It is one of a kind and can’t go anywhere.

  2. The most unique and fun store in the neighborhood and beyond. We love Balloon Saloon.

  3. Balloon Saloon is the BEST! Sharon & Tiffany are amazing and I truly hope they can survive this horrible pandemic. Please shop local if you can or at least go and say “hi”. That Amazon story breaks my heart – local shops are the lifeblood of neighborhoods and so much goes missing when they close.

  4. When companies talk about going work from home permanently they should ask themselves how it feels to put small businesses out of business

  5. Sharon is telling only part of the story of survival.
    it takes constant work,worry, thought, pivoting, trying, re-trying, guessing, second-guessing, to slay the beast and stay alive.
    We are all lucky Sharon has the skillsets!

  6. This is an incredible store and Sharon and Tiffany have put their lifeblood into making it a fun and happy place. The fabulous balloon decorations both outside the store every day (which we all miss terribly) and the amazing ones going out the door for deliveries are very sadly missed. Amazon has destroyed and continues to destroy small businesses like these and it is not only very sad that people do not realize that they need to support small businesses, but that the government has not done anything at all to stop Amazon from doing this. All the billions of dollars that Jeff Bezos has made were at the cost of what he has done to our country’s businesses (small and large!) that he has closed down.

  7. So upsetting to hear someone would browse and then purchase on Amazon. There is nothing better than the joy of taking a child to Balloon Saloon and walking away with a purchase. What a sad look at modern day culture. Those people need a morality check and a Kindergarten lesson on what’s right is right and what’s wrong is wrong. I bought my partner birthday balloons a couple weeks ago, frequent the local pet shop as much as possible and a patron of all the local restaurants. A 20 year resident who was here 9/11, hopeful my neighbors will do the same.

  8. ABSOLUTELY NOT!!! WE WON’T ALLOW FOR THIS BUSINESS TO GO UNDER!!! What can we Tribecans do to keep this business afloat!!

  9. is there a gofundme page? i suspect neighbors who are no longer in the neighborhood would chip in…

  10. very upsetting to hear. I have true loyalty to Balloon Saloon. Sharon and Tiffany are great people and know their customers well. Amazon has destroyed all our mom & Pop businesses. Tribeca isn’t Tribeca without the small businesses that kept our neighborhood unique. Praying we all get back soon.

  11. Shop Local!!!
    If you can get it locally do. And even if you can’t order it through a shop that can.
    The little extra effort and cost is so worth it.
    The small local shops are the back bone of our community.

  12. Balloon Saloon is a neighborhood treasure and one of my favorite stores. I did a lot of my Christmas shopping there and always found fun things to send a s stocking stuffers. I hope they are eligible for small business help from the government when we have the next round coming from congress.I was part of the Go Fund Me for Kings Pharmacy and I would contribute to them as well.

  13. To all my old friends and to the ones I have yet to meet,
    THANK YOU for your kind words. Looking back at all the memories shared with my family working together at the Balloon Saloon I can’t help but smile, have gratitude and be thankful for the joy I’ve given and the happiness we create. I hope that during these fast paced and anonymous times neighbors will come to know the joy of speaking to a real person, looking into our eyes (hardly see anything else these days) and have fun enjoying some simple pleasures in our store.
    “Nobody can be uncheered with a balloon”. Winnie The Pooh.
    Throughout the years we wanted to build a business that brought joy, we did and we will continue!
    “We Bring The Happy”. that’s our motto.
    Thank you,
    Sharon

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