At its height, The Party Shop employed more than 100 people and its products were staples at birthday parties and Halloween bashes across Jacksonville.
But the shift to online sales, social media and a helium shortage are among the reasons owner Amal Soni will soon be blowing up the last balloon at a business that has been a part of Jacksonville since 2002.
Soni and his wife at one time operated The Party Shop at two locations, along with a handful of Halloween stores that popped up around town each season.
Now, the final Party Shop store at 9041 Southside Blvd. is going out of business as the cost of helium floats ever higher.
“The medical industry and China are willing to pay a lot more than party stores for helium. So that's caused shortages and price increases. Prices more than doubled in the last couple of years,” said Soni.
He used to be able to sell balloons at about $8 per dozen, but now he’s charging about $25 for equivalent displays.
“We could easily get to a point in the future where there’s no party balloons. Helium is not used for that. It will just be used for the MRI machine,” said Soni, referring the medical industry’s growing use of the relatively scarce resource.
The internet – and especially social media - also played a big role in The Party Shop’s eventual downfall.
Pinterest-fueled, Instagram-worthy party decor trends are now evolving at such a breakneck pace that he said traditional mom-and-pop, brick-and-mortar businesses can’t keep up.
“Parents are getting more and more creative and also trying to outdo each other on the internet,” he said.
Soni said it’s become common for entrepreneurs to quickly create Etsy shops to take advantage of short-term trends. By the time Soni could react through traditional vendors, a trend may have already come and gone.
But the lightning-fast pace of online is also serving as the catalyst of Soni’s next business venture. He’s an investor in GoMobileTires.com, which he hopes will turn the tire installation industry on its head.
Instead of drivers' heading to a car dealer or tire store, the idea is the tire store comes to them. Users can purchase tires and schedule an appointment to have them installed at their home or work rather than sitting around a waiting room.
Soni has a franchise up and running in Jacksonville, and he says the founder of the company is planning to move GoMobileTires.com's headquarters from Portland, Ore., to Jacksonville. He anticipates the new headquarters will employ about 10 people.
“We started last year, and we’re up to six locations already. We’re looking to add 10 locations this year,” Soni said.
Meanwhile, back at The Party Shop, he's preparing for the final Valentine’s Day rush. The Southside Boulevard store is being liquidated with Valentine’s, St. Patrick’s Day and Halloween items at 75% off regular prices.
Soni expects The Party Shop will be closed for good by the end of the month.