Party City has announced its plan to close roughly 45 stores in the wake of a worldwide helium shortage.
The New Jersey-based retail chain announced the shocking decision on Thursday, explaining that the lack of access to the natural gas has “negatively impacted our latex and metallic balloon categories.”
“This year, after careful consideration and evaluation of our store fleet, we’ve made the decision to close more stores than usual in order to help optimize our market-level performance, focus on the most profitable locations, and improve the overall health of our store portfolio,” Party City Chief Executive Officer James Harrison said in the statement posted to the company’s website.
In the meantime, Harrison explained that the retail store has signed an agreement with a new supplier “for a new source of helium, which would provide for additional quantities of helium beginning this summer.”
Nonetheless, the helium shortage couldn’t have come at a more inconvenient time for the party store.
“Obviously graduation is a big season for balloons, no doubt about that,” Harrison said on a conference call with Wall Street analysts on Thursday, CNN reported.
The company did not name which locations would be closing.
While the helium crisis comes as a surprise to many, the shortage has been an ongoing issue for the last several years.
The gas is a chemical element with the symbol He and atomic number 2. It is a colorless, odorless, tasteless, non-toxic, inert and monatomic gas.
Interestingly, helium is very common — it’s the second most abundant element in the universe, according to The Royal Society of Chemistry.
However, that does not mean it is abundant on earth.
Helium “only accounts for 0.00052% of the Earth’s atmosphere and the majority of the helium harvested comes from beneath the ground being extracted from minerals or tapped gas deposits. This makes it one of the rarest elements of any form on the planet,” according to Universe Today.
The gas is also only available in Ras Laffan Industrial City in Qatar, ExxonMobil in Wyoming and the National Helium Reserve in Texas, which is the main reason for the shortage, according to Gasworld.com.
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At this time, the reserves are being depleted.
“It’s a serious problem,” organic chemistry professor at Oakland University Roman Dembinski told
“A shortage and disruption would quench our magnets, so we would be without instruments,” Dembinski said.
The lack of helium is not only bad news for the balloon business, but also for technology, including life-saving MRIs that scan for damage to organs and tissues,
Helium is also used in space flight to pressurize the fuel tanks of liquid-fueled rockets.