WICKER PARK – A balloon company specializing in custom balloon bouquets and installations has set up shop in Wicker Park.
Luft Balloons, 1900 W. North Ave., open Saturday. Founder Elaine Frei launched the company in 2017 after a series of creative endeavors led her to start creating custom balloon colors and designing arrangements of all sizes.
Frei has gained a large following during the early days of the pandemicwhen he built and installed hundreds of balloon packages in COVID-safe outdoor venues for a variety of occasions.
Now, Frei has launched its first foray into retail to connect directly with customers and give neighbors an “experiential shopping” experience, he said.
“Balloons ignite such nostalgia in all of us, we all have an attachment to them, because it celebrates milestone memories,” Frei said. “Balloons need that experiential quality because you will always be picking them up. They will never be mailed.”
Individual balloons in the shop start at $3, with a whole range of bouquets and “blowouts” available. Several options can be viewed on Luft website.
The store also features what Frei calls an “immersive balloon experience” behind the retail area with thousands of intricately placed balloons, many of which depict Santa Claus.
Tickets are available for children and families who want to take photos in space, Frei said. This is the third year he has organized the Santa Wonderland event, which started during the pandemic when it was not possible to take a picture with the “real” Santa.
“We made Santa’s seats in a balloon and everyone loved it because the kids didn’t cry. And they love balloons. So every year people will be like, ‘Are you doing it again?’ So this is our third year” Frei said.
The event runs through Dec. 23, with tickets for $12. The store also plans to hold a similar event before Valentine’s Day next year, Frei said.
Since 2020, Frei has used his business to support local businesses and businesses, including outfitting six Chicago-area hospitals with massive balloon installations. It eventually earned its B Corp certification, which requires Luft to “have some measure of community involvement, things that we do to give back. It’s all built into our DNA,” Frei said.
Then, in 2021, Frei asked neighbors to name local businesses to win a free ‘balloon bomb’ outside their shop when they reopen after a year of pandemic-related closures and restrictions.
“We built six hospitals with more than 3,000 balloons installed just to bring them cheer and joy,” Frei told Block Club last year. “But we ran out of hospitals to bomb the balloon, so it occurred to me that our businesses are still struggling and may also need some help.”
This year, Luft Balloons has focused its attention on local non-profit organizations. Frei said the company has donated nearly $10,000 in balloon installations or gift cards, with anyone able to suggest a nonprofit organization here.
If things go well in Wicker Park, Frei hopes to expand throughout the city. He said Luft Balloons could serve as a neighborhood balloon shop for parties, one-offs, and events of all kinds.
Luft Balloons is open 8:30am to 3:30pm Tuesday through Saturday and 8:30am to 12pm Sunday, but has extended hours this month for the Santa Wonderland event. More information is available here.
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