Showing up with a bouquet of balloons can be a fun way to make an entrance - and there are plenty to choose from at Balloons To Go. For any kind of party or event, this is the spot to procure helium tanks, miniature hot air balloons, and a variety of balloon arrangements. Have an idea for a theme? Balloons To Go is happy to design custom arrangements for any concept.
The side streets are full of people with a lot of character, and that would certainly include Eugene Nifenecker, known as “King Gene. ” When I commented on his moniker, he immediately reached for a plaque on his desk. He explained that once he started calling himself “King Gene, ” a friend pointed out that he could not be a monarch without any land to his name. Gene then discovered that for a fee, he could buy one square foot of historic land in Scotland. He did so, has the deed to prove it, and now uses it to back up his claim of being the once and future Balloon King. There is a reason, however, that the name of the business is plural. He is backed up by an amazing team of people. For example, Kathy has been with Gene since before he left his job in the sign business. Gene shared that he was working in his grandfather’s old store on 83rd Street as a third generation sign manufacturer. He had been hand painting signs since the sixth grade and he simply got tired of it. A friend, who Gene used to make signs for, was selling her place on 80th, and Gene took advantage of the opportunity, choosing to enter the world of balloons. He also took Kathy with him. “This is my kingdom, ” he said with a smile, picking up his plastic scepter that a customer had given to him. Gene has done a lot of research on balloons and what keeps them afloat. He told me that the reason why balloons end up on the floor the morning after filling them up is because helium is the second smallest atom, and so it is able to seep through the pores of the balloon. As a result, Gene adds gel inside of the balloons in an effort to fill up these pores. Additionally, he only uses American-made balloons. I learned that other countries tend to make their balloons with a lot of chemicals, which causes them to give off the awful rubbery smell that many people associate with balloons. Gene showed me a few examples of jobs he has done, including a series of see-through bouquets that he made for an event at a grand ballroom in midtown. He also informed me about an exciting installation he was a part of when Target was releasing a new bath product. He and his team blew up 3500 clear balloons that were arranged in rows of forty by forty by twenty in Grand Central Station. They were all different sizes and were blown up and deflated before being properly filled, in order to make them perfectly round. What makes Balloon Kings special, however, as Kathy pointed out, is “You can come in for just one balloon or one million balloons. ” To drive that point home, Gene asked Olivia, a Manhattan Sideways team member, her favorite color. He then blew up a green balloon inside another see-through balloon with geometric shapes and presented it to her. Before handing it over, however, he tied the ends of the ribbon and curled it. “When you walk out, it should always have a curl, ” Gene announced. As Olivia, in her twenties, grinned like a toddler while Gene tied the balloon to her wrist, Gene said, “Any kid that comes in with a parent gets a balloon, no matter what. ”We quickly understood that every visitor to Balloon Kings receives the same special treatment that we did. Kathy pointed out, “Every single balloon is done by hand. We have to touch every part of it, ” and then added, “We want to make the customer’s vision come to fruition. ” I was impressed by the organized rows of different kinds of balloons. There are sixty-seven colors represented with at least 600 of each in stock every day. The easy-to-follow set-up and code are thanks to Gene, who prides himself on his organization, which he developed in the sign business (for anyone curious about his previous work, the signs in the Jazz at Lincoln Center building are his). “I brought structure to a fragmented industry, ” he explained. But mostly, he has brought a sense of fun and whimsy to the neighborhood, which I experienced within just a few minutes of him whisking me around the store and calling me “my lady. ” And then ended by saying, “It’s fun! Balloons are fun! ”