|BALLOONS FOR EVERY SEASON|
She wires the leaf to a silk flower, then places it next to a teddy bear sitting inside an inflated balloon.
A small crowd gathers as Beaudoin places more pleated dollars around the bear, who sports a graduation cap with tassel and a bright yellow shirt which says "Congratulations."
As she closes the balloon and tops it with bright pink curling ribbon and a large white bow, murmurs of astonishment begin to surface from the observers gathered around "Occasionally Balloons" in Eastfield Mail.
"What a cute idea," Lisa Rutledge of Ludlow says about the graduation balloon. "It's a totally different type of gift."
"I think it is fascinating," said Barbara Peaslee of Springfield. "It's so hard to find a suitable gift for graduation."
"I'm going to get him one when he graduates next week," Carla Witowski said, smiling at Mark Chevalier of Ludlow. "It's a good gift," said the football player, "It's something different that hasn't been around and isn't that expensive. I think guys would like them."
The cart from which Occasionally Balloons operates is filled with balloons, emblazoned with motifs suitable for baby showers, birthdays, graduations, bon-voyage gifts and the simple words "I love you."
Each balloon rests on a plastic base and holds a stuffed animal perched on a bed of bright or pastel colored shredded paper.
Curly-ribbon streamers hang down inside some, while others contain rattles, musical mugs or silk flowers. "Anything that can fit inside a 5 1/2 inch hole can be placed in these balloons." says owner Donn King. "I have Put an electric blanket with controls inside one for Christmas, put a bottle of champagne with stemmed glasses and a 25th anniversary emblem inside another and a baby bottle , colored washcloths, powder and baby soap in one for a baby shower," he said. "You could smell the soap right through the balloon."
King says he was especially touched by a balloon created by a man to propose to his girlfriend on Valentine's Day. A ring in a fancy box was hidden under the tissued grass and a box of candy and an arrangement of flowers were placed on top.
"He was planning to have her break the balloon under the guise of wanting a chocolate," said King. "He said he would ask her to marry him when the ring box fell out."
King's partner, Don Fontana, agrees that balloons are romantic. "They're an emotional type of gift," he says. "When you're married your wife just doesn't expect you to bring her a balloon with a stuffed animal inside. Clothes make a nice gift, but can be hard to buy because of the fit. Balloons have no size and are really cute."
King, who started the business last November, after seeing an ad for the machine which stretches the neck of the heavy latex balloons, loves the art of creating this orginal type of wrap.
"I get so excited about doing it," said King. "I lay awake at night thinking about what can fit inside the balloons. When I first started this, I thought it was strictly a holiday-type item. But now I realize they can be used by people year-round."
Demand for the balloons initially shocked King, who set up shop in a store last December. In one day, I sold everything I had," he said.
He put the machine away after the holiday, however, and did not take it out again until Valentine's Day. He used it for Easter, Mother's Day and has a cart set up now in Eastfield Mall which will remain there until after Father's Day.
King says Father's Day balloonfillers will include stuffed animals wearing popular sports team shirts and hats, as well as golf tees, gloves and other sports incidentals. "The more experience you have the more ideas you get," he said.
Balloon prices range from $10 to $25. The lower end of the range will get you a balloon with an average-sized stuffed animal inside as well as anythine you have bought or brought that will fit. The stuffed animal, is of course, optional, but $10 is the minimum fee charged for the balloon wrap.
Higher-priced balloons include larger stuffed animals, such as toy poodles and a pair of bears with arms entwined around each other. "I love this job," said Beaudoin, who takes joy in creating unusual balloons. "I've made about 5000 balloons and not one of them was the same." Beaudoin says she created nursing caps to fit atop a stuffed poodie's head in response to a request for a gift for a graduating nurse. When people expressed interest, she went out and bought a toy nurse kit and began making balloons with toy stethoscopes, needles and thermometers inside.
Fontana, also gets joy from making the balloons. "I'm working 80 hours a week between this and my other job," he said. "But it's fun and I love it so I don't ever feel tired. Some people have bobbies they spend their time on," he said. "This is what Donn and I chose to do."
Once a person has chosen the style of balloon they want, it is placed inside a large, clear box, designed to inflate the balloons. The end is slipped over six plastic fingers, the door to the box is shut and the opening is stretched wide as two handles on top are turned.
The machine works off a vacuum which takes air from the chamber and brings it through the top opening. Once the balloon is blown up, the vacuum is reversed, which keeps the air inside, and the top of the box is opened. At this point, the balloon neck stays stretched so that objects can be placed inside.
Stuffed animals are strung with fishing line, which keeps them upright, as is anything else which needs to stand up. The line is brought through the end of the end of the balloon, which is pinched shut, once it is done, and closed with a plastic disc.
King says an average balloon will stay inflated for a month, although people have told him theirs have remained perfect for three. "The thickness of the balloon is what keeps it inflated," he said. "And if it starts to deflate, you can blow it up again with a bicycle pump or an air compressor." Those who want what's inside will have a problem, though. A balloon, with a hundred $1 bills is a fantastic sight but very ... very... tempting.