Susie Asai has been Malibu’s balloon expert for 20 years, during which time her shop, Bear to Bear Malibu Balloons, was located at Las Flores Canyon and Pacific Coast Highway.
Now she’s up and moved a mile up the road to 22223 PCH, and reestablished her business.
Kimberly Kolodziejsk is the new balloon lady on the block. Her store, Balloon Party, occupies the space at 21221 Pacific Coast Highway, which was where Asai previously had her store.
“There’s a lot happening with balloons,” Asai said. “There’s mylar balloons now, which are brighter than the old rubber ones, though we still carry the rubber ones.”
Among the most popular of the mylar balloons is the dolphin shaped ones, which sort of fit the theme of Malibu, being a surfside city, except for the fact that few dolphins are day-glo pink.
She also carries Beanie Babies of all types and varieties, including bears, which is where the Bear to Bear name came from.
“The Beanie Baby craze has died down now,” said Asai.
Birthdays, beach parties and owners of residences wanting a way to signal their friends that ‘this is the house’ are the occasions she sells balloons for. Birthdays are the biggest, with “clients” from age one to the eighties. She has even been asked to bring balloons to decorate a funeral.
One thing has changed in the years since she got into supplying balloons. It is against the law to let the mylar ones loose. They have a tendency, it seems, to short out power lines. The latex rubber ones can be let loose once the party’s over.
Another new development is personalized alphabetical and numerical letters so the balloons can be personalized with the honored person’s name.
Asai’s previous store has been rented to a new competitor, but that doesn’t seem to bother Susie.
“It’s mostly a referral business, and I’ve been in this area for 20 years,” she said. “So I get a lot of repeat business.”
Kolodziejski also stocks the mylar balloons, including a dandy metallic red ladybug that she says is very popular with little girls, and a Barney balloon in the requisite purple. Plus, she has the old standby gum rubber balloons.
“My business is concentrating on being the party decoration supply store for Malibu,” Kolodziejski said. “There are four grade schools, three public ones and the Catholic one, and one high school, and everybody has birthdays, so there’s lots of business just in birthdays.”
She also has commercial clients, having decorated various businesses for New Year’s Eve, and has done balloon decor for at least two restaurants, Guidos and Tony Taverna.
Besides the familiar arch so popular at weddings, she also has free standing poles that can be outfitted with several 6 foot rows of balloons arranged vertically. For Malibu High’s graduation, she supplied a half dozen of those with the school colors.
Balloons themselves have changed. The rubber balloons are available in pearl colors, which have a shimmer to them similar to what you’d see on a George Barris Kustom Car, circa 1949.
Pinatas are big (for those who aren’t familiar with Mexican culture, they are stuffed critters made of paper that, when beaten with sticks, burst open, showering partygoers with the ingredients). Kolodziejski has them in several animal shapes as well as firetrucks and other types of vehicles.
“I don’t put anything in them because some people don’t like candy. So the customer fills it with what they want–money, toys, candy, etc.,” said Kolodziejsk.
She also stocks invitations and thank-you notes. One thank-you note has the basic message already written with blanks for a kid to fill in.
“It gets the kids starting on basic writing skills at a very early age,” she said.
A mother of three, Brice, 7, Krystyn, 9 and Mac, 13, Kolodziejski has plenty of contact with school kids, and though not in business as long as her competitor, she makes her contacts.
“We deliver the balloons inflated, or fill them for the customer on-site. We don’t rent the helium tanks,” she said.
“Some people think it’s cute to breathe it in and talk funny but it’s dangerous to do that–it could collapse your lung,” she warns.
Kolodziejsk studied film-making back in Chicago, and, admittedly, balloons are a long way from that.
“I wanted a business I could do where I could still be around my kids,” she said.
She has a helper, which helped her achieve her goal.
She’s not worried about the other balloon store.
“I have my contacts,” she said. “And it doesn’t hurt that I’m where the old store was.”