A creative balloon artist in Wisconsin

When you think of Wisconsin, cheese and football often come to mind. If you’ve never visited the state before, these might be the primary associations you make. Most likely, you wouldn’t think of a balloon artist in Wisconsin.

My limited understanding of Wisconsin stems from childhood memories of watching the Green Bay Packers play on TV. I recall games held amidst blizzards, where players’ breath was visible, and dedicated fans braved freezing temperatures with shirts off, adorned in green and yellow paint, and often wearing large wedges of cheese atop their heads. It was quite the spectacle.

So, when I recently had the opportunity to speak with Karen Anderson, a Partner of BalloonPlanet.com since 2022 and owner of Party and Print in Little Chute, Wisconsin, I couldn’t resist asking her, “Why are football and cheese always at the forefront when discussing Wisconsin?”

Karen shared her insight: “My father has been a [Green Bay Packers] season ticket holder since he was 16 years old. It’s been the same seats since the 1960s.”

Not only is her father a seasoned ticket holder, but it seems almost customary for Wisconsin football enthusiasts to add their newborns to the season ticket waiting list, embarking on a waiting game that can span years, even decades.

“My uncle put my cousin on the waiting list for tickets when he was born, and he just got them at 50 years old.” She continues, “And he only got them because they added a huge section to the stadium. Otherwise, he’d still be on the waiting list.”

Beyond football, Wisconsin is renowned as the “Cheese State,” earning the title as the top cheese-producing state in the nation since 1910. Karen herself never misses her town’s annual cheese festival. And there’s a reason for that beyond just the delightful taste of high-quality cheese.

But we’ll get to that later. First, let’s meet Karen Anderson.

Balloon Business Beginnings

In 2014, Karen assumed ownership of Party and Print, a traditional party and supply shop situated in the quaint town of Little Chute, Wisconsin. Initially, the store didn’t stock balloons, as Peggy, who owned the dime store nearby, catered to all the town’s balloon needs.

Karen always admired the captivating balloon displays showcased at Peggy’s dime store. She found them “cool” and “eye-catching”. Eventually, when Peggy’s shop closed down, Karen was offered the balloon segment of the business. Seizing the opportunity, Party and Print expanded its inventory to include balloons. Under Peggy’s guidance, Karen delved into the intricacies of the balloon trade.

However, Karen’s ambitions surpassed mere balloon sales. She immersed herself in the art of crafting captivating and unique balloon arrangements. From elegant balloon bouquets to whimsical organic decor and stunning air displays, Party and Print offered a plethora of creative options. Karen was slowly becoming a balloon artist in Wisconsin.

Reflecting on her venture into balloon artistry, Karen remarked, “When I started doing balloons, it was like that whole crafty part of me [came alive]. And it was like, where has this been all my life? It just clicked.”

Cultivating Creativity through Chaos

Karen’s journey to becoming a balloon expert was not a straight line.

Before becoming a balloon artist in Wisconsin, Karen’s upbringing was surrounded by nature when her parents purchased a lake resort on Lake George in Rhinelander, WI. The lake spans 443 acres and is enveloped by a variety of trees, including maples and aspens. Reflecting on her time at Lake George, Karen fondly recalls it as “an awesome way to grow up.”

At the age of 20, Karen ventured away from Wisconsin to explore city life in Chicago. From 1987 to 1993, she worked at O’Hare Airport for Air Wisconsin. Initially, her role involved loading airplanes, a task she found “a lot of fun.” Eventually, she transitioned into the operations department, where she tackled logistical challenges such as managing baggage counts and fuel requirements for flights. When I complimented her on her organizational skills, Karen playfully corrected me, calling it “organized chaos.”

“I may have piles of stuff, but I always know what’s in them,” Karen explains. “It drives my husband crazy, but I can reach into a pile and pull out whatever he needs.”

Luckily, Karen knew not only how to handle chaos, but how to thrive in it. A trait she would come to lean on during the chaos that was the year 2020.

One Million Bubbles of Joy

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Karen had to close the doors of Party and Print as her business was deemed “non-essential.” However, she found a way to continue spreading joy by delivering balloons from their website and participating in One Million Bubbles of Joy, a global initiative aimed at bringing light and hope through balloon art.

Alongside her coworkers, Karen adorned downtown Little Chute with numerous 5-petal latex balloon flowers, tying them to light poles along the street. The media coverage of the event drew widespread attention, providing the town with a much-needed reason to smile during a challenging time. The event became so popular that even bus routes were altered to pass through Main Street, allowing passengers to admire the balloons.

The exposure led to an influx of visitors to Karen’s website, ordering balloon flowers for their homes or balloon poles for their yards. As photos of these decorated yards circulated, requests for drive-by birthday balloon displays began pouring in, further boosting interest in Karen and Party and Print.

Reflecting on the experience, Karen emphasizes the importance of quickly adapting to meet the needs of the community. “You have to find out what people are wanting. Or you can even create a need,” she says. “Balloons were something people didn’t even know they wanted until they saw us doing it. So, you can create that too.”

Cheese Fest

Finally, let’s get back to the cheese.

Little Chute, Wisconsin hosts an annual cheese festival aptly named Cheese Fest. Karen jokingly describes the event as “people standing in line for an hour to get a free piece of cheese.” There’s also music and a parade.

This parade is where Karen saw an opportunity. The parade starts right on the corner of where her store, Party and Print, is located. That’s when Karen knew Party and Print had to participate. Should they make a float? After a bit of brainstorming, she remembered a balloon pole that she created for a client’s rummage sale. The pole was lightweight and featured a smiley face balloon man attached to it. She decided to make a bunch of those balloon poles and walk with them in the parade. After all, she is a balloon artist in Wisconsin. She can handle this. The result: Party and Print won an award for their creative efforts.

The popularity of the balloon poles expanded beyond Cheese Fest. The parade was held in the midst of graduation season, so all of the bystanders got to see these balloon poles. Karen had people buying the poles for each high school in the area. Not only were the poles a hit, but they were also a marketing magnet.

Not a One Hit Wonder

Following the triumph of the balloon poles, Karen attended a balloon training in Florida. There, she mastered the art of crafting costume balloons—wearable balloon sculptures. Applying her newfound skills, Karen and her team donned costume balloons shaped like wedges of cheese at the next Cheese Fest parade. Their company van was transformed into a mouse-themed spectacle. Once again, Party and Print clinched an award.

Now a common query at her store is, “What are you doing for the parade this year?” With each new creation, Karen enthusiastically declares, “This is one of my favorite things I’ve ever made.” And each time she says it, she truly means it.

Last year, Party and Print celebrated 50 years of being in business. In 2024, Karen is celebrating her 10th year as owner of the company. The future looks bright and full of balloons for Karen and Party and Print. Perhaps the next time you think of the state of Wisconsin, instead of cheese and football, you’ll first think of balloons.


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