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Helium Shortage Won't Ground Parade Of Big Balloons

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A holiday tradition in Springfield, Massachusetts for more than three decades was in danger of being canceled.  But, the show will go on.

The Parade of the Big Balloons will step off down Main Street in downtown Springfield at 11 a.m. this Friday -- just as it has on the Friday after Thanksgiving for more than 30 years.

But one of the city’s most enduring holiday traditions was almost canceled this year by a shortage of helium.

It was only two weeks ago that a supply of helium for the balloons was located, according to Spirit of Springfield President Judy Matt.

"We've done so much to try to make this happen and we were lucky enough to make it happen this year," said Matt.

   Because the shortage has caused the price of the gas to triple, only three balloons will be inflated using helium this year.

" The rest are going to be what are called cold air inflatables, which are in the Macy's Parade," said Matt. "I think the kids will enjoy them as much as in the past."

Tower Square will again sponsor the parade, even though the mall no longer has many retail tenants that once saw the parade as a way to bring people downtown to shop.   The building was sold to new owners 18 months ago, but they decided to continue the sponsorship of the parade, according to Tower Square General Manager Fred Christensen.

"They really are interested in continuing their civic involvement and activity for the city of Springfield," said Christensen. "They want it to happen."

After the parade, Tower Square will have an open house with carolers, Santa, and other activities.

Springfield Police Commissioner Cheryl Clapprood will serve as marshal for this year’s parade.

"I am honored and proud to be this year's marshal of the balloon parade," said Clapprood when she was announced as the parade marshal last week.

Clapprood, who said she has attended every Parade of the Big Balloons, either as a spectator or while on duty, said she’s pleased the organizers found a way to keep it going.

" I look forward to it and I hope everyone comes down to see it and enjoy it," said Clapprood.

Spirit of Springfield is still looking to recruit about 150 “wranglers” to guide the balloons safely down Main Street and for volunteers to carry banners in the parade.

People can register at the organization’s website: spiritofspringfield.org/participate.

Paul Tuthill is WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief. He’s been covering news, everything from politics and government corruption to natural disasters and the arts, in western Massachusetts since 2007. Before joining WAMC, Paul was a reporter and anchor at WRKO in Boston. He was news director for more than a decade at WTAG in Worcester. Paul has won more than two dozen Associated Press Broadcast Awards. He won an Edward R. Murrow award for reporting on veterans’ healthcare for WAMC in 2011. Born and raised in western New York, Paul did his first radio reporting while he was a student at the University of Rochester.
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