Who would’ve thunk it?!?
My name is Jeff Wilks and here’s my story…..
Back in April of 1981, I was perusing through a magazine called Mother Earth News. Right in the middle where they staple the magazine together, there was an advertisement for 10 different businesses you can start for $ 500 or less. Balloon vending was one of the 10 & I remember the line that got me….it said “Don’t laugh, you can make big bucks if you make an effort to sell sell sell”!!! I knew I wanted to start a business before I turned 30 and I was 28 at the time. This idea really enticed me.
Well...while I was researching sources for balloons and helium, my wife Jane had contacted GA’s Board of Tourism to find out when & where all the annual festivals in the state were being held. We attended many of these festivals all over NE GA. We sold lots and lots of balloons. I started dressing myself up as MR. CLOWN (to get attention to sell more balloons) and in July of 1981, thinking of that old 5th Dimension song, we became UP ‘N AWAY BALLOONS. The name felt right!!!
In May, I quit my full-time job as day shift manager at DaVinci’s Pizza on Baxter Street because we were making enough on weekends to cover my weekly income. We also thought Jane could keep her job and just help me out doing the weekend festival thing. Jane had a co-worker whose husband had just graduated from UGA’s Law School and wanted to send him a bouquet of balloons to congratulate him. Jane delivered that bouquet and he was thrilled! We began getting requests for balloon deliveries and lots of requests for MR. CLOWN to attend birthday parties. I was really lucky one day...a Navy School customer ordered some 260’s twistees and ‘Apple’ balloons & he taught me the fine art of balloon twisting. We eventually added more delivery ‘singing telegram’ type characters. Stilla Gorilla, The Classic Chicken, The Grim Reaper became part of our ‘crew’ and at this point in time, we were making enough money to cover Jane’s income so in October, I convinced her to quit her job. In 1983, we opened a balloon shop (next to the now Hilltoppe Grill, that used to be Shoney’s) that also rented and sold costumes & novelty type items. We moved to Baxter Street in 1991 and stayed there until 1994.
There weren’t enough hours in the day for all the requests that we had for these characters and we added Belly Dancers and Male strippers to the circus we created. The ‘Belly-gram’ and the ‘Dancin’ Dudes’ were in high demand for most of the 80’s and 90’s. At some point in the mid 90’s, demand for the dancers went south and we started providing decorations for events. Demand for that part of the business had really taken off by then and has now become the major reason people call UNAB. We attended many conventions to learn our trade. Our local supplier, burton & BURTON, has held many ‘BALLOONIVERSITY’ conventions throughout the years. We also became members of The National Association of Balloon Artists and The International Balloon Association. Jane and I even taught classes for all three of these organizations. What an experience that was!
In 1996, UNAB was honored to be associated with Atlanta’s Olympic Committee. We worked with local notables that were on the Athens Olympic Committee. In mid-July that summer, Olympic colored balloons lined the ‘torch’ route from Oconee County into Clarke County. If you remember, when the torch came down Washington Street toward The Classic Center, there was a huge 90’ balloon arch going over Washington Street. Starting at mid-night the day before the torch run, we had 50 volunteers help us inflate 5000 balloons for the torch run plus the Washington Street arch. We provided both of these colorful elements to the Olympic festivities. Just seeing that torch come down Washington made me feel proud to be an American and I really felt my patriotism for this country pop as the hairs on my arms stood on end. What a treat it was to be involved with the ‘96 Olympics!!! Being part of the ‘96 Olympics definitely was a highlight in UNAB’s history.
So…37 years have passed and I would’ve never thought what I’m doing for a living is going stronger than ever. It’s still lots of fun to me. But here it is...2018, and UNAB is an integral part of NE GA and the Athens community. We still dress up a good bit and go to parties. Event décor is what we do for the most part these days and we have become NE Georgia’s Premiere Balloon Decoration Specialists.
Give us a call so we can prove it to you!!!
Here they are! The original radio ads I've gotten many requests for over the years. enjoy!