In Carrboro, balloons, tunes and a surprise

mscultz@newsobserver.comMay 7, 2013 

— Sharon Collins was talking with a customer about a graduation party when she heard Kool and the Gang outside her business’s front door.

“I said, ‘Elizabeth, I have to go; people are singing.’”

The people were a half-dozen customers of Collins and partner Pat Garavaglia, singing and dancing to thank the Balloons and Tunes owners for their kindness and service to the community.

Among other things the couple provide gifts to Orange County foster children every holiday season.

“Their house just becomes bikes and shoes and clothes,” said Sarah Smith. “They have to rent a truck to get all the stuff to (the Department of Social Services in) Hillsborough.”

The flash mob almost didn’t go off. A drizzle kept the group small, and the old-fashioned boom box took a few tries to get going.

But as “Celebrate” rang out, Collins and Garavaglia opened their door, mouths agape.

“This community is so amazing in so many ways,” Collins said. “But this – is a perfect example of why we live here.”

A lot has changed since the couple started delivering singing telegrams from a shop up three flights of stairs on East Main Street 33 years ago.

For one, they don’t deliver songs anymore, just the balloons – they can’t get past the security at places like schools and the hospital these days.

For another they’re now on West Main Street, just down from Town Hall. The tiny storefront has 400 Mylar balloons for every occasion Velcro’d to the walls.

But it’s the friendships, not the inventory, that keeps customers coming back.

When Smith wants to cheer someone up, she’ll go in to buy a stuffed animal.

“And they say, ‘OK, these are the softest,” she said. “I’ve got two on my bed.”

The shopkeepers say they often end up hanging out with customers at the counter, talking politics, sometimes providing impromptu therapy

“If we had a place we’d put up a pot-bellied stove – if pot-bellied stoves and balloons went together,” Garavaglia said. “It really is that kind of a place.”

Schultz: 919-932-2003

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