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Balloons and More put community first during pandemic in Pratt

Jennifer Stultz
Pratt Tribune
Tonja Harrison, owner of Balloons and More in Pratt, knew she had to support her community during the pandemic if she expected them to do business at her gift shop. She was named a 2020 Community Service Distinguished Kansan of the Year by the Topeka Capital-Journal.

When COVID-19 shutdowns hit Kansas earlier this year, Tonja Harrison, owner of Balloons and More, LLC (a gift, flower and specialty craft store in Pratt) knew she was going to have to do something special to survive financially.

"For the first two weeks of the pandemic, it was like crickets in here, no customers, no noise, no sign of life in the business community," Harrison said. "I was scared."

Harrison said she decided that if she wanted the community to support her business, she was going to have to make a visible effort to support the community.

She advertised her new "essential-business" activity of shipping and receiving packages for Pratt, she began reaching out on holidays to those who were not able to buy special things, even food, for their loved ones, and she placed a special emphasis on face shields as an alternative to face masks.

"I was so filled with anxiety about the face masks," Harrison said. "I knew we had to wear them, but I couldn't breathe, I had anxiety attacks, I cried and cried, it was awful."

At first Harrison tried medication prescribed by her doctor, but knew that wasn't a long-term solution. Finding a supplier to send her clear face shields became an answer, one that she shared immediately with her customers.

"I ordered about 20-30 and they went like hot-cakes right away," she said. "Then I found a way to personalize the face-shield head bands, and that became fun."

Harrison said she sold the new face shields with little to no profit. Her goal was simply to share the technology. She found she could add designs to the shields with her own shop technology. Teachers requested face shields with their names in the top corner, a little girl wanted a unicorn design and political designations became a hot item.

"Our top seller was, without a doubt, Trump 2020," she said.

The breakthrough with face shields was not only a big stress relief for Harrison, it helped connect her with customers who were struggling.

"I saw right away that I wasn't the only one struggling," she said. "I began to have special giveaways for holidays. We offered free Easter baskets for nominated families, then May Day baskets and Mother's Day flowers for single moms."

Harrison (and Balloons and More) also spearheaded efforts to give away Father's Day beef jerky, 10 complete Thanksgiving dinners, and is currently in the process of putting together 10 Christmas ham dinners.

"I was just blown away by the community support when it came to helping others," she said. "I am happy to say that by reaching out, I have saved my own business as well as come to terms with the more important concern of helping those less fortunate. That has become my anxiety relief."