The source of all this angst is a global shortage of what might be their most vital resource: helium, the lighter-than air gas that makes you talk like Mickey Mouse and transforms ordinary balloons into floating orbs of party magic.

Thanks to a dwindling national supply, local balloon vendors and event planners are scrambling as their busiest season hits: an onslaught of proms, weddings, and graduation parties. Some businesses have placed limits on how many balloons they will inflate for each customer. Others have even turned away clients, or suggested helium-free alternatives, while trying to hoard their diminishing supplies.

And it’s not just small vendors feeling the squeeze.

Earlier in May, the national chain Party City announced it would close 45 of 870 stores across the country. And though the company has said the closures are unrelated to the helium shortage, its business has no doubt been affected.