The excitement was clearly visible on a recent Thursday evening at the St. Louis Mills shopping center. Kids were wearing five foot tall hats made of balloons which swayed from side-to-side as they walked. Young girls had balloon butterfly wings attached to their arms and shoppers of all ages were carrying balloons sculpted into an assortment of creations including: space aliens, Daffy Duck, Tigger, flowers, monkeys scrambling up trees and more. Welcome to the balloon artistry of Michael Geerlof.
Geerlof’s love of balloons started in the first grade when he would watch clowns make swords and other creations with balloons. He taught himself how to make them by taking apart the sculptures and then reassembling them. By fifth grade he had learned how to blow up the balloons which is a very difficult skill to master.
“Most people use a pump,” Geerlof said. “Through experience I have built up my ability and developed my lungs and cheeks so I am able to quickly put air straight into the balloons.”
Geerlof admits his interest in balloons might have diminished by middle school except for a visit from his cousin Menachem Levin who lives in Detroit. Levin is a real estate agent who also enjoys balloon art. Levin learned to create a “pregnant poodle” balloon sculpture while he was in Israel and shared the directions with Geerlof.
“It sealed my interest in balloon art and brought me to a new skill level,” Geerlof said.
The Holman Middle School Parent Teacher Association bought Geerlof his first bag of balloons in 8th grade and had him perform for the school lock-in. When he got a job at Fuddruckers restaurant Geerlof showed his manager his skill with balloons and offered to do his shtick for their kids’ night. Geerlof handed out his business cards and steadily built his business by performing at parties and events throughout high school.
It was his networking chutzpah at a college job fair that really helped his career take off. Geerlof presented his card and gave a demonstration to the company hiring for the newly opening St. Louis Mills shopping center. His persistence in pursuing the contact landed him a regular job being the “balloon guy” on Thursdays at Johnny Rockets and Tony Roma’s restaurants at the St. Louis Mills location. His presence at both locations has proven a boon for the restaurants and for Geerlof’s business.
Tony Roma’s restaurant manager Alecia Ford has worked with Geerlof for two years. She said the restaurant receives a lot of compliments about the “balloon guy.”
“We chose Thursdays as our ‘kids eat free’ night because that’s the night Michael performs here,” Ford said. “There is definitely an increase in business and customer satisfaction on the nights Michael is here. We love having him around.”
Johnny Rockets restaurant manager Alex Ashenbremer has worked with Geerlof for over a year.
“Kids are always coming in looking for the balloon guy,” Ashenbremer said. “People come into the restaurant when they see he’s performing.”
The Pattonville High School graduate is also learning the ins and outs of creating a growing business. He received a scholarship after graduation to attend Florissant Valley Community College and has almost completed his Associates degree in general studies. He is transferring to University of Missouri – St. Louis to pursue a degree in business administration.
Geerlof’s Mike’s Balloon Creations Company has grown steadily over the years from the exposure at the restaurants, parties and events and word of mouth. It is not unusual for him to do 12 shows over a weekend. He has also performed at schools and day camps and he spoke to students at the Solomon Schechter career day this year.
He has several repeat customers and performs at events throughout the metropolitan area including the Jewish Community Center in Southern Illinois and a returning gig for the annual Popeye picnic held in Chester, Ill.
This will be the fourth year Geerlof has performed at the BJCSM Hospice Pediatric WINGS Program. The Friends of Wings annual “Big Bear Brunch” is held in December at the Ritz-Carlton in Clayton. Geerlof’s performances are so popular he is bringing three assistants to help him this year. In addition they are making a 7-8 foot giant Teddy bear out of balloons. Geerlof estimates it will take almost five hours to put it together.
Geerlof has also performed at many events in the St. Louis Jewish community. He grew up at Nusach Hari B’nai Zion and celebrated his bar mitzvah there under the tutelage of Rabbi Aaron Borow. He has appreciated the warmth and friendship of the Orthodox community who often open their homes to him to celebrate Shabbat.
“I enjoy the opportunity to perform at their events to give back to that community,” Geerlof said. “I love them.”
For more information on the Mike’s Balloon Creations Company contact Michael Geerlof at 314-306-3401.