“We delivered balloons to a girl who was turning 2. When she saw the jumbo balloons, she grabbed her chest and sighed. That is how balloons make people feel. The guy in the suit who gets a dinosaur balloon at work is just as excited,” Sunny Becks of Harlan Ruby tells us. In partnership with her daughter Fiona Flaherty, Sunny runs Harlan Ruby, a gift and party shop — complete with balloon bar — in East Nashville. Six years ago, Sunny opened the space to expand her hula hoop business. Fiona, a recent Parsons School of Design graduate, returned home and helped develop the space into a curated gift shop.
In March of last year, Sunny and Fiona blew up their first balloon, and they haven’t stopped blowing up balloons since. “We didn’t invent the wheel, but we found extreme inspiration and happiness going after the creative process with balloons. We just kind of dove in,” Sunny says of expanding their business and launching Vroom Vroom Balloon, bespoke balloon styling. In December, a balloon installation brought color to Proper Bagel, a black-and-white bagel shop on Belmont Boulevard. “Proper Bagel put us on the map,” Sunny shares. “The installation was only up for 24 hours, so a lot of people saw photos but few saw it in person.” The next grand opportunity for folks to see a work of balloon art was a Valentine’s Day installation on the exterior of Café Roze. Although those are two of the larger installations, we also spotted balloons at NFA Honors, Noelle, a New Year’s Eve event with 12th Table, Gus Mayer‘s Jason Wu pop-up and atop Amelia’s Flower Truck.
Vroom Vroom’s public — and private — balloon art installations are sprawling, eye-catching structures crafted by Sunny and Fiona. “Fiona has great ability to figure things out mechanically. I will have a vision, and she can do the mathematics of it. We each represent a side of the brain,” Sunny says of the mother-daughter partnership. Geronimo, a company by balloon artist Jihan Zencirli, brought balloon installations to the forefront of event design with her collaboration with the New York City Ballet to install balloon art at Lincoln Center. Sunny and Fiona are doing for Nashville what Jihan has done for New York, Los Angeles and beyond. They remind folks that balloons are more than an afterthought at a kid’s birthday party. They have the ability to elevate an event, whether it be a Slack pop-up at Proper Bagel or a 1-year-old’s birthday party at home.
“Balloons can be cheesy, for sure, and I am all about a cheesy balloon — if you overdo it in a fun way. Balloons are also sweet and elegant, and they make people happy,” Sunny shares.
Nashville’s only bespoke balloon stylist, Vroom Vroom Balloon spreads happiness in the form of balloons at weddings, corporate events, birthdays, showers, engagements and special occasions. But don’t fear, single balloons and small bundles are available for those of us not hosting large events. “I love doing one balloon,” Sunny says. “Seeing a 5-year-old pick out her balloon is just as exciting as covering a whole building.”
Situated in EastSide Station, Harlan Ruby (and Vroom Vroom Balloon) is neighbors with Yeast Nashville, Seraphine Design and Nashville Sweets, among others. “One thing that is really sweet about our location is that we have the person who walks half a mile to work and gets a balloon for his daughter’s birthday on the way home — this is the traditional neighborhood person. On the opposite end, the Belle Meade woman is willing to drive across the river to be a part of it.” The clientele is diverse — as are the orders they place.
“People associate balloons with being inexpensive, and maybe the product is, but you are paying for the labor and the design creativity. That is the biggest struggle for people to understand,” Sunny says. “We are educating the public on what we do, design-wise. When you invest in balloons, you are investing in a centerpiece. Everyone will leave the wedding remembering the fricking awesome room filled with gold balloons we all took photos next to.” Vroom Vroom is creating an experience — a beautiful, photographable, memorable experience.
Sunny and Fiona haven’t seen a day off in eight months, but they aren’t complaining. “We have people come in all day long to buy balloons or get them for an event coming up — people come all day, seven days a week. I love that part of it. With the bar experience, it is so much more than balloons in the corner. And along the way, the gift shop has maintained its own strength. We have people come in for the gift shop, who didn’t know about the balloons — and vice versa.”
The shop’s inventory started with items produced in-house, illustrated and hand-lettered by Fiona. “We kept moving the hula hoops further back in the space to open the front of the store for the lines we were developing — Idol Light Collection prayer candles and Nevertheless She Persisted,” Sunny explains. Sunny and Fiona began bringing in brands to sit on the shelves with their self-produced items. “We started purposefully seeking women-based brands. The store became a cohesive vision of what we wanted.” Sunny compares the space to Curious Heart Emporium, a quirky gift shop in Berry Hill that closed in 2015.
Today, Harlan Ruby’s shelves are stocked with cards that celebrate everything from a birthday to women’s rights, baby gifts, temporary tattoos, jewelry, wine glasses, candles, prints, a jump rope kit in a can and buttons (handmade by Sunny’s youngest daughter), plus any party supply you might ever need (cups, plates, napkins, decorations and, of course, balloons).
Sunny and Fiona are likely to make you just as happy as the balloons themselves — or at least close. “I have not regretted doing what I am doing since I quit my day job in corporate — it has been almost 10 years. We love it … and I had never blown up a balloon in my life.” They run the family business with passion and with help from Sunny’s two other daughters, husband and dedicated employees. Head to East Nashville and pay them a visit, whether for a $1.75 balloon, $10,000 installation or $5 handmade button from Hankabee. You’ll be glad you did!
Harlan Ruby‘s flagship store is located in East Nashville at 805 Woodland St., Ste. 301, Nashville, TN 37206. They are open Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
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