This story first appeared in NEXTpittsburgh, which publishes Kidsburgh.
Being at home during the coronavirus pandemic doesn’t mean you have to put your partying on hold. From birthday parades and backyard weddings to singing telegrams and Zoom family reunions, there are still ways (and reasons) to celebrate while you practice social distancing. These local businesses will help make it memorable.
1. Pittsburgh Yard Greetings
Vicky and Tom McLellan believe in signs.
In 2018, the couple launched Pittsburgh Yard Greetings in Imperial, Pa., to help folks make their private parties public knowledge.
Since social distancing became the new normal, the McLellans have been busier than ever. Last month, they transformed 150 yards into larger-than-life greeting cards. That’s typically what they do in an entire year.
“Birthday drive-bys or parades have become quite a thing as a result of the stay-at-home order,” Vicky says. “So, birthday greetings make the perfect backdrop for these parades. I believe that’s one of the key reasons we are experiencing such a huge demand, in addition to the cancellations of parties and trips.”
The creative arm of Lawrenceville’s lifestyle boutique, Von Walter & Funk, funk|BALLOON specializes in custom balloon art installations that are works of art. They can create everything from balloon bouquets to enormous hot air structures that’ll make you feel like you’re in the Pixar movie “Up.”
Made of 100 percent natural, biodegradable latex, the balloons can last up to 90 days, so you won’t feel deflated when your party comes to an end. Right now, balloons are available for pickup only, and they encourage you to book your celebration ahead of time. As they note on their website: “Once we’re through this garbage fire, it’s going to be CRAY.”
3. Weird Eric
Eric Costello turned his unusual hobby into a business.
Professionally known as Weird Eric, the self-taught magician and balloon artist specializes in family entertainment, including virtual magic shows, lessons and summer camps, trivia nights and custom, no-contact balloon deliveries.
He says he can make anything out of balloons (check out his motorcycle above). Before the COVID-19 crisis, Weird Eric was blowing up at more than 300 events a year.
Costello, who used to work at Cuckoo’s Nest Magic Shop on the South Side, has modified his routine for quarantine with some help from his three kids.
“I saw this as an opportunity to spend more time with them,” he says. “That led me to think about what I do as a job in general. My job is to bring the fun and, let’s face it, fun is essential.”
4. Wacky Jack’s
After working in the music industry for years, Keith Berneburg launched Wacky Jack’s in 2008.
The entertainment expert offers singing telegrams, which can be delivered in person, by phone or over email, bulk and bouquet balloons, pranks and face painting. Past clients include former Pittsburgh sports stars such as Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury and Pirates outfielder Andrew McCutchen.
Wacky Jack’s delivers around 1,000 singing telegrams a year and the COVID-19 crisis hasn’t silenced Berneburg or his employees.
“Once people realized they could send us in their place to wish someone happy birthday, happy anniversary, get well, congratulations, the phone started ringing again as normal and we actually have seen an increase in business,” he says. “We have also changed the way we do business to comply with CDC guidelines and social distancing.”
5. E.L.F. Entertainment
Elizabeth and Maury Frankel started their event planning business in 1999 knowing everyone loves fun. The company offers everything from inflatable bounce houses and arcade games to dunk tanks and DJs. Now run by their son and daughter-in-law, Daniel and Erin Frankel, E.L.F. is adapting to the new normal.
A variety of virtual entertainment options are available for all ages, including digital caricature artists, superhero interactions, live trivia, paint-and-sip parties, fortune-telling, magicians and animal encounters that are sure to liven up your next Zoom meeting.
“Virtual Photo Booth has been popular. It allows participants to take or upload photos on their individual devices, and apply custom overlay options provided by the host,” Erin Frankel says. “It’s a fun solution for weddings and graduation parties, and also for brand awareness for companies and philanthropic efforts.”
There’s also an Early Santa Check-in if you need a little help keeping quarantined kids in line. Merry Christmas!
6. Crystal Queen
Mary Grace Nichol of Crafton knows how to entertain your little princess.
Four days a week, the artist known as Crystal Queen hosts virtual drawing lessons, tea parties, storytimes, concerts, makeup tutorials and other socially distant get-togethers in costume.
The breast cancer survivor has more than 50 wigs in her wardrobe and can transform herself into 80 different characters, from Alice in Wonderland and Mary Poppins to Wonder Woman and Elsa from Disney’s “Frozen.”
She’s donned fairytale attire a lot lately, all in the name of cheering kids up during the pandemic.
Nichol features children’s artwork on Facebook, giving them a much-needed morale and self-esteem boost.
The assistant preschool teacher is happy to entertain kiddos free of charge.
“People are trying to find things to do for their kids,” Nichol says. “I’ve always found that giving back is the best thing. It’s keeping my spirits up, too.”
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