Northland Special Events, The Duluth Balloon Co, and Fleurtation

by Jordan Bissell

Photos by: Jordan Bissell
Photos by: Jordan Bissell

Northland Special Events (NSE) has grown, and with it expanded their space, which is now the new home of The Duluth Balloon Company and Fleurtation. NSE is an event coordination company that stemmed from the family owned business Party America (aka Northland Party). Mariah McKechnie inherited the business from her parents, who opened Party America in 1995. On the 20th anniversary, they moved and re-branded as Northland Party. McKechnie soon after acknowledged that large scale retail party supply industry was dying, which led to closing of the larger scale business, and the transition into localized special event planning. In lieu of the new additions to her company that she is now the sole proprietor, CEO, and Principal Event Specialist of, we visited the current home of the business, The Vault at 314 West Superior Street, to chat with McKechnie.

NSE was founded in 2010, The Vault, which has been home to NSE since 2013, is located on the ground floor of the historic Torrey Building. Built in 1892, it was the first Duluth high-rise, and the third building in the state to reach 12 floors over street level, (12 floors from the Michigan street entrance and 10 floors from the Superior street entrance). The space was given it’s name due to the old vault that is still featured in the space, but currently fashioned as a whiskey bar for the enjoyment of guests when they hold events in their own space.

NSE is a team of professional event planners, problem solvers, and the umbrella company that owns the newly added balloon business (The Duluth Balloon Company) and the floral business (Fleurtation). Also offering event decor rental services, including ceiling design, chair covers, centerpieces, and linens. With over twenty years in the party industry, they’re really prepared for almost any type of event.

“We closed Northland Party in December of 2016, and launched The Duluth Balloon Company in January of 2017,” explained McKechnie. “We decided to see what we could do to the keep the balloon industry alive. We recognized that of the party industry, balloons were the part that was still viable. We started brainstorming, and ultimately decided to create an e-commerce platform, so we built our online platform and simplified the landscape. In the previous model, you had to display all of the balloons on the wall, which required a very large space, so by going to the online store, we allowed ourselves to still display balloons with a tiny footprint.”

The balloon side of things, opened their physical space in May of 2017. The new addition, is directly next to The Vault. Two separate landlords actually suggested they bridge the gap to the separately owned location next door. “They were actually previously connected, so the landlords coordinated, we took down some drywall, and here we are,” said McKechnie. “The timing was just too perfect, the balloon company was kind of homeless, aside from camping down here (in The Vault), but we knew that wouldn’t be sustainable during our busier summer season. Then I started talking with Diane Kaarbo, who owned Meadowlark Floral, we decided to merge forces, so she closed down her shop, and moved in with us, and that was the launch of Fleurtation.” So now you can visit all three business at once, whether you re looking to rent linens, buy floral arrangements, or check out the balloons in person.

“Our next plan, is an e-commerce site for the event rental. We are already online with separate websites for Northland Special Events, The Duluth Balloon Company, and Fleurtation.” McKechnie elaborated about joining forces with Kaarbo explaining that, “We’ve been doing flowers for seven years on an event basis, but now were able to offer that daily floral business, whether it’s corsages, weddings, or funeral arrangements.”

McKenchnie said that, “About 75% of business is weddings, but we also do a lot of non-profits, and we’re really up for any type of event.” She also added that, “We also match funds in services with our non-profit clients, to try to help them get the most of their fundraising.” NSE held around 250 events in 2016.

They typically do events in Duluth and up to a two hour radius, which isn't an official range of where they’re willing to go, but beyond that McKechnie said, “It’s just not usually cost effective for us, or our clients, to travel beyond that range, but we always say we’ll go anywhere for an appropriate price.”

Year round they employ about twenty individuals, and during the busier summer season,  it grows to about fifty. They also have interns on behalf of University of Wisconsin Stout, a polytechnics school that encourages internships. “It will be our third year with interns from them, and we will have six this years from their event program,” said McKechnie.

For more information about NSE, The Duluth Balloon Co, or Fleurtation, visit them online at northlandspecialevents.com, duluthballooncompany.com, or fleurtation.com. You can also check them out at their location between 10 am and 5 pm everyday.