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After closing Woodbridge multicultural party store, retailer sees future in balloons

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WOODBRIDGE, Va. — The celebration is over for Woodbridge’s very own independent party store.

Annia Jaffa handed over the keys to her shop Nyea’s Party at Featherstone Square on Saturday to her landlord. She opened her store in 2014 with the goal to be a multicultural party and events supplier to a large number of minorities who live in Prince William County.

It was the place to get party supplies like plates, banners, games, and prizes with pictures of black or brown children printed on them — not your average Disney princess, Barbie dolls, or animated blockbuster movie characters.

Jaffa struggled to make ends meet after opening the store, despite new homes that sprung up nearby and a new large clothing store “Gabes” that opened last year in the same decades-old shopping plaza on Route 1.

“I was very slow in my first year, and I thought it was growing pains. I had in my mind it would take about two years to start getting busier, and I was anticipating some growing pains,” explained Jaffa. “But as we continued, I didn’t see the growth.”

The relationship with her customers is solid. Many come in and ask for specific items for an upcoming party, and many who shopped around would tell her what stores had the same items for a lower cost. That helped Jaffa, retired after working 30 years in telecommunications sales at AT&T, to better understand the marketplace.

“I have an engineering background, I was tired of working corporate, and I wanted to do something fun when I opened the store,” she said.

But somewhere along the way, Jaffa realized that her best seller — the item that virtually no one was coming into the store to purchase — was the future of her business. Nyea’s Party had always sold single helium balloons, but Jaffa soon found herself filling phone and online orders for large businesses and organizations that wanted lots of balloons made into centerpieces to be displayed at events.

She got orders for balloon table centerpieces, balloon towers shaped into hearts, evenn oversized balloon arches that make a rainbow. To boot, Jaffa had no experience in making or selling decorative balloons.

So, Jaffa went to New York City to take a class on making craft balloons. There she learned her craft and learned about the World Balloon Convention where rubber wizards compete in design contests and learn how to become better overall sales people in the balloon business.

Nyea’s Party will live on as an online business, one that will sell only decorative balloons. Jaffa’s pivot from storefront retail into the world of online-only commerce is not all that uncommon. Since New Year’s, multiple retailers including hhgregg, Kmart, Macy’s, Sears, JC Penny, Staples, and Radio Shack — including a Radio Shack store less than a mile away from Nyea’s Party in Woodbridge — have all announced store closures

“The reality is that it’s very hard to survive in retail. Just like the rest of our members, they are realizing a need to reinvent themselves and develop strategic partnerships so that they can better meet the demands of an increasingly savvy consumer,” said Prince William Chamber of Commerce President Debbie Jones.

If most businesses today are finding success online and shuttering old-school retail storefronts, the folks at Shining Sol Candle Company in Downtown Manassas are doing business the unusual way. The company led by musician Pete Evick and business manager Deron Blevins started in 2012 as an online business. Over the years, candle orders picked up and Shining Sol opened its first storefront last fall.

The small retail shop allowed the company to add new products like candle warmers and allowed them to demonstrate their product in front of real live human beings — something that proved to be difficult in an online-only operation.

“I mean, think about it… most experiences you get from someone working inside big box stores are not personable. It can be someone looking down at their cell phone, forced to look up and say ‘can I help you with anything?” said Blevins. “Many people who come in to our shop say ‘thank you’ for us just saying hello to them.”

The company plans to open new storefronts in other markets, however, none have been announced. 

Jaffa isn’t slowing down, either. Nyea’s Party is sponsoring an event called “Shop. Sell. Strut!” in Lakewood, N.J. in April. It’s a mix of a fashion show and shopping, and a dining experience.

Her website will remain the same, and some of her in-store employees will stay on to help her create balloon decorations. Jaffa is currently looking for a smaller, warehouse space where she can work on her balloons and grow the next phase of her party business.

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