With 40,000 balloons, one-word message highlights annual Chicago Pride Parade

Sun. June 3, 2018 10:13 AM by Ross Forman

"chicago" balloons by tommy, 2015

photo credit // chicagopride.com

Balloons By Tommy has quickly become one of the most popular parade entrants

Tommy DeLorenzo always looks for a fun theme with a positive message when preparing for the annual Chicago Pride Parade – and for 2018, the theme is, "Harmony."

"The current climate of the country is so divided, (yet) harmony is what we are all striving for, and we hope to remind people of this ...at least for a moment. It's what we need right now," said DeLorenzo, 31, who lives in suburban Bensenville and is the owner of Balloons by Tommy, LLC.

For the Chicago Pride Parade, which will be held on Sunday, June 24, DeLorenzo will use about 40,000 balloons. As many photos of the balloon artwork will be taken, no doubt more, plus videos.

"(Since) balloons don't last forever, we are limited on how soon (we can) start," preparing for the parade, he said. "We start roughly five days before the parade, inflating and pulling late nights with a lot of help from friends and other balloon artists invited from around the country.

"Personally, the Pride Parade just started as a fun thing that I would participate in. Now, it is a chance to be either a reflection of the present or a voice of what we would like to see for our future. As individuals, we can sometimes feel small, but as we walk through the parade we are reminded we are a large force in the number of people who stand with all of us.

"Professionally, (the Pride Parade) is an amazing opportunity to showcase what I love. The work my team and I do is meant to not just be seen, but experienced, and I love to hear from new clients who contact us because they experienced the Pride Parade."

DeLorenzo has long liked balloons, and years ago after seeing what cool things could be made with them, he became determined to learn how to do the same. At age 14, with encouragement from his parents, he took his passion for balloons and started a company.

Today, his business does balloons for more than 600 events annually. And don't think for a second that it's an event with two or three balloons. Balloons by Tommy always does the amazing. As he said, "projects seem to be getting cooler and cooler," over the years. "There are so many talented, creative people who challenge us to think outside the box. We are fortunate enough to work with a lot of great design companies and bring their ideas to life."

Case in point, a December holiday party in which they we were able to hang decor throughout a seven-story atrium. The building was covered in balloons and they were allowed a ton of creative freedom to turn the space into a winter wonderland.

Annually, DeLorenzo's company also works with Redlock Productions at the Sears Centre for an annual cheerleading competition – and a 10,000 balloon drop. "It's awesome being in the rafters and hearing the cheers when they all come down," he said.

"A physical rehabilitation facility we worked with was another fave," DeLorenzo said. "Hospitals generally don't allow latex because of possible allergies, so the fun challenge was to create something unique completely out of foil balloons."

Then there was a Great Gatsby-inspired event that led to the creation of what he tags as, "The Gatsby Bouquet."

The wedding of Scott and Tommy DeLorenzo also featured balloons, of course.

"It was white everything and one of the coolest walls (was) made out of balloons for the band to perform in front of," DeLorenzo said.

Balloons by Tommy has truly soared, particularly over the past five years.

"My husband/business partner and I went from operating in a small apartment as a home-based business to a warehouse. We went from a team of one when I was 14 (years-old) to now a team of many part-time helpers and three full-timers.

"Things are definitely different. My passion is still there, but (it) has evolved. I feel like it has (gone) from strictly an art to now more of a business mindset. We went from maybe five projects a week to (up to) 40 a week, so time-efficiency is key for us now. We are constantly thinking of ways to increase productivity to increase the number of events we take on."

It all started years ago when he set up balloons for a New Year's party for the youth group he was in.

The Chicago Pride Parade is the largest.

Related: Orlando 'El Fenomeno' Cruz to lead 2018 Chicago Pride Parade

And earlier this year, he scored one of his most high-profile gigs: on the set of the hit TV show Empire.

"The crew on Empire (was) really nice," DeLorenzo said. "We went in and set up their decor like any other day. Their sets are incredible.

"Scott did kind of freak-out when (actor) Terrence Howard walked by and said, 'Hey.'"

DeLorenzo's balloon handiwork also has been seen on Chicago PD, at concerts, at celebrity parties, and by the Chicago Cubs.

The 2018 Chicago Pride Parade will be DeLorenzo's ninth.

"Our first year we did the parade, I wanted to stand out," he said. "I got the idea to make a giant sign out of balloons that spelled 'Pride' in rainbow colors. It's cool to see that it's taken off around the world. Our friend from Australia sent a picture of our Parade entry spelling out 'Love' hanging up in his local gay bar. I definitely thought that was cool.

"My most memorable parades revolve around the triumphs and tragedies in our community. Two parades have moved me to tears for two very different reasons. One was two years ago, shortly after the Pulse Nightclub shooting. It was important for us to be able to pay tribute to the victims from that tragedy. Another was shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on marriage equality. We decided the defining word for that moment was, 'Victory.' That parade carried so much energy.

"It's awesome to see people appreciating what we do (in the Parade). There is a little pressure, of course, trying to top the year before. It is a huge project, but we love it."

High-Flying Facts OF ...Tommy DeLorenzo

Favorite TV Show: The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, which "always makes me laugh."

Favorite Movie: Drop Dead Gorgeous

One Celebrity You'd Like To Meet: Tina Fay – "I'm sure she would be hilarious to talk to."

Favorite Chicago Pro Sports Team: Cubs

Favorite Chicago Restaurant: D.S. Tequila – "Best Nachos Ever!"

Related: Mayor Emanuel proclaims June as LGBTQ Pride Month in Chicago

2018 Chicago Pride Month calendar