Students sleep while arches emerge

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Steve Katz’s work is rarely noticed and almost never mentioned. Before the sun is up, he is at work, beginning to blow up hundreds of balloons and assemble them into a forty-foot masterpiece. By the time students crowd the campus on their way to classes, Katz has come and gone, leaving arches, columns and other balloon creations in his wake.

Katz is the owner of Haytay Corporation, a group that contracts balloons for special events. St. John’s University is one of his biggest customers. Most students at St. John’s don’t think twice about the balloons that overtake the campus during special events, but Katz, often working alone, is the contractor responsible for most of the University’s balloons.

Katz began working with St. John’s about 25 years ago.

“Believe it or not, it was the coach of the women’s basketball team that came in, and I guess they were going on a recruiting trip and they wanted a sign,” the New York native said.

For that event, Katz made the SJU mascot out of balloons. Later that year he said the coach called for a few balloons again.

“Which we did,” he said. “And one thing led to another.”

Katz’s operation is often a one-man show, although he sometimes calls in assistance.

“Usually it’s a small enough job I don’t need people, but if it’s a big job I got people depending on what the job requires,” he said.

His start in the balloon industry developed naturally.

“I have a store,” he said. “It was a card shop and we did balloons and it evolved from there. People wanted more than just birthday balloons and then caterers and charities got involved and it evolved into a business that can sustain itself.”

In a typical workday Katz creates a variety of balloon arrangements, from single orbs to clusters to columns to arches that span entire streets or (for a recent event) the front of the D’Angelo Center.

“I don’t make animals that clowns do or anything like that,” he said, although he does make just about everything else.

He does between 20 and 30 events per year for the University. Recently, he’s prepared the balloons for open house, career week and casino night. Katz’s largest and most difficult events are festivals and parades.

“I just did your open house. I do the career fairs. Sometimes I just get called in to make an arch, maybe make half a dozen columns. I probably do in the neighborhood of 25 to 30 events for you guys over the course of a year,” he said. “Most of them are small.”

Katz enjoys his work but regards it as any other job.

“Everything can be fun until you have to do it every day and when you do it every day it’s a job, it’s work,” he said. “I meet a lot of very nice people, but the bottom line is, it’s work. The first 10 might be fun, after 500 balloons it’s a job like anything else. A lot of times you don’t realize that these things didn’t just pop there. I start at 5 a.m.”

Sometimes ballooning can be time-consuming. For example, an arch in front of Taffner Fieldhouse might take an hour and a half to make. He must bring the balloons, blow them up and build the arch or column on-site.

“Any time you see an arch that size, it’s always constructed there,” he said. “You can’t transport.”

“When I do a street fair, I work all night,” he said. “Sometimes we got to make 10 or 15 arches. I’ll have three crews going.”

It takes Katz and his crew about two and a half hours to make an arch that goes across a street; work begins the night before, as soon as it gets dark.

“They close the streets, and we start working,” he said.