Michelle and Adam Appel, owners of For Fun Alaska, a local inflatable games rental business, are gearing up for a brisk summer season. Their menagerie of games ranges from giant inflatable water slides to obstacle courses to human-sized hamster balls.
But this summer, like last summer, something is missing, something big. It's called the "Big Big Bouncer," a king-sized, kids-only bouncy house in bright primary colors.
If you've seen it, the Appels would like to know. On the For Fun Alaska website, a photo and description of the bounce house are accompanied by large red text: "STOLEN! REWARD!"
Nearly two years ago, someone rented out the Big Big Bouncer and never gave it back. The theft still mystifies the Appels, whose small, family-run business has rented out inflatable games for hundreds of parties, birthdays and community events.
This summer brings with it the possibility that the Big Big Bouncer will come out of hiding, that it might be spotted in a park somewhere. Or, at the very least, someone might turn it in.
The story of its disappearance begins on June 30, 2012, when a woman paid $400 on a credit card to rent the Big Big Bouncer and a generator for a day.
It was a "perfectly normal reservation," Michelle said. The woman even called to make sure it had been paid in full.
According to the police report filed later, the details of the Big Big Bouncer's last party were the following: "Birthday party for Andre (he) is turning 5 and partying with 30 of his best friends." The location: Conifer Park, now called Dave Rose Park in Mountain View.
Michelle remembers throwing in a bunch of extras, like a tent, tarps and foam mats.
"I gave her a really good deal on it," she said recently, standing in the backyard of the East Anchorage home she shares with her husband and four children, where the couple runs their business. At the time, the Big Big Bouncer was brand new and had only been rented out a couple of times.
On the morning of July 7, the day of the birthday party, two women came to pick up the Big Big Bouncer. They seemed nice, Adam said. One woman gave the Appels her ID, which had an address on it. The bounce house was supposed to be returned at 8 p.m.
But the Big Big Bouncer never arrived. It vanished. And so, seemingly, did the two women.
Michelle's phone calls to the contact number on the reservation were never returned. When she and Adam drove to the home address listed on the ID, no one answered the door. Neighbors said the people who lived there had just moved, or possibly been evicted. The Appels drove to the park where the party had taken place, talked to people and handed out missing bouncer fliers. Nothing.
They also learned the woman who paid had canceled her credit card.
"She went to great trouble not to have to deal with this," Michelle said. The Appels paid $4,000 for the Big Big Bouncer, making it their most expensive inflatable at the time.
On July 9, the couple filed a police report but they said there was never much follow-up investigation.
The loss of the Big Big Bouncer is the only theft since Michelle's mom, a construction worker on the Alaska pipeline, pooled her children's Permanent Fund dividend checks and started For Fun Alaska in 1991. It also changed how the Appels do business. Adam said they now make sure to get a copy of every customer's ID and multiple forms of contact information.
A shipment of new deluxe bouncers will be arriving in mid-July. The early spring has brought an uptick in reservations, raising hopes for a strong summer after a painfully slow year last year.
Adam has a hunch that the Big Big Bouncer was destroyed at the party, and no one wanted to claim responsibility. But Michelle keeps her hopes up.
"We don't have much chance of getting it back," Michelle said. "But just the idea of, perhaps, somebody ..."
She left it at that.
Reach Devin Kelly at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4314.
By DEVIN KELLY