The first magic shop I ever visited was Brownies Magic and Hobby Shop at 2023 Pacific in my hometown of Long Beach, California. Herb Brownie Brown was the shop owner and a local professional magician. His shop had clubs for all sorts of interests including a club he was just starting called the Long Beach Mystics. I joined immediately. Years later I would be the first Mystic to become a full-time professional, but others followed over the years including Jim Hamilton, Paul Fidler, Stan Allen, Les Arnold, Randy Pryor, and others.
When I got older I took the bus to Hollywood to Joe Bergs Magic Shop at 6560 Hollywood Blvd, upstairs. It was a small rat hole of a shop with Joe running it and his son Ronnie driving Joe, and everyone else, crazy.
Like the real magic shop it was, it was not often frequented by civilians like the street level shops were. Joes was a shop for the trade. There were dozens of pictures on the walls of the many professionals Joe had known over the years including one framed letter from a teenager in Nebraska ordering something and signing the letter Carsoni. He later grew up and became a late-night television icon, but never lost his love of magic.
Visits to Joes were great fun as a kid and later, as a young adult working at being a professional, visits often had their own rewards. I remember being there one Saturday, talking to Kirk Kirkham and Lou Lancaster about John Calvert when John walked through the door and surprised us all. John always had good timing.
Then there was the conversation I listened to between a number of well-posted pros and dealers all arguing about Kuda Bux and his X-Ray Eye act. They just couldnt see how he could get the peek. Everyone was fooled.
Joe had moved his shop from Chicago to Hollywood and a lot of guys from Chicago moved to LA too and hung around JoesHerb Boren and Johnny Platt immediately come to mind.
While Joes place didnt have the splash and flash of what was then known as Bert Wheelers Hollywood Magic, it had Joe, a storehouse of knowledge. Once, when I was 15 and in the store with my scarce, hard-earned money Joe came up to me and told me he had that book I ordered. I didnt remember a thing about ordering a book, but Joe pushed the sale on me and almost reached into my pocket and took out $15, shoving Greater Magic into my hands, which became one of my great treasures. Thank you, Joe.
Years later I stopped by to drive Joe over to the local SAM meeting and he tossed me a small red wool bag. Alexanderheres something youll appreciate - Paul Rosinis Egg Bag. His son was in last week and sold it to me. And I have for decades. It was a surprise gift from Joe at a time when magic collectibles had little to no value and were collected by people who loved them and magics history, not because they had investment potential.
Once, after a lecture in his shop, Joe taught me a variation on the Downs Palm that added nicely to the Misers Dream that Frakson taught me. I only learned later that what Joe taught me was unpublished at the time.
While there were a number of other shops in the Los Angeles area, the only other one I frequented with regularity was Owen Bros Magic then in Alhambra, now known as Owen Magic Supreme. The 333 South San Pedro Street address had closed before I had the chance to visit it, but the Chapel Street shop in Alhambra (long before the move to the current building in Azusa) was always fun. It was owned by Les and Gertrude Smith and the shop wasn't set up for retail sales, but if Les liked you hed invite you into the back where the magic was made. I'd usually see Carl Owen there turning out perfect sets of Billiard Balls with a French polish as only he could. While others spent more time there, I was sufficiently known to Les and Gertrudes dog Robin that I could just walk into to the back and visit when I came off the road. I was always surprised when Robin remembered me. Maybe he knew I liked dogs. Sometimes Les would tell me what he was working on and for whom, and sometimes he wouldnt. He was a great character and I remember him always enthusiastic about what he was building.