Are Magic Shops Obsolete?

Discuss the views of your favorite Genii columnists.

Postby Richard Kaufman » 04/18/03 04:45 PM

Shawn McMaster wrote a great essay for his e-zine The Mandala, and I liked it to so much that I asked him if I could run it in Genii.
He agreed and it appears in our May, Giorgio, issue. Let me know if you folks agree or disagree!
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Postby Guest » 04/18/03 06:17 PM

Haven't seen the piece yet, Richard, but I remember something you wrote in MAGIC magazine some years back. It was about supporting your local magic shop even in the face of better deals from discounters, etc. It was well written, but most of all it really made the point of what a treasure it is to HAVE a local shop to walk into. Its also great when travelling to get some info on the local scene. This may have nothing to do with what Shawn wrote. Oh well!

Postby Guest » 04/18/03 07:49 PM

Shawn's column only demonstrates that the type, variety, and quality of magic shops differs do all kinds of businesses. He would like to see them function as palaces/shrines to magic...also as a center for magicians to learn and interact. BUT reality is,(for the right or wrong reasons) many magic stores can't,(or won't) function that way. Believe me, I have fond memories of Saturday's at Marvin Burger's House of Magic, or the WONDERFUL mess and experience of visiting Al Flosso's store! Yes, stores should be clean and orderly, but cleaning up and clearing the counters and shelves after Al Flosso died, took away the true magic of the place, which also suffered because it was so personality driven. Magic shops aren't/won't be obsolete, but economics can change their FOCUS. Many stores could not possibly survive as a straight magic store...being selective/exclusive as to who they welcome. Marvin Burger's son, Mark, made pragmatic and necessary changes after his father passed away...GREATLY increasing the costumes,wigs,gags, and novelties, to survive.
So much more merchandise, that "the gang"
that used to gather,(i.e. hang out)
either had to be there to buy something, or make room for those who would. Mark knows his market, and (Unfortunately for the hangers-on) only does what does sell. His choices are not what some may approve, BUT unlike most, he has continued to sustain his family's store in the same location,(where he pays some of the highest rent in the nation) for 37 years, after it's driving personality and force was gone. Dr. Albo calls Mark a merchandising genius. I agree.

Postby Guest » 04/23/03 05:38 PM

I believe strongly that love or hate your local magic store, it's important to support them. I deliberatley DON'T subscribe to Genii and MAGIC so that I am forced to stop by every two weeks (sorry, Richard!) Part of the charm of magic shops is the sense of chaos -- the sense that one day you can peer under a pile of D'Lites and find a book by Lorayne that you never thought you would find. I have been horribly disappointed by Magic Masters -- they aren't looking to further my magic education and there is no sense of comraderie -- they need to get me to pay $45 for a Scotch 'n Soda. And they are ALL the same! The same decor, the same tricks, and not much opportuntiy for browsing. Thank goodness I live in Maryland where I can go to 3 completely different stores -- Barry's, Denny and Lee's, and Al's. Can you imagine these stores being neat and tidy? And each of the proprietor would show me completely different material. Lucky me! That's why the argument for more Magic Master style places seems silly at first blush -- might as well open a Starbucks right next door to each. Furthermore, Shawn's arguments suffer from being supported by limited anecdotal material. So in one shop there were fart noises and in another there was snickering at double entendres. So what? I have visited magic stores across the country and although the level of help is mixed, I've never experienced infantile behavior. I'm sure it exists, but lets not make it an industry panic? If magic stores become obsolete, it will be websites that do it, not fake vomit. Sorry this is long, but 3 more points. 1) If a magic store has to sell novelties and costumes to stay open, so be it -- I'll gladly overlook them to get the latest Ortiz book (and many hold up Al's to be a premiere shop -- have you seen the novelties there? The naked women and faux erotica would be considered just as offensive as fart noises) 2) I doubt very seriously that the author of the Onion article was actually referring the the literal store employee -- I'm sure he was focusing more on the generic "stick-in-the-butt" mentality of magicians -- the kind that I see constantly in postings, articles, and reviews. Sure, magic should be taken seriously, but we're not curing cancer, folks. We don't need to be in a suit and tie, we don't need to be stuffy, and we don't need to be so uptight. Where's the sense of whimsy? 3) C'mon, Key-r-rect? It's a LITTLE bit funny, isn't it?

Postby Guest » 04/23/03 09:39 PM

I've experienced both extremes of magic shop employees...those who don't know/care, and those "elitist" who look down on you because you either asked questions about something you wanted to buy, or because you would buy such things in the first place. There have been some good demonstrators at DisneyLand, but it sounds like Shawn, got 2 kids, who were demoted from being ride-jockeys the day before. IF a Disney supervisor had heard them act/talk that way, they would have been gone.

Postby Guest » 04/23/03 10:47 PM

-Part of the charm of magic shops is the sense of chaos -- the sense that one day you can peer under a pile of D'Lites and find a book by Lorayne that you never thought you would find.

That's great if you live by Denny and Lee's but the shop here wouldn't even know who Harry Lorayne is unless I told them. They only get books by mistake. It's hard to support someone who doesn't stock the materials you want.

Wierd story. I was in Essex, MD last new years and got to stop into Denny's. I had never seen anything like it...and while browsing I DID find a Harry Lorayne book I thought I'd never find. He wouldn't sell it to me was for ebay he said and I dug it up under a pile of books in the back. I wanted Rim Shots...but had to settle for Stars of Magic instead. I think I did just fine:)

Postby Robert Allen » 04/24/03 09:50 AM

Just a quick commend on Diegos post: as a kid I visited Buma's House of Magic in San Francisco. He had lots of interesting stuff including old Thayer collectables (I still have the Rice, Orange, and Checkers bought there), but it was sort of crowded and dark. Recently I went there again, it's now run by Mark Burger, and it was well lit, clean, and neatly laid out. And I *still* found lots of interesting stuff there. I even bought a set of Marks Old World Cups (beautiful, and nice handling). Mark didn't know me well but made me feel like an old friend. It's worth a visit. And for old times sake you'll still find a showcase of vintage items on display.
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Postby Guest » 04/24/03 10:19 AM

I used to love to hang out at Al's Magic Shop in DC (technically that is called "loitering"). When I worked in DC, I used to walk down there during lunch a couple of times a week and I would also go to the shop on Saturdays.

I had the great fortune to meet (and watch) people like David Williamson, Bob Sheets, Harvey Rosenthal, Jack Birnman, Darwin Ortiz, James Randi, and many others.

I still make it down to Al's on occasion (Steve Brown is an extremely nice guy) and I get up to Denny's in Essex, MD for lectures (and those guys are great too).

There was always something charming about visiting the shop that you can never get on line.

However, for convenience, I purchase books on line and have them sent to my office.

Postby Guest » 04/24/03 12:20 PM

Thank you Robert. Yes, Buma(Marvin) loved dealing with Thayer items...I still have the Thayer Jap(anese) box I bought for $37.50.(long time ago) If you went there in the 1960's/70's, near the back of the store, was a sign noting those of us who spent their Saturdays there. It read "S.F.I.M. meets here." The letters stood for "Stupid ________ Idiot Magicians"! Pete Biro,Bob Wasserlein, Emil Clifton, "Woody" Woodward George Dean and others were among those back then, in the old days.

Postby GAMOLO » 04/24/03 05:33 PM

Reminiscening about the old days at the great shops of the past is fun....and I'm a sufficiently oldtimer (60) to remember many hours spent at shops like Chanin's & Kantors in Philly, Flosso's & Tannen's in NYC, etc.
However, to answer Richard's original question...YES, MAGIC SHOPS ARE DEAD. More than the cost of ever escalating lease/rent rates was the Internet. It simply killed storefront retail magic.
Tannens, Hank Lee, etc. exist but no soul, Al's & other downtown storefronts can no longer make it. If you are willing to literally live in/above your store, like Barry Taylor or Denny you can survive....but this is not a living. Sad to say, the commercial shop in a Vegas hotel or the MagicMasters chain selling like a True Value hardware store is the "future" of storefront retail magic.
Hey! Things change. You got over the loss of your friendly corner drugstore...its now CVS or we will have to learn to live with the new distribution system in magic.
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Postby Guest » 04/24/03 07:18 PM

I am sure that Magic Shops are mostly obsolete.

I apologize ahead of time for the babble...This subject hit home.

I had the shop in Burbank for 3 years called Mind Over Magic on Burbank Blvd. It was a 'real' hangout/shop. It was a real Magic Shop where everyone was welcome. Every month, I would have a lecturer come in (David Regal was my first) and at nights we would offer classes to interested people. These people were mostly taught by me and I made it a point to make sure they understood that presentation is just as important as the effect. Any children were taught by a really great guy named Chuck Griffith who worked at the shop for over 2 years of its existence. I had a really nice TV set up with a VCR and DVD player so that the staff could view new videos that came out. This way, they could give customers a real opinion on any certain video that came out. Good, bad or ugly...all of my clients loved that! We would even open up a video previous to a person making a decision so they could get a 'preview'. That almost always resulted in a sale.

I had several bar stools set up in the front room so that people could just 'hang', swap stories, practice routines or get ready for an audition to become a Magician Member of The Magic Castle.

Every person who walked in was greeted with a smile, a soda or water if they wanted and answers to most of their questions. Even with all of that, people still bought off of the web. The web is very convenient if you do not have the money the day you came to the shop. You see a great demo at the shop and find it on the web for less. Much less in some cases. This is what kills storefronts.

It was not from lack of trying to keep the store open on my own. I took a job as a Finance Director at an auto dealership. (Magician+Carsales...seems like a dishonest mix...ha ha ha) I did this to help pay for additional advertising. I tried the local newspaper, town flyers along with neighborhood flyers, 4 months of radio advertising and then the last straw was a TV commercial. None of the previously mentioned ads made a big enough impact to offset the business lost to the web. In the end, I had to make a decision.

I really loved that store and all the people that hung out there. It was just not financially wise to keep it open. I miss the people.

Postby CHRIS » 04/25/03 08:09 AM

Part of the problem with internet shops is that almost every Jane and Joe can open a shop and decide to undercut everybody else. They might think "we can survive with 20% or 10% profit margin". So they try it out for a year and then find out that they can't sustain the business. But in the meantime they have ruined the market for several products. And then the next Joe comes along and tries the same.

Over the long run this kills the brick and mortar shops. My suggestion to all consumers is to not just go by lowest price but quality of service, reputation and product selection.

But I also believe and know it is possible to build a very intimate relation with your customers online. I experience this every day with my ebooks. Although it is different to a face to face service, email can be a very efficient and rewarding channel to help your customers, exchange ideas and just have a good time.

I believe that society sees a continuing 'off the street' trend. When TV came along entertainment moved from the public restaurant and theaters to the home. Internet moves the shopping from the mall and street to the home. It also moves interacting with friends from face-to-face to online chats, online games and so forth.

I don't know if this is good or bad. My point is it is happening and it is only getting worse for any operation where people have to physically go to or drive to.

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Postby Guest » 04/25/03 11:58 AM

Just like with any business, don't Magic Shops need to provide (unique) value for the money?

To start, I think lectures draw people in, but are too spread out. So what else can mainstream retail teach us?

What about merchandising, a mainstay of retail? One of the chief complaints in the article was disorganized displays with worn merchandise? Why not help customers by grouping tricks into routines or by method or by good reviews (as is done in wine shops and book stores).

How about occasional sales to get people to keep coming back, another standard retail approach? Not steep discounts, but enough to be interesting.

Location, location, location (most shops are where they've always been, but most retail moves to where their customers are).

One-on-one teaching, frequent buyer programs, a performance space, a coffee bar, an Oprah book club for my girlfriend so I can go to the shop...

Other retailers have had to deal with mail order and Wal-Mart, and the creative ones who focus on customers still thrive. :whack:

Postby CHRIS » 04/25/03 12:33 PM


very good comparison. However, magic shops in general suffer from the thinly distributed magicians or people who would want to visit a magic shop. How many average consumers does a shop need to survive?

I think that unless you are located in a big city hopefully the only shop around there is hardly any walk in customers to get into the store, unless you are offering things like costumes and halloween stuff and are at a prime location which will also cost you prime rent. I have visited magic shops all around the world and it is fascinating to see that a few are a center of magic buzzing with customers and activity (my best example is MagicLand in Tokyo) but most have hardly any customers, maybe one who hangs out but doesn't buy anything.

But Jeff's example shows that even if you do the things you mentioned it seems to not work very well. Jeff was located in LA, a big city, offered seminars and workshops, hang-out place and so on. Perhaps there was still something missing from his approach, but my feeling is that times have changed and for a tiny business like magic it will in general be very hard to survive without doing anything online.

Coming back to MagicLand in Tokyo. Tokyo is a multimillion city and there were essentially only two magic shops available. Add to this a lot of mail order business due to MagicLands unique creations and you end up with good chances for success.

My point is that there are not many places where one has similar boundary conditions. Las Vegas and New York might be two places in the US where one can run a successful brick and mortar magic shop and not do anything online.

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Postby Guest » 04/25/03 01:01 PM

the worst example of magic merchandise being TOO available to the public was a toy/novelty store in SantaBarbara, Calif., that had standard catalog
props/tricks on a shelf, that anyone could,(and had) opened, pawed thru and left opened with gimmicks strewn about and exposed, on the shelf, unattended by the store's staff. Obviously Adams had the right idea by having each item sealed so their stock could be displayed in most any venue.

Postby Guest » 04/28/03 01:26 PM

Interesting topic!

In a perfect world one could go to a magic shop as a professional (or serious hobbyist) and get what you needed, chat with your buddies, and get some pointers. The proprietor, by asking a few questions, would make sure that he or she was dealing with a magician and not someone who just stumbled across the store before top-notch stuff was sold to them. Of course, if the customer showed real interest they could be pointed in the right direction so that they could learn some basics on which to build a solid foundation. However, the "good stuff" would be reserved for the more hardcore types. Kind of like the old days from what I've heard.

Sounds good in theory, but obviously in practice it's a lot more difficult. I've been to shops where the only qualification for buying invisible thread is that you have a pulse and some money.

McMaster brought up some good ideas in his article.

I was disappointed with something, however. The shop that got slammed pretty good in the beginning of the article was unfairly criticized. McMaster should have pointed out that the particular store he referred to isn't just a magic shop. The huge sign out front lets everyone know that it's also a place for novelties, jokes, gags, costumes, etc. There's even a "Home of the Rubber Chicken!" for folks to see. Therefore, nobody should be offended by the fake fart sounds upon entering. The gentleman who owns the shop and the folks who worked the counters were always very gracious to me during the numerous long distance visits that I made to the shop while I was a student. I was even allowed to bring in my 15 year old dog that I didn't want to tie up on the sidewalk or leave in the car.

I could see McMaster making the statements of "never setting foot in the store again" and that the store employees should feel "embarassed" for their "immaturity" IF they had been rude or IF they had tried to cheat him. However, there wasn't anything offered to support such strong feelings beyond the sounds of flatulence.

Oftentimes criticism is warranted and we're lucky to have writers who report offenses that would cause us harm. This wasn't one of those instances, however. The owner of the shop is just trying to make car payments and support his family like the rest of us. Please think twice before criticizing someone like that or at least provide more support. Especially if you go out of your way to state publically in a medium that has the potential of being read all around the world that you don't WANT to embarass anyone by revealing their identity, and then in the SAME breath say that anyone could figure out which shop you're referring to because there's only two of them!

Postby Jeff Haas » 04/28/03 03:41 PM

What kind of a "professional magician" goes to the Disneyland magic shop (or any tourist shop) for props? And then is surprised when the employees don't help him the way he assumes?
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Postby Alain Roy » 04/29/03 07:39 AM

I read the article, "Are Magic Shops Obsolete?" when I received Genii, and I looked it over again last night.

Given the text of the article, I would have to say "No, shops are not obsolete". The article doesn't clearly differentiate between being in poor taste and being obsolete.

It's quite clear that there is a market for poor taste. Look at some of the crap on television these days. Look at the lawn ornaments you can buy. The web sites devoted to stupid gag gifts. If magic shops have slipped down into poor taste (and clearly many of them have not) then that doesn't make them obsolete. They may leave a bad taste in the mouth, they may make people think less of magic, but they aren't obsolete.

Brick and mortar magic shops may be in danger of becoming obsolete because of competition from online dealers, but that's a different line of argument. They may become obsolete because they haven't kept up with the times and have lost their ability to compete effectively. That is different from being tasteless.

-alain, who wishes he had a magic shop in his town.
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Postby Guest » 04/29/03 11:30 AM

Just as Copperfield's building is disquised as a clothing warehouse...Not wanting the public to to have knowledge of secrets or the access to secrets, one might feel good that the magic is obscured/lost in stores that appear overtly to be gag/novelty stores. If a person went to the store Shawn talks about, in San Francisco, and needed and ASKED about their magic needs/interest, he would be helped by a very knowledgable owner/staff that has been the heart of San Francisco magic for generations. I have talked to those who went to the late Robert Nelson's little storefront magic/novelty store in Columbus, Ohio, who had no idea, that on the other side of the wall behind the counter, was a warehouse of stock for mindreaders, and a basement of larger magic props and illusions.
You could be sold some slum magic or jokes out front, but if someone, "with it and for it" identified themselves, Nelson would gladly discuss their needs/business in his office or warehouse, in the back.

Postby mark » 04/29/03 04:12 PM

Richard, thanks so much for obtaining this one for inclusion in the May Genii. I read this with interest, and as did most, I occasionally muttered, "Uh oh," under my breath. I knew that there would be people coming to the defense of the magic shop in question, and rightly so. I say rightly so, because, as I read the essay I was actively considering, what would Shawn have to say about OUR local magic shop? While he would not have been serenaded by the fart quartet, it is apparent in his writing that he would have found plenty to be unhappy with. Does the magic shop need to put forth an image? Who is the customer that we are appealing to with said image? If the 'hard core' or 'real' magician is frequenting the shop and spending money there when money is to be spent, are these changes necessary? I like a clean atmosphere. I like order, and being able to find things. I also know that the average magic shop is not the place to go to find these things - well, maybe clean. :D
I also enjoy finding someone knowledgeable behind the counter, but understanding that there are few magic shops making a killing, and there are many shops needing to employ young (cheap) labor, hoping that the learning curve is short and that they are able to retain the employee long enough that the training pays off. It is unfortunate that Shawn used various examples of these ills, all of which were general and could not be taken personally, but needed to make such an issue out of the noisemaker in San Francisco. I wouldn't claim to like the noisemaker any more than he did, but the 'classless' brush seemed pretty broad for one irritating sound. He went right into employees, and I believe some might be mistaken into thinking that he is still referring to the same shop. I don't agree with all that he complained about, I do agree about some of it, and I am happy that he got me thinking about, and looking at, my own local shop with more than a casual eye. Perhaps this might happen to some shop owners, perhaps not - but it is good food for thought.
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Postby smcmaster » 04/30/03 12:17 AM

Wow. I had no idea that this essay would generate so much talk. I guess I'm a bit flattered by all the attention it has gained, but, at the same time, I am also happy that it raised some eyebrows as this is a subject that I feel has needed to be addressed for quite some time.

First, let me thank you all for expressing your honest feelings about the points I brought up in the essay. I always welcome frank, honest comments and criticism as long as they are of an intelligent and constructive nature and not just mindless and ignorant bitching that so many of these online "forums" tend to become. Especially the magic-oriented forums. And when I originally wrote this piece for my publication, The Mandala, I knew there would be some people who probably vehemently disagreed with me. I also knew that there were readers out there who felt the same way I did. When the piece originally ran, I did get a few letters. Most of them agreed with me on some points. Some did not agree with me at all.

Since the essay has appeared in Genii, I have received a few more comments. I will be running them in the next issue of The Mandala.

But I must say, the comments that have appeared in this forum over the last 11 days have been very thought-provoking. Whether I have agreed with them or not, they have always made me think. A few have even made me laugh out loud. And as I read your posts I realized early on that it would only be a matter of time before I would feel the need to reply to some of the specific opinions that have been expressed.

To wit:

Diego--I know the shop you spoke of in Santa Barbara. Yes, you are absolutely correct in saying that it was one of the worst examples of product display, as countless boxes would just be torn open by customers off the street and left strewn across the shelves. This was actually occurring in the shops later years and it made me sad. The original owner ran the shop much differenty. It was more along the lines of what I was trying to describe in my essay, and, quite honestly, very close to the "perfect world" senario that MJ Marrs describes in his recent post. The owner and his employees were very knowledgeable and knew exactly how to recommend books and/or items matched to each customer's skill level. I find it interesting that the shop in question finally went under only AFTER the original owner sold it and it became the toy/novelty store that Diego describes with much less attention to customer relations or proper product display. It seems to me that it did much better in its original incarnation.

And speaking of MJ Marrs's post just a bit more...I have no doubt that the gentleman who owns the shop I mentioned or the people running its counters are gracious. I am sure they are very nice. It's just that many visitors coming into the shop won't get the chance to discover this on their own due to the sound effects that these gracious people have decided to inflict on their customers. I sure didn't. Without going into the gory details here, let's just say these were VERY graphic fart noises. Not comical sounding. GRAPHIC. You could hear every little nuance, if you know what I'm saying. And they were loud. Much louder than they should have been played in a shop of this size. Even if you aren't appalled by the sound, it's still just VERY DISTRACTING. The gracious gentleman behind the counter could have been presenting documented proof as to the true identity of S.W. Erdnase and I never would have retained it because of the sheer distraction of the fart noises.

Chris Youstra--Yes, okay, I guess Key-r-rect IS a funny name. It was just the way they handled themselves (Okay, that was a poor choice of words as well) and in the "house of the mouse" of all places...

And, no, Jeff Haas, I do not frequent Disneyland to get my props. The incident happened--as I stated in the article--MANY years ago before I was in magic as a full-time profession. Your post made me laugh a lot though.

Mark Jens's recent post, however, brings up more of the salient points I wanted to address here. You say that you like a clean atmosphere, order, and being able to find things, but that you also know that the average magic shop is not the place to go to find them. That is EXACTLY my point. Why is this? Are we just supposed to accept this as the staus quo? Would you buy your pharmaceuticals from a pharmacy that looked like Al Flosso's store? For that matter, would you buy your much needed medicine from a pharmacist that looked like Al Flosso? When you were swallowing your heart medicine would you calmly think to yourself, "You know I really can't be sure that he gave me the right pills, but damn he was charming!"

Now I know that is an extreme example, but if you are going to have a store out on the street that caters to walk-in traffic, it just seems to me that it should appear as a legitimate business and not a storage unit. I understand how enchanting the experience of visiting Flosso's shop must have been. I wish I could have seen it. I have been to other shops that, while not comparing to the "experience of Flosso's" have been charming in spite of their disorder and the characters running them. As I mentioned in my article, I get it. It's just that these types of shops should then be private as magic shops once were. Shops like this have no place in the public arena, but rather, should be treated like private clubs catering only to "like-minded members" who accept this condition as the norm. The trouble is, as many of you have already mentioned, no shop in this day and age could survive like this. Therein lies our predicament.

It also seems to me that you go on to prove my point, Mark, by stating that you, too, would like to find someone knowledgeable behind a magic shop counter but that you understand that it usually cannot happen because of the need to find cheap labor, etc. If the person behind the magic shop counter cannot cater to the clientele that the shop will bring in, what is the point of that person being there in the first place? If the magic shop owners are hiring unskilled labor that cannot answer even the simplest of questions, how does this benefit the shop? Won't this shop soon go out of business? And if I know that going to the shop won't help me, and I can just bypass this whole stressful situation by buying my book or trick online, doesn't this render the magic shop obsolete? Then add to that the general lack of pride in the look of the shop and fart noises being pumped through the store's sound system, and well...

At this late hour, I am sure that my points posted here could be much clearer, but I hope that I have answered some of your thoughts. And in so doing, I am also sure that I have raised a few more eyebrows and I look forward to the posts that will follow. I thank you all once again for feeling so passionate about this essay that you wanted to take the time to make your voice heard. Thanks for allowing me to expand on the issue here. I look forward to your posts.
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Postby Jeff Haas » 04/30/03 10:32 AM

Shawn, I'm actually very sympathetic to the viewpoint you express in your article. However, other than the Magic Masters shops, I don't ever remember seeing a magic shop that didn't have the gag items up front. I've always accepted that it's what they needed to do to keep the doors open. Every shop I know that started out as a dedicated magic shop had to change. And some aren't around any more (Bay Area magicians - remember Steve Dawson's Magic Touch?)

And with the increased commercialization (for want of a better description) of everything, it looks like niche businesses are going to have to go to the web to stay afloat.

Now and then, I wonder what it would've been like back in Martinka's...

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Postby Steve Bryant » 04/30/03 01:23 PM

Speaking of stupid gag gifts ...

Lin Searls ran a magic shop in Altadena. He also carried the spring snakes that come in a can of peanut brittle. Lin would order maybe two dozen cans at a time. The manufacturer ALWAYS packed one snake loose so that, when Lynn opened the outer cardboard box, the snake would spring out at him.

Life in the joke business!
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Postby James Foster » 04/30/03 01:26 PM

Originally posted by Jeff Haas:
Shawn, I'm actually very sympathetic to the viewpoint you express in your article. However, other than the Magic Masters shops, I don't ever remember seeing a magic shop that didn't have the gag items up front. I've always accepted that it's what they needed to do to keep the doors open. Every shop I know that started out as a dedicated magic shop had to change. And some aren't around any more (Bay Area magicians - remember Steve Dawson's Magic Touch?)

The Bay Area has, over the years, had its fair share of good magic shops. Burger's House of Magic had been touched on already. Over the years I lived in Oakland, I enjoyed the little space in the theatrical supply shop out in Walnut Creek in the 70s and, later, the still-in-existence California Magic in Pleasant Hill. Gerry Griffin, the owner of California Magic, is one of the true friends of magicians, both novice and professional.

But, by are, the weirdest place in the Bay Area was Trebor Enterprises in San Leandro, which, during the late 70s/early 80s, was a bit of a shop and a whole lot of a something else. Trebor sold some stuff, but mainly he handed out opinion while giving magicians a place to practice and work out routines, in between his discussions about the importance of the Rocky Horror Picture Show. It was a pretty eye-opening scene for a 15 year old kid who'd take the train there just to practice and learn about routining. It was certainly the kind of experience that could not be replicated online!
Anybody else remember that place?

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Postby Guest » 04/30/03 06:16 PM

I can remember Marvin Burger in the 1960's, telling me THEN, the sale of gags/novelties, kept the store going...and that is when the gags, etc. were a much smaller part of the business. Others in the Bay Area will remember Morcom's in Oakland. I'll date myself...The first magic store I had the (magical) experience of entering was The Golden Gate Magic Co., that as a child, my mother walked with me, up a flight of stairs, above Market Street, that had showcases of MAGIC.
The walls covered with photos of many...A STAGE to the side, so platform magic could be demonstrated. (Les really pushed Milk Pitchers!)
and do I remember not just chairs, but a SOFA/COUCH to sit and talk magic?!

Postby Bill Duncan » 04/30/03 06:54 PM

Originally posted by Jeff Haas:
remember Steve Dawson's Magic Touch?
I recall meeting Steve Dawson as a magic convention back in the 80's. I remember he was a very nice fellow.

Is he still around?
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Postby Jeff Haas » 04/30/03 09:23 PM

Steve closed The Magic Touch several years ago. I heard he took a job in advertising, but I don't know where, and haven't heard anything of him in quite awhile.

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Postby magicbar » 05/06/03 09:24 PM

I like magic shops, have patronized several and worked in two. In the late 70's I worked for Ken Gross who owned four stores in the Los Angeles area. Always one for brute honesty, he told me "real magicians don't buy anything." He would mention back in the days of all the (great) guys that would hang out in shops to create a scene but 'hanging out' doesn't pay the rent. Gags and costumes at seasonal peak times and repeat sales to hobbyists paid the bills. Perhaps shops holding lectures and other attractions (for an entrance fee) can keep these shops alive.

Also, I read a lot about the downfall due to internet magic shops but nothing is said of the two largest purveyors of magic publishing that wholesale and retail their products simultaneously. They even proudly promote how they will discount and beat all others advertised prices in their newsletters. To me it appears to be unfair competition and these guys are slowly bleeding their customers (i.e., the shops that buy their wholesale items) dry. It is natural for customers to search out the best price and if I was a shop owner I would be very upset that my suppliers were openly underselling me. I think the relationship between publishers, manufacturers and retailers must be better coordinated for the betterment of the industry.

A third thought on this theme is echoed in the introduction of Carneycopia. That is that with the reduction in popularity of magic since the 1950s many performing magicans have turned to lecturing and merchandising to make ends meet. This produces a flood of material that frankly, has saturated the market. Bruce Cervon alludes to this in his Hard Boiled Mysteries book about how "the buyer is probably sneaking this book into the house before he had the chance to read his last one."

I am sure that technology has played a part as well. The ability to copy and store literature probably has decreased demand due to copyright infringement. I hope magic shops will survive. I enjoy going now and then to make contacts and purchases that only a magic shop can provide. Magic needs human contact that come from the shops. It is the breeding ground for enthusiasts of all levels. Magic won't survive on e-commerce alone nor will it thrive on overdosing on the quick buck.
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Postby Guest » 05/14/03 12:51 PM

But, by are, the weirdest place in the Bay Area was Trebor Enterprises in San Leandro, which, during the late 70s/early 80s, was a bit of a shop and a whole lot of a something else.

Postby Guest » 05/14/03 12:55 PM

What I meant to say (before I pushed the wrong button) or, more properly, ask of James Foster was the following: Was Trebor Enterprises the place on East Fourteenth, approximately across from San Leandro City Hall? If yes, then in fact I do remember it. Didn't visit often but enjoyed it when I did.

Postby Guest » 05/14/03 01:44 PM

Steve Dawson was, at last check, working for Hewlett Packard in the marketing department. He had to close his shop because of the extreme cost increase for the space rent. Let us not forget the most hidden bay area magic shop, G Sparks house.
Steve V

Postby Guest » 05/16/03 11:08 AM

Wow - what a column. Okay - I worked a couple of magic/novelty/costume shops in the lower SoCal region of Orange County. And, for the most part, found them fairly arrogant establishments (at least, in the workers they hired - young teenage lads who didn't give a hoot except to show off the latest Card routine they glommed from the video of choice at the moment all the way up to motorcycle gang appearing doofi adults who lean over the counter and reek of cigarettes, feeling that they are "God's gift to magic".)

Now, don't get me wrong, in each establishment I worked or visited, there was one or two individuals who really took what they were doing with a sense of pride. And, those were the folks that the decent customers figured out to go to.

For stock and inventory, however, they tended to keep the same basic packet tricks of card and coin that one finds everywhere (including Disneyland and Knott's Berry Farm Magic Shops) to buy. But, hey, these are the items that sell. These are the pieces that "Jane or John Doe" will come in and buy in order to have a piece of magic that they can do. Some of the owners I knew would special order for you, but, they had to be in the right mood.

Are the "over-the-counter" stores obsolete? No. There will always be a place where people can go to start from in this art, craft, business. For the larger items, however - one has to peruse the advertisements in our trade magazines, search the websites, and get straight to the main dealers for. In that sense, web marketing is far more favorable to the magicians who need to get larger and serious stage items for their shows. But, the community that evolves around the showcase corner in which the card and coin geeks (I use the term lovingly) share their latest skills is important. And, not every little burg has a magic club to offer the same sense of development and camaraderie.

I found it interesting when applying to one store to work (that is no longer there)that the manager of the branch (the daughter of a gent who owns a well known Hollywood Magic shop) wouldn't hire a woman to work behind the counter, even though said magicienne might be more proficient than her male counterparts. Why? The main clientele of a shop are men, and, as a general rule, men would not take a woman demonstrator seriously. I could, if I wished, work the Halloween season in costumes. Okay.
I went elsewhere. (By the way, the main shop in Hollywood is a great store and I shop there every chance I get. They have a great cross-selection of magic for all levels of production. A rarity, at least in my known region.)

I worked at a shop for close to two years where adolescent males ran the show. In fact, the majority of my co-workers did not take me - as a demonstrator/sales person - seriously. And, I saw repeatedly exactly what the lady who managed the other shop told me - that men would take these male youngsters far more seriously than myself at the drop of a hat...and those gents tended to carry their own hat. Example - I am doing a strong demo on Hopping Half - one of the guys walks out from his break, and the gent the other side of the counter imediately turns to the lad and asks him about the same routine...leaving me halfway done. Happened more than once. The customer was then treated flippantly (sp?) and forced through serious downplay at the "wit and humor" of the adolescent - but, bought the trick, and never returned to our shop anymore. Saw that happen too many times, too.

That shop is a good place - and, the owner is a gentleman with a heart of gold. But, he knows that his strong suit is his adult and gag novelties. The magic lies in the back corner, awaiting the inquiring mages to wander to those elusive counters. So - you got kids walking right through adult novelties and soft porn toys to get to what is going on. And, there is more demonstration of those items where kids and underage clients can see them - scatological humor to the umpteenth fold - well, given the fact of the age group of most of the employees, sophmoric humor does seem to be the mainstay of the rage.

I must agree that this is not what we should be placing as a strong element of buying magic. Yet, it is more the average than least, in the majority of shops I have entered into.

Cluttered shops and What is so wrong with a clean and well lit - organized - display of materials and props for people to walk into. There is a shop in Long Beach I have been to that - literally - had a giant pile of props and stuff just littered in a back corner of the floor. Something the owner would eventually go through and get someplace. The place was dark, musky, and reeked of cigar smoke. (Did costume rental, too. Would you really want to wear a costume that reeked of old cigar smoke?) There were some good props and pieces there, but, mostly everything was old and worn. Reminded me of the very first shop I went into as a kid...I still have nightmares about that one. ;)

Now, the clone stores - the HOUDINI, the MAGIC least they are clean and decent appearing stores you would feel comfortable letting young kids into. And, for the most part, they sell the same materials that these older novelty-costume shop based establishments do. And, these "Starbucks on every corner" type operations offer that same introduction experience and packet tricks for anyone wanting to gain entry into our world of performance magic. So, in that sense, I do support their efforts in getting a market established that such chains can use.

Yes - there are shops that follow the "clean and well lit" formula. And, they have a good collection of regular customers who come in to chew the fat, discuss the latest card or coin routine that is vogue, share a few moves, buy a deck of cards or a thumb-tip, and move on. They have been the rarity I have seen, not the rule. And, in those shops, as well as in the standard novelty-magic establishments, I have found it to be a male oriented reality. In most cases (not all) I have found that magiciennes are pretty much placed outside the circuit when shopping at these stores. I have personally experienced it from a buyers perspective at too many stores - in which the salespeople either ignored me (but let a man walk into the store...) or, were demonstrating to me and quicklyleft when a male walked up to the counter - leaving me standing for 15 minutes; or, when I was behind a counter, I would hear the guys in the back room going off on the women mages who shopped at the store. Okay, this is an attitude that has seriously taken me to shop on the internet and through catalog sources. I am probably not alone in rank and file on this, either. (Sorry, guys to get a personal soapbox on equality here...I have found that too much of gender inequality in magic does exist...)

Another weakness of most magic shops I have traversed in - most of the employees, and, quite often the owners, know their packet tricks and major sellers. Ask them to describe or demo a stage or parlor style prop or illusion, wow. They are stuck atop a flagpole. They might quicky read you a description out of the reveal manual or marketing you how fancy the prop looks, and let you make your own decision to buy it. If you are lucky enough, they might be able to stumble through a demo of it. In this situation, the buyer really has no source of strong information of what they are looking for. And, in this realm, even on-line or catalog sales are limited in letting a buyer know what the piece or element can and will do.

I was fortunate that I could bring to the table the knowledge of stage and parlor when I worked at shops. Of course, I could not bring the skilled knowledge and handling of closeup work to the countertop. So, we had a balanced team - in that aspect - of demonstrators for people to go to. Again, this is a rarity I have found in my wanderings.

Shops need to redefine themselves and what they are in order to survive in our modern climate. The "clone stores" have eked out a niche for themeselves in this area. When walking major public shopping malls or entertainment districts, these well-lit and clean looking places are a happy environment in which family members can enter the world of magic for a minute, be entertained by a demonstration or two, and go out with their own packet trick to get them started as magicians. Some will return and get books, trade publications, and grow into our craft. Others will come back and stay at the basic level of things they can do at the office. And others...well, they will put their toy in a drawer and stumble across it in another forty years or so.

I know I have rambled quite a bit here, but, I have a final thought on this subject. Las Vegas is dominated by the HOUDINI chain of magic stores. I spent a day there wandering those shops in the various hotels and casinos. What amazed me was a level of professionalism that each counter top conveyed. And, each shop would have a slightly different array of materials to sell to the folks who wandered in. One of the shops was more focused on stage and parlor, another on close-up, that sort of thing. So - in the Vegas aspect of the clone store - each clone offered a part of a larger whole to magic purchasing. This probably doesn't exist elsewhere in a chain, however.

Of course, Vegas has serious shops as well - off the strip and around the corner. Strangely enough, I found those to be of the "good old boy" school when going there...and that magiciennes weren't serious matters for them to care. At the HOUDINI chain, however, I found treatment to be fairly equal.

Well, soapbox set aside for the moment - those are my discombobulated views on the subject. Sorry for writing a book here - hopefully there is some sense in all this verbage I have spewed.

All the best -


Postby Guest » 06/14/03 07:37 PM

I just found this topic. I worked for Marvin"Buma" Burger, at "The House of Magic", 2025 Chestnut St. San Francisco, CA 95403 (I wrote all that because the address is forever imbedded!), throughout the 1970's, and opened the "Palace of Magic" on Pier 39 with him in 1979. The partners in the Palace venture were originally Marvin, Doc Albo, Charles Schulz (of "Peanuts" fame), and Mario Carrandi. The Palace was the tourist shop, and the "House" was the magic shop.

I grew up in that store, and Marvin was like a second father to me. It was there that I met so many magicians that I cannot begin to count them. Saturdays were the regular hangout days there. Vic Kirk, Woody Woodward (Why do they call you Henhouse? Cause my father took one look at me and he flew the coop!), Martin Lewis (who was living there at the time and worked the Magic Cellar all the time), Harry Anderson, who worked Fishermans Wharf with his wife Leslie, Paul Svengari, Penn and Teller, who had a year-plus run at the Phoenix Theater of Magic (a club I booked acts for until they came along!), on Broadway, the stripclub strip, where it was the only family theater for blocks, Palmer Tilden, who owned Sterling Creations, Jeff Busby (Yuck!), Matt Corin, long gone who knows where, but a great slieght of handster, Pete Biro, Emil Clifton, Rags the Clown, Nahmen Nissen, Jack McMillen, Gene Matsuura, Steve Kramer, Stan Kramien, Paul Gross, who owns his own shop in Fresno now and has for 25 years, Rich Marotta, comic madman, the list is endless, and those are just the regulars.

I remember seeing my first Cruise ship with Billy McComb, who stopped into the shop while in port. John Gaughan came in any time he was in town, and sometimes came just to see us. Al Goshman, Charlie Miller, again whenever a Cruise he was working stopped in SF. Mike Skinner, Larry Jennings, who tipped a coin trick because I gave him a prop he needed and coudn't find anywhere else (made me made because he fooled a whole table of magicians later with that trick, and I didn't get to feel the feeling of being fooled that badly!).

Burger specialized in "old stuff", and I know more about makers of magic than I could ever write here because of years with Marvin. P&L, Thayer, Bartyl, Conradi, Sherms, Martinka, Kanter, Ireland, Lloyd, Chambers, Martin, Davenports, Merv Taylor, and on and on. What fun we had. Practical jokes, magic like you'll never see again, one of a kind pieces, Okito props that made my heart stop. Wheeling and dealing, sessions that went on forever. Dinners, drinking until the wee small hours.

Kindnesses I will never forget, like a guy down on his luck. He couldn't come next door to Original Joes for drinks after we closed the shop, because he couldn't stand a round of drinks. Burger made him come along, then bought a round and said he had to go 'cause the wife was expecting him. Got out before the guy had to buy, just to put him at ease. Shook his hand on the way out and left me sitting with the guy. After he left, the guy (who had only met Marv 2 or 3 times) said to me, "what am I supposed to do with this?" Burger had slipped him a hundred bucks when he shook his hand goodnight. I saw that all the time! But boy, could Burger drive a deal!

Soft touch, hard businessman, a good combination. I learned the history of magic, of magic tricks, I learned slieght of hand, I learned about publishing, I met wonderful people, and I had the most fun I've ever had in all my life! Everything was a show! Guy comes in and says, "I know you won't have what I'm looking for but I'll ask anyway. I need a Thayer Locking Flap Card Box, the mahogany one?" Burger goes in "THE BACK ROOM"... There's banging, swearing, more banging, more swearing, silence, banging again. Burger comes out, sweat pouring off his brow, box in hand. Opens the box, velvet cloth inside, unwraps the velvet, there it is - Thayer! "I'll take it" says the guy, no price problems here. All of that from going out back, picking the prop up off the top shelf and dabbing a bit of water on his forehead!

Marv would cut you high card for a better price. I remember Busby swearing that he cheated, that he "did the Downs thing with the spread...", one night at the Magic Cellar. I challenged Busby to do it, since it hardly ever works anyway, and besides Marv was a prop guy, could hardly shuffle a deck! Busby missed in front of 5 or 6 guys, three times in a row! That was the best looking egg I've ever seen on someones face!

Burger bought every estate he could, but always waited for the call. He HATED the "ambulance chasers", as he called them. He WOULD send flowers, or call with his condolences, but he'd rather go broke than intrude on someones' grief - I loved him for that. I could write forever about that period of my life, I worked there 6 days a week, 51 weeks a year, and I wasn't there enough. There are million stories, characters galore. We got robbed once, and Marvin chased the guys down the street, they took his typewriter - The bullet hole may still be in the wall, I don't know!

We were trying to get out one Saint Patricks day, and a customer came in (not for magic, he was looking for a joke). The guy was drunk, and driving us crazy, wanted to see every gag in the store. He had a rum cake with him, Epplers Bakery had made it for him with a fifth of rum in it, he was proud to tell us. Marvin was going crazy with the guy, who had left the cake at one end of the counter, while he went to the other end to look at gags. I caught Marvs eye, then picked up the cakebox, turned it upside down and shook it like crazy! He about passed out laughing, and from that day on, anytime some one was bugging him, he would look to me and say "Paul, shake his cake will'ya?"

No there's nothing like a brick and mortar magic shop - the things I remember can't happen in cyberspace. And no Magic Shops are not obselete, not as long as I've got memories like these!

Best, PSC

Postby Guest » 06/16/03 12:08 PM

THANK YOU for remembering and telling it like it was! You were there and captured the time of Marvin "Buma" Burger, and those days perfectly!

Postby Matthew Field » 06/16/03 12:15 PM

Paul Chosse -- WOW! What a great piece. And you captured, I think, the essence of a bricks and mortar magic store.

For me, going to Tannen's (in New York City) and spending time with Lou Tannen, Ed Mishell and, later, after Lou retired, Frank Garcia, James Randi, Mike Gallo, and Doug Edwards and so many other magicians -- where else but at a magic shop could I have done that, and in how many ways did those experiences nurture the love of magic within me?

At Tannen's i got advice, gossip, the word on what was new and what was hot. I discovered The Jinx and Paul Harris and Hugard & Braue and the Professor and Ed Marlo. I found Apocalypse and Genii and the New Tops. And the catalogues!

Are magic shops obsolete? I sure as hell hope not.

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Postby Guest » 06/16/03 02:12 PM

What a great piece. And you captured, I think, the essence of a bricks and mortar magic store.

Matt, you think? Paul is so dead on the, it is bringing back childhood memories of Gene Gordon's House of Hocus Pocus and later in years the back room at Earl Edwards magic shop! Those were the days!!!

Mike Gallo....a guy who loves the smell of brick;)

Postby Bill Evans » 06/16/03 03:09 PM

[QUOTE]Originally posted by pchosse:
[QB] I just found this topic. I worked for Marvin"Buma" Burger, at "The House of Magic", 2025 Chestnut St. San Francisco, CA 95403

I remember being in San Franciso on business during that period and remember meeting Paul and Matt Corin who was a bartender down the street. Paul was very kind and took me to see Matt work. The two of them also worked on me pretty well doing impossible card magic using a two person code. Fooled the hell out of me until I turned around and saw Paul signaling Matt my card. Had a big laugh over that. I'm sure you don't remember me Paul, but thanks for being a nice guy to a relatively young kid from out of town. Paul was the first one I ever saw do the double double throw on the counter of the shop and it just freaked me out.

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Postby Robert Allen » 06/16/03 04:32 PM

I was not privy to the many dealings with Buma for old magic stuff, but for a couple years there my parents (one of whom was also into magic) spent some money there. Most of the stuff is gone now, but I still have a Thayers Rice Orange & Checkers setup from that time.

But the thing I remember most about Buma was his capacity as an educator :) . The IBM ring in San Jose had an auction. It was well attented and naturally Buma brought his stuff. I was young and dumb but had a small expendable income from doing (other) kids birthday parties. [sent myself to the PCAM convention one year on that income]. Anyhow first I buy a set of old German manufacture heavily plated nesting "magic cocktail shakers" which Buma SWORE were used by Think-A-Drink Hoffman :) . (I was well under 18, WTF was I going to do with cocktail shakers? :) ) But then he really got me. He reached into a bag and pulled out a small booklet about knots. Sailing knots, etc. He sold the hell out of that booklet, assuring us that anyone who was remotely interested in rope magic should get this book to help round out their education. So I bid. So did a bunch of others. After a while I won the item, paying quite a bit more than I intended to. I still have it. It's not of much use to magicians at all :) . But what got me at the time was that, after auctioning a few more items off, he reached into his bag of stuff and came up with yet another of these "rare" books on knots :) . You can see where this is going. It was a running gag, and he sold the subsequent ones cheaper than what I paid for mine. I was a bit downtrodden, feeling stupid. When the auction was over, Buma came over and gave me another one of the booklets for free as a consolation prize :) . He obviously wasn't going to refund me: hey, it's an auction! But he was clearly a decent guy, and that night I learned a valuable lesson for a cheap price.
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Postby Guest » 06/16/03 05:28 PM

Yes Robert,
Marvin's auctions were legendary...a lot of fun...I can remember his auctions at the Ring 38 meetings at the Odd Fellows Hall on 7th & Market.
A good memory is when showing an item to be sold, if dents/tears etc. were noticable, he would comment on how, "Houdini wasn't very careful when he handled this prop...."! Very fun, how many items had those pesky, "Houdini dents"!

Postby Guest » 06/17/03 06:52 AM

Thank you for the kind words gentlemen, but, more importantly, thank you for remembering Marvin. I don't hear his name much anymore, but I know that he influenced hundreds of people in and out of the magic world. I can honestly attribute almost every good thing that has happened to me to my early relationships in magic. Though I've gone far afield in earning a living, the things I learned from Marvin, and many of the other people I met in magic, have carried me through these many years. I'm glad to see that someone who was so generous to me, and who helped so many other people, in sometimes small, sometimes huge ways, is still remembered fondly. I was afraid he'd been forgotten...

Bill, you're welcome. You were in San Francisco at a particularly carefree time. Matt was a great magician, and a not-so-hot bartender! But, we had a great time, I'm glad you got to be a part of it!

The magic auctions were indeed memorable. I remember the knot book, I was at that auction, handing Burger props! By the way, Burger was not immune - we went to an auction in LA in '79 (for some reason that was a big year...). Ed Smith had been shot to death right near the Castle, trying to stop a mugging. His collection was auctioned and we bought tons of stuff. I remember looking at something during the preview, Burger said he'd go no more than $500.00 for it. Long story short, when it reached $2,000.00 I heard a voice (Burger) next to me say $2,500.00! Auction fever had claimed another victim, this time the master himself. I hope that make you feel a little better about the knot book! He even bought a Zig-Zag. Not a bad idea, except we were driving from the Bay area, had one car, it was already full, and the roof was packed. What to do? We sold it to Jimmy Dixon before we left - never even touched the thing, ah magic!

Enough already, I just wanted to say thanks, I love knowing that one of the really good guys is remembered fondly by the people he met...

Best, PSC


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