Opening a magic shop

Discuss your favorite close-up tricks and methods.

Postby thumbslinger » 08/21/03 06:40 AM

Hello all-
My first post here. I realize the category, but this forum seems to have the most readership so I thought I'd throw this one in here.

My background is in Advertising and Design. From that point of view, I have certain notions and the like about opening a magic store.

But I'd like to ask any of you what defines a good magic store? I'm not wondering about online ideas. I have plenty of experience there and will utilize the net appropriately, but if you have ideas of what shops do or don't do, that would be greatly appreciated.

I'm located in Nashville, TN and there isn't anything here, except maybe a 1/2 rack of Adams Magic tricks of which usually is invisible ink and a whoppe cushion.

Nashville, TN
Hey....hey.. it's just for fun, next lifetime you won't even remember who you were.
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Postby Ian Kendall » 08/21/03 07:35 AM


This reminds me of something that happened a long time ago in a school room far, far away...

I must have been about nine years old, and in Geography class we were studying town planning. Our project was to take a street layout and place certain shops and amenities in the town to show how these things are planned.

Since this was the mid seventies, one of my hobbies was model making, and Mr Bell the Geography teacher also ran the model making club, and was a keen modeller himself. In an effort to ingratiate myself with him I paid special attention to the model shop in my town plan, and made it a wee bit bigger than Harrods, while the town supermarket was crammed into a lot about twenty feet wide, and not much deeper.

I remember that I failed that particular project.

I think to most of us the perfect shop would be spacious and bright, with a back room or tables to session at, a wide bookshelf to browse, large display cabinets, free refreshments, on site masseur, sauna and pool complex and wide screen home cinema system.

However, I fear the supermarket plot might be more economically viable...

Seriously, the most important things are friendly and knowledgable counter staff and a good range of stock. The rest comes by itself.

One of the best shops I've been into is in Sacramento (I can't remember the name, but it looks like a castle...). The owner was friendly, and pointed me to the bookselves to have a look while he finished something. Since this was in 98 I was looking for a copy of Majoke to take back. Although he had sold out he phoned his Dad to bring in his own copy from home and sold it to me. Pure class. I can't remember his name (perhaps Chris Aguilar can tell us?) but if you know him, please say a big thanks from the big nosed Scotsman.

Take care, and good luck,

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Postby Pete Biro » 08/21/03 09:04 AM

The key to making money in a magic shop is the SLUM and CRAPORAMA... junk to sell, costumes, smoke pellets, masks, dog doo doo... obscene junk.
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Postby Guest » 08/21/03 09:28 AM

As everything, it depends on what your market/location will be...a location with lots of foot-traffic, tourists and turnover? Is there a magic community large enough, (or can you create one) that WOULD(?) support it? For a realistic view of what once was, what is now, and what retail stores are doing to make it, check the thread in COLUMNS, "Are magic shops obsolete?"

Postby mark » 08/21/03 09:40 AM

Ian, the man's name was Steve Johnson, the shop was Grand Illusions, and I just delivered your message.
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Postby Guest » 08/21/03 09:56 AM

I have an idea for you, since you know any business would be a tough go, and you need traffic to sell to, how about a retaurant, with a magic theme and a shop. Since your in Nashville, you would have a tourist draw, plus the local magi could meet in your restaurant,hey maybe do a few shows.

I think starting a stand alone magic shop you have to ask yourself if there is enough business locally. Also you plan to be a shop with growth, what will you do differently, from any other shop I can buy from? After you have sold the novelties
is there money for the rent? I can remember many years back a fellow had a magic shop in a little town (Romney, WV), that was part of his much larger variety store. I doubt if half a dozen people knew he was there, he just loved magic (like we all do, lol). And another fellow in Beckley, WV that had a shop on main street, he had some support from locals, and was pretty active. But he eventually starting selling adult novelties to make a go of it.

Best of Luck if you do it, I will come back the restaurant.

Postby Guest » 08/21/03 11:18 AM

Hello, All.

Firstly a big THANK YOU to Ian for the wonderful words about my shop and my family. Ian, you really made my day! :-)
Kelly, I've owned and operated Grand Illusions for sixteen years and there isn't enough space on this board to hold all of the advice I could impart. (Fortunately for all of you readers.) I'll, instead, give you the one tip that will make or break a specialty shop: Diversification.
If you open a business that sells JUST magic tricks and your shop isn't in a casino then you will probably fail within three years. Grand Illusion's success leans evenly over magic, puppets, juggling supply and especially costumes and costume accessories. With all due respect to Pete, I have to strongly disagree with his belief that novelties make the P&L look good. It's just not true. We sell a ton of fake dog doo and whoopie cusions (and the margin is good on these items) but the slum stuff won't keep you open, it's just another part of the pie.
Most importantly is Ian's point about friendly, well informed staff. You and your employees have to absolutely love this stuff in order to infect the customer with your enthusiasm and energy. In any specialty business, from comic books to models to magic, the staff has to be "geeks of the art" just like the regular customers. (I say "geeks" with the greatest of pride, BTW.)
To sum up: If you're thinking of opening a shop because you think it's a good business proposition, think again. If you want to do it because you love the art and those who practice it then I encourage you to go for it and I wish you the very best of luck! :-)

Steve Johnson
Grand Illusions

Postby Ian Kendall » 08/21/03 12:24 PM

Hello again Steve!

There's a bit of a back story to this. In May 98 I was in a dance show in the Jazz Jubilee (the first dance act booked in 25 years of the Jubilee) and was in Sacramento for a couple of weeks. I was in rehersals all morning, and doing demonstrations in the evening, but the early afternoons were free. Doing what all travelling magicians do in a foreign land I grabbed the Yellow pages and looked up the local magic shop.

One day I bunked out of rehersals early and caught the first of three buses to the address in the advert. To understand how daunting this might have been, remember I grew up on a farm in Northumberland (deep country) and moved to Edinburgh (not exactly a metropolis, but pretty anyway) when I was thirteen. I'm now on public transport in Northern California where stops are at least three miles apart, desperately looking for landmarks while conveniently forgetting that I did not know any of the landmarks anyway. Add to this the temperature was about 90-odd degrees (in Scotland if it tops 70 we declare a state of emergency) and I've been dancing solidly for three months, the fatigue was making me a wee bit kranky.

Luckily some of the locals took pity on the glow-in-the-dark-white-skinned dehydrated tourist and showed me where to get off the last bus, and pointed me down the street to the shop, which was a speck in the distance. (Although I lived in Georgia for 18 months when I was flying, I still get a bit awestruck at the sheer size of non-urban streets in the YooEss. The road was broader than most Scottish ones are long, with a long parade of shops along each side). As I walked along, watching the numbers steadily approaching my target I noticed a large pink (? possibly beige) brick building with wooden turrets. I stopped, checked the address, looked again, and had a terror filled three minutes as I tried to cross the road.

I walked up to the door, pushed, pulled, pushed again, peered through the window into the darkness trying to see past the racks and racks of costumes, pushed the door again, knocked on the door, thumped the door, shouted through the letterbox, had a look round the side, shouted again and saw the sign that said the shop was closed that day. Arse.

So I walked back the bus stop and got my three busses back to the hotel in a deep blue funk.

A couple of days later I got some more time off, and this time I knew where to get off the stops, where the shop was, and that someone was going to be there as I had had the presence of mind to phone ahead and ask :) .

In my first post I was a bit short about how Steve treated me. He greeted me with a smile and a handshake, asked me my name and what kind of stuff I was interested in. When he had finished his task he came over and chatted again, and then went about tracking down the copy of Majoke I had asked for (remember that this was a bit of a myth in the YooKay. Wilson had a copy but wouldn't let me read it, so I was keen to get a copy for myself while I was over the water). When Steve got off the phone he told me that his father was coming over with the magazine, and would be about half an hour. When he explained whose copy it was I could hardly believe it, but now I _had_ to spend another hour or so in the shop while I waited...

I managed to get back to the shop one other time before I left for San Francisco. I'm not going to be so bold as to say Steve's shop is the best in the world, but I think it is important to realise that after five years I can still remember every detail of the visit, and I bet I could draw a fairly good floor map. This is all due to how I was treated while I was there. I have no doubt that this is the main reason Steve has been in business for sixteen years, and I'll bet people will say the same about Denny's (a place I have heard about but never got to visit :( ).

People who are aware of me might have realised that I am incapable of blind sycophancy and I tend to speak my mind. This is not gushing praise, it is a well earned compliment. If I ever make it back to Sacramento you can be sure I'll drop by the pink/beige castle...

Take care, Ian
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Postby Guest » 08/21/03 04:03 PM

Howdy All!

Geez, Ian, now I'm gonna heve to be nice to everybody in the shop just to keep up the reputation! :p
Regarding Majoke; Funniest thing I've seen in magic, ever. If you enjoyed that, and I think you might, you really should visit a parody website at Funny stuff.


Postby Guest » 08/21/03 06:37 PM

Steve Johnson showed me the first great card trick I ever witnessed with my own two eyes--sans the celluloid curtain and the picture tube.

"Hustler's Monte" regaled me when I was still a(informational) layman. My eyes popped out of my head. To this day, I perform it, while trying to transfer the same sense of wonder to my spectators that I experiened as one.

Grand Illusions is a Stellar business--stemming from a wonderful and cohesive family. I'm proud to call Steve my friend.

Postby thumbslinger » 08/21/03 06:43 PM

Well, I certainly appreciate all the comments and suggestions. And I can't wait to get out to the west coast and visit such a great shop!

You've all given me some good stuff to think about and again, I really appreciate all the posts.

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Postby mark » 08/22/03 09:26 AM

Kelly, I realize that this was not the initial intent of the current thread, but I would like to add my kudos to Grand Illusions as well. As has already been noted, it is truly a family business, and if the welcome that Steve offers is not enough, certainly his mother and father are the shop's 'mom & pop.' Where else would one go to get the finest in home baked refreshments during a lecture? Cookies, brownies, breads, coffee and soft drinks, all the comforts of home. Where else have you been that as well as showing the finest in new magic will also take your lunch order since, "Dad's picking up In N' Out Burger, what would you like?" I cannot imagine the work that must pile up in the back while we regulars take up their afternoons sessioning and B.S'ing.
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Postby Guest » 08/22/03 09:39 AM

I would have gone to Steve Johnsons shop but to be honest I thought Sacramento was just a place to store gas stations should one be needed in route to Reno. Next time I promis to stop.
Steve V

Postby Chris Aguilar » 08/22/03 10:09 AM

I'll chime and and say as a fairly recent transplant to Sacramento, I've only been to Steve Johnsons store (Grand Illusions) a few times.

Each time, I was greeted warmly and all my questions were answered very professionally. They have a nice selection of books and props and the store has a very friendly atmosphere. The thing I wish is that they'd get a better air conditioner as a few times I went down and they had closed early due to an excessive heatwave we were having at the time.

I strongly recommend a visit to Grand Illusions for those who may live in or be visiting Sacramento.

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Postby Carl Mercurio » 08/24/03 04:57 PM

There's a local magic shop in Queens, NY, called Rogue's Magic Fun Shop and the kid who owns it is really trying his best to make it work. Helping to pay the bills is a magic show he puts on every Satuday night called "Saturday Evenings of Wonder." He charges $10. It's great not only because the young kids who hang around the shop get some stage time, but because many local New York pros will use it as a venue to work on new material. I always think back to the thread about "are magic shops obsolete." Well, you can't get much stage time on the Internet....
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