Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The magic shop

I read an essay a few years ago by some guy who'd studied the childhoods of people who grew up to be what he called creative social misfits -- ranging from artists both professional and private/outsider to criminals who approach crime in an aesthetic or inventive way -- the Zodiac killer, the Unabomber, Jeffrey Dahmer, Charles Manson were among his examples -- and he found that with rare exceptions they shared an unusually strong childhood fascination with magic tricks, novelty gifts, and the stores that featured them. Certainly for me, being among a vast array of normal looking things that, with some cash and a mastering of their instructions, could be transformed into sources of inexplicable wonder was the most electrifying sensation possible, and that feeling does correspond to the more pragmatic thrill I get when working on a novel. But the intensity of the magic shop rush was never quite equalled, although, having been a teenager in the pre-internet days, the first few times I got my courage up to go into a porn shop, I remember a similar feeling that I was in a place where a dizzying number of doors into a new, secret, unimaginably exciting world could be opened with a crack of my wallet. I got to wondering whether the kinds of magic shops I loved so much as a kid still exist, and, with a lengthy internet search, I realized they do in pretty much the exact same form they had when I was a child albeit with the addition of related websites. I also wondered if you creative people out there share my lost adoration of those once transcendent seeming places. If so, or even if not, here are twenty magic shops and links for you to investigate today.


Blogger Bernard Welt said...

Hang in, D. When I was in Provincetown earlier this summer, the place was full of Russians. I'm almost certain they got in through mob connections; one girl as much as told me so. I'm going back up on Aug 5 and will cozy up to someone--and you know I can--and find out what the story is.
I did respond, I thought, to teenagekicks' great great dream and some other stuff but I must have pushed the wrong button; it doesn't seem to have showed up. I'll try again soon; I'm way out in the country trying to finish something and having limited internet time.
Coincidentally, this appeared in the Washington Post a couple days ago. The only magic shop left in the DC area and a hilarious place:

Icon May Go Up in a Puff of Smoke
Revitalization Could Push Aside Md. Magic Shop
By Christian Davenport
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, July 24, 2006; Page B01

Check this one out, Barry Taylor is saying as he pulls a gold-colored coin from his pocket. He holds it aloft for the customers of his Wheaton magic store to inspect, then tucks it into his right fist.

He waves his left hand over the fist, opens it and -- poof -- the coin is gone. Nothing but palm and wiggling, taunting fingers. Another flash of the hands and the coin is back, conjured, it seems, from thin air.
How did you do that?

Magic, he says, grinning to the crowd.

For more than 30 years, Taylor, 53, has been performing all sorts of tricks at his store, Barry's Magic Shop on Georgia Avenue. In the cramped and dowdy boutique, where the novelties, gags and costumes are piled from floor to ceiling, he makes dollar bills float, shoots fireballs from his palm and always knows what card you're holding.

But Taylor cannot figure out how to make his problems disappear.

Montgomery County has used eminent domain and spent nearly $1 million to acquire the building that houses Barry's Magic Shop from Taylor's former landlord. The county plans to tear it down and build a walkway as part of an effort to revitalize Wheaton's downtown.

If that happens and he is forced to relocate, Taylor could be out of business because he can't afford higher rent, he said. Taylor pays about $2,500 a month to rent the two-story building. He has looked at two other storefronts in the area, but the landlords wanted to charge more than four times his present rent, he said.

Still, Taylor is hoping that his shop might be able to remain where it has been for decades. An e-mail campaign has sprung up, and U.S. Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and County Council member Steven A. Silverman (D-At Large) have gotten involved.

Silverman called Barry's shop an "icon in the community" and said the council committee that approved the walkway project did not realize it would be displacing the magic shop. The council will look at the situation, he said, and try to help the parties come to a resolution.

"We're in the middle right now of trying to pass a zoning change to allow revitalization of downtown Wheaton while preserving small businesses," Silverman said. "And here the other arm of the government is looking at evicting Barry's from its longtime home."

Last week, the council approved the zoning change, which would allow for more dense development and taller buildings in the downtown.

2:31 PM  
Blogger derekmcc said...

Hi, Dennis --

I'm worrying about you and Yury. Jason is, too. But we're holding out hope. And you know we're willing to do what we can when we can. Say the word!

Love, Derek

3:23 PM  
Blogger derekmcc said...

Bernard Welt! It's Derek McCormack. I have a business card taped to my computer: Al's Magic Shop, 1010 Vermont Ave., NW, Washington DC. "From anywhere it's just a rabbits hop, To Al's famous Magic Shop!" Sic. You know that store, Bernard? I got the card when I was a kid. I bought a box there. It was old. It was gimmicked. It made it look like I was putting my hand through a sheet of steel. I used it in my act. My sister was my assistant. She wore a French maid's uniform. She was twelve. We played retirement homes. Family vacations involved my Dad driving me from magic shop to magic shop. Al's in Washington. Misdirections in San Francisco. Tannen's and Flosso-Hornmann's in New York City. And the store on Sunset Boulevard. I think it's still there. It was there last time I was there. Last time I was in L.A. I met you!

Bernard, I hope things are going great guns for you.

Love, Derek

3:26 PM  
Blogger derekmcc said...

Jokes -- I've got a china cabinet chock-full of crap -- dribble glasses, tooth black, snowstorm tablets, fake ink spills. Most of it made during the Depression. Antique Cachoo sneezing powder from S.S. Adams -- it's a coal tar derivative, a form of it was used in World War One. Irritating enemy troops. It's illegal now. A friend gave me another novelty as a birthday gift last month. Silent Alarm Clock, a candle: "Just before going to sleep, instead of placing the candle in the candle-stick, STICK IT IN YOUR ASS up to the proper mark indicating the hour on which you wish to wake up. Then light the candle, lay on your face and go to sleep."

3:36 PM  
Blogger teenagekicks said...

derekmcc, i was also a 12-year-old magician w/a sister for an assistant. We played the kids day-camp at the catholic chruc we attended, family gatherings, maybe a few other things, i don't remember. What i remember were the magic items themselves. I think I sent away for catalogs advertised in the back of "boy's life" magazine -- boy scouts and magic apparently are a happy fit -- and I soon amassed a collection that included: the linking rings, the dimes to nickels, the magic wands where if you pulled on the tassel of one the tassel of the other would rise, the floating, lighting light bulb, the little press that changed paper to dollars, etc. etc.. I always wanted one of those velvet pouches at the end of a stick that would transform one thing to anotherr. When I performed, I had a bit crate that my dad had picked up from some hardward store. I tipped it up on end and used it as a sort of podium. I'd staple-gunned a piece of tagboard to it w/"Mark's Magic Show" or some such words on it, where I'd drawn an upturned tophat and a rabit peaking out, red eyes.

Dennis, best to you in your continuing quest. Here's something for you from Kafka's letters to milena:

"Today I looked at a map of Vienna, for a moment it seemed incomprehensible to me that they would build such a huge city when you only need one room"

Bernad Welt: yeah, that was a pretty great dream. It seems like for me the dreams with the most openess and light are also the ones that invariably lead to underground terror. But it's worth it.

7:54 PM  
Blogger derekmcc said...

teenagekicks --

The tassels, the tassels. I never could work the tassel wands. I had nice ones, too. Shiny. And the linking rings. You could do those? You're Blackstone! The velvet pouch -- I think I know what you mean. Egg bag, isn't that what it's called? I had a cane that turned into a bouquet of fake flowers. I had a zombie ball. I had a rayon cape. My pride and joy was a velvet table with trap doors. I sold it all when I was a teenager. No, I kept cards -- gaffed decks, shaved, magnetized, etc. And books. Book of magic, books by magicians, memoirs by magic shop owners. I've lived in Toronto for a hundred and fifty years. Saturday I walked down a street I'd never ever been on. I saw Doug Henning's house. There's a plaque: Doug Henning -- Magician, Activist, Politician. My Dad took me to see Henning film a TV special in the 1970s. It was the worst thing I ever saw.

8:31 PM  
Blogger vomitingghosts said...

Teenagekicks, something else from Kafka for you:

"You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait, be quiet, still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet."

8:41 PM  
Blogger teenagekicks said...


omg, i HAD one of the blackstone sets. hah! yeah, those tassle wands were tricky. egg bag: yes, that must be it. I remember seeing a magician with one when I was in elementary school (he performed for all the thrid graders in the auditorious) and it was a velvet pouch at the end of a rod (the frame would have looked like a large, ornate wooden magnifying glass w/o the pouch).

What a zombie ball? that sounds great.

vg: nice one.

I see your kafka quote and raise you:

"When will this crazy world finally be straghtened out a little? I wander around with a burned-out head by day -- there are such beautiful ruins everywhere in the mountains here, they make me think I have to become that beautiful myself -- but once in bed instead of sleep, I have the best ideas..."

The first several times I read that I thought it said -- I even typed it out this way the first time I quoted it to someone -- "they make me think I have become that beautiful myself."

10:21 PM  
Blogger garrison said...


Glad to hear you're feeling more hopeful.

As for your magic shops... how curious that 3 of them are in Florida... the least magical place I have ever lived. Makes senses, I guess.


Oh, cool. I caught you do a reading from Grab Bag last year at Skylight Books in Los Feliz, CA. I quite enjoyed it! Just wanted to say that!

regards to all,

12:16 AM  
Blogger Jax said...

My uncle's a magician - member of the Magic Circle and everything. It's just a hobby though, he really drives a bus, well he did til he retired. Slightly creepy guy who 'performs' at family occasions. He has no formal assistant as such, but always asks the most attractive female member of the audinece - usually my poor cringing sister - to 'assist him:)

There's defo a draw to things magical though, in think. But real magicians always should be slightly seedy and down-at-heel and playing working men's clubs. Preferably they're also ventriloquists who talk to their dummies, back in the dressing rooms:)

The glam pretty-boy 'Let's Make the Great Wall of China Disappear' ones leave me cold, I'm afraid.

Your magic shop day has just given me a much needed plot-spark for an idea I'm working on, btw, so ta much!

Fingers crossed for August 9th, Dennis.

1:30 AM  
Blogger derekmcc said...

Garrison --

Thanks, man! Did we speak at Skylight? Did you have some cake? I met a whole pile of really nice people there. I ate a whole pile of cake. I got buggy.

6:09 AM  
Blogger vomitingghosts said...

Teenagekicks, Kafka is so fucking... yeah. I mean, Jesus. Speaking of maps and living alone, I see your quotaition and raise you:

(This is from Kafka's letter to his father and it's his reason why he never got married.)

"Sometimes I imagine the map of the world spread out and you stretched diagonally across it. And I feel as if I could consider living in only those regions that either are not covered by you or are not within your reach. And, in keeping with the conception I have of your magnitude, these are not many and not very comforting regions—and marriage is not among them."

7:14 AM  
Blogger 5stringaphasia said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

7:57 AM  
Blogger Scott Macaulay said...

Hey Dennis,

It's Scott from (a long time ago) The Kitchen. I've been enjoying the blog and link to it from time to time from the Filmmaker magazine blog. But this post dragged me out of the woodwork. As a kid I was also really into magic and magic stores. Like a couple of your other posters, for me it was Al's Magic Shop in D.C. -- not the Vermont Ave. location but the original on Pennsylvania Avenue. The location is no longer there, but it used to be smack in the middle of Downtown Government, and it was this dark, dingy, very narrow and long place that had all the qualities you wrote about in your blog.

Recently I had the same impulse as you and wondered if that scene still exists and what it's like for young people today. So, I surfed around and found all the magic internet sites -- the "street magic" download sites, the discussion boards, and places like Magic Video Depot (and, of course, YouTube), where people learn tricks and then post videos for people to critique. As opposed to when I was a kid, it seems like a lot of teenagers who do magic now learn ridiculously difficult sleight of hand moves. They post them online, comment on each other's moves, etc.

As for the contemporary magic shop, I only know Tannen's in New York, which doesn't have that great seedy vibe of the ones I remember as a kid. I was actually in Paris recently and happened to walk by Magie, which was one of your links. It was a tiny little place with not a lot going on on the Saturday afternoon I stepped in. I think the general feeling is that the bricks and mortar magic shop is really suffering in the internet age.

Anyway, best of luck with the visa situation -- I hope the tourist visa works out -- and hope you are well in general.



9:31 AM  
Blogger Bernard Welt said...

I don't know if you'll see this but hi. My attendance is here is spotty; I've been traveling. You can reach me through the blog that should pop up if you hit my name here.
I do remember Al's Magic Shop; for years it was only four blocks from where I work. I used to buy flash paper there and use it in class in in a totally nerdy teacher way--If I wanted to shake things up, I'd say, "Let me just check a note here," and I'd pull out a piece of paper that would burst into flame in my hand.
I'm glad you're well; I am too.

8:07 PM  

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