Requiem for the Real Thing…
There has been quite a bit of talk lately about the “extinction” of the real magic shops. Because of this, I have decided to include the following words from my friend, Kenton Knepper, instead of my own personal words. I think Kenton has said this very well.
This holiday buying season, allow me to make a suggestion: Visit an actual, physical magic shop. You know, the ones you have heard about that are in real buildings. The kind you can physically walk into and touch things and experience them before buying.Why do I suggest this? Because this may be the final year you get to do so.
We all love the Internet and I buy as much on it as anyone — probably more. I do that, as I don’t have to take the time to go anywhere; I can get other people to order for me, and so on. That’s the “up” side.
But such benefits do not make up for other precious commodities, soon to be too few.
If you have not been to a real magic shop lately, you would not understand. While I may sound like ELP (who?) talking about “behind that glass is a real blade of grass” — and appear overly sentimental — I will take that risk in hopes it may save a few of you.
Magic shops you can walk into are about to vanish from America, and perhaps elsewhere. The Internet has taken over. Billy who lives in his parent’s house and does not pay rent, let alone own a building, can be a “dealer” and sell things at a 5% markup. To him, five dollars is “big bucks”. He can undercut all legitimate dealers who must make a living, pay for a place, pay taxes, buy legal copies of manuscripts and all sorts of other things an actual business does. He gets Mommy to pay for his food, so he can be a big boy with little work. He knows the bare minimum about magic, but thinks he’s a pro.
Okay, some of these guys don’t live with Mom and Dad.
On the Internet, these people create the illusion of a real, professional shop. Some of these shops are legitimate of course. Many are mere facades of a Billy hidden behind the curtain, whilst his projected image and “shop” looms large upon the computer screen.
Perhaps we should not care about that at all. Does this change magic or mentalism? Is it not great that we can buy things ever cheaper? I will leave aside the nasty truth about what is starting to happen on the financial side for now. Let’s look at what it does to YOU on levels that are much more important.
Ask most pros about how they began, and they will usually mention two things: Books and magic shops. We all know books are damn near useless to magicians these days. But when were magic shops ever more than a place to buy things?
For most of us, a “magic shop” was a place to learn and practice our craft. Many of us worked in such shops as we continued growing in magic — I worked in several. You can’t help but learn to perform if you have to actually DO all the stuff you sell. It makes you learn more than you thought you wanted to learn, and educates you in principles as well as bad magic tricks. You learn the things that fool magicians and mentalists today: Things such as great packaging does not make for great tricks. Crappy old books contain some of the best secrets in the world. The latest thing everyone is buying and reviewers love often sucks. You begin to learn to discern the real gems from the junk not by appearance, but by studying it ALL.
Putting aside that many pros learned their craft working in physical magic shops, there is a more important reason why you ought to visit such a shop while they still exist this year.
Most pros grew up hanging out with “the boys” not at fancy clubs or the latest mall huckster, but rather in the dingiest back rooms and counters of the regional magic shop. The biggest names stopped by the shops when they were in town. As long as real magic shops exist, they still will. Sometimes you did not get waited upon when you wanted to buy something as quickly as you wished — because the “boys” were chatting up the latest news and moves. If you were wise, you remained patient and listened carefully. Soon your ears learned more from these whispers and joking than the trick, you were later to buy.
Secrets of profound proportion were swapped in these old, musty, cluttered shops. It was as if you had entered a private order, to which you hoped to one day belong. I am speaking to you as if you are not “one of the pros” solely because the pros know all about this. Hear that I am in any town, and you will often find me waltzing by the local magic shop, if it is a real one. Ask any pro — most all do this — even the biggest names that may otherwise have security around them.
I learned more and created much by hanging out with people in magic shops. I hate to tell you this, but “discussion boards” are simply not the same. In magic shops, ignorance and disrespect was soundly snubbed by the working pros, or they shunned you. Silence or being shown the door answered whiny and loud protestations of stupidity. In real magic shops, you could not afford to get the answers and secrets while being a lazy and obnoxious brat. You had to grow and learn or get kicked out.
Just a few years ago, I was visiting a famed magic shop. It is almost as celebrated as the pros that go there. The owner of the shop was talking to an insolent child who thought he knew everything about magic. He wanted quick fixes and not to have to work for his success. The owner asked if the boy had a certain book. He said no. The owner suggested another book. The boy said he didn’t want to take the time to read, he wanted to do such and such a trick.
The owner told him to get the expletive out of his shop. He kept at it until Brat Boy left.
You don’t get that on the Internet.
A year later I was back at this shop and a similar thing occurred. The owner turned to be after this new pain in magic left and said wryly, “I kick people out only when names visit from out of town”. This was not actually the case, but we did have a great laugh. The kind of knowing laugh binding one person to another.
You don’t get that at the Internet shop.
Locally I was speaking to a dealer to whom I turn for hard to find props and books. He was telling me that soon he would not have a shop. He cannot afford to compete with Billy the Butcher Boy who sells magic at barely above his cost. That may be democracy, one could argue. Let me remind you what Billy-Boy cannot give to you:
He will not know which book something is in if it was written later than last month.
He will not know how to pronounce properly the names of performers about which you might only read.
He cannot tell you what it was like hanging out with the names in magic from days gone by.
He cannot show you the latest trick except on video after 2000 takes. Then it looks like a trick you should buy. Too bad it won’t look that way when you do it.
He cannot give you honest feedback — he can’t afford to do that.
He cannot tell you the legitimate inside scoop on any performer.
He cannot recommend anything other than what he gets the biggest price break on or what reviewers and people who sell to him say you should buy.
He cannot introduce you personally to his good friend who wrote the classics in magic.
But he can save you a buck. That he CAN offer. You get what you pay for in the end.
I talk to a handful of real magic shops when I am working on ideas, or on my performance. I call up these guys and I ask questions. They give me historical information, obscure references, inside stories and all sorts of stuff I need. All of the folks I call and speak to this way that own shops tell me next year they may be out of business.
If most of my famous friends and I cannot call these people anymore, who will we call? Our consultants, I guess.
But then whom will YOU call?
Hanging out and buying things in a “brick and mortar” magic shop may soon be extinct. You may not be able to tell your children or students about the good old days” because those days won’t be anything other than what the kids have access to now — only at faster speeds.
So, don’t so any magic shops any favors. Do yourself a favor.
Stop by, hang out, and buy from real, physical magic shops while they still exist. You may get far more than the items you buy if you do. It’s a gift you really ought to give yourself this holiday season.
Of course, you can always visit our store, which is only on the Internet, at wonderwizards.com
Meanwhile, I will be thanking Denny, Barry, Magic Dave, Greg, Sandy, Jack, Tolee, Al, Tim, and a handful of others. I hope some of you are fortunate enough to have access to them when you need them too.