I was going to wait until after Christmas to post this, but I thought I'd better get the ball rolling.
Maybe I’ve just reached that age. It occurred to me that if I were to take someone to the places that once mattered to me, all I’d be able to show of my youth would be the buildings that replaced it. I started to feel it every time I added places to Gordon Meyer’s Map of Chicago Magic. Most entries start with the word former, as “the former location of…”
“Progress.” That’s what a friend of mine said, but Progress implies movement forward. And, yes, we do move forward and, yes, we do leave things behind. In this case, it is not for something better, like moving from childish things to adult things. Arguably an improvement, a plus. This is a movement forward with less.
Izzy Rizzy’s House of Tricks, for 10 years my first workplace, full of happy memories, moved and is not what it once was and maybe not long for this world. Bishop’s magic shop, my hangout, gone, as are Bit O’ Magic, Houdini’s pub, Schulien’s restaurant.
These places taught and trained me in work and magic. They gave me a social network. In them, I found friends and laughter lasting a lifetime. There seems to be very little place for that now.
I have begun to realize I don’t like change. It is the reason I don’t travel much. I don’t live in the past. Well, I do sort of revel in it. In my love of research and history, I open up a vein of nostalgia. I know times have changed. But, I still long to open up a magic bar, where something fun is going on all the time and people want to congregate at. There has to be a place in this city for this. I find it disturbing that I know some big names in restaurants and entertainment venues in Chicago, men who are into seriously into magic, but do nothing to promote it.
This has especially hit home because as of January 5, I am losing my job. After thirteen years of being in Chicago, Magic Masters is being forced to close its doors at Navy Pier. The Pier, in its wisdom, thinks since patronage is way down changing a few stores will make it all new again.
Admittedly, our business has been down, way down. Every other business is experiencing the same thing, despite what the management of Navy Pier says. Changing the stores is hardly a way to bring the numbers up. Navy Pier is an entertainment center, yet they repeatedly cut the entertainment budget. Smart move.
When there is entertainment or an event, the pier is busy and sales are good. When there is nothing going on, as there often isn’t, sales are bad. Entertainment that used to keep people in the mall until 9 or 10 at night now ends at 6 or 7. When they pack up, so do the patrons.
People don’t go to Navy Pier for the Sunglass Hut or the t-shirt store. People go to Navy Pier for the businesses that give an experience, the IMAX, the Children’s Museum, Build a Bear, and Magic Masters. They come for events like Tall Ships and Winter Wonderland.
I have had the experience, more often than I would like to admit, of people coming into the store to tell me I sold them their first magic trick. I usually, jokingly, apologize, knowing the road to ruin it can be. I meet many people who just come to the pier to see us. Even with the poor business, Magic Masters was trying to build a 50 seat magic theater at the pier, only to have the pier stonewall us the whole time. We would have only increased our drawing power.
So, come January I will be looking for work. I’d like to find something in the magic world. Whether it be a shop or a performing venue or consulting with a performer. A writing job wouldn’t be bad. I’ve neglected my show work and there I would have to start from scratch. Finding the right restaurant, that is willing to make a commitment to magic, would be a dream. But I am open to other possibilities, even moving, maybe as I put the word out someone reading this will have an opportunity just waiting. I am thinking of trying to open a pitch cart at the Pier for just the summer. After 20+ years of working in magic shops, I have a long list of ideas for stores and store/entertainment venues. All I need is a partner willing to make the financial investment to give it a chance.
In the end the patrons of the pier lose out the most. Another fun experience is lost. Another piece of mismanagement by the pier, one of many I’ve seen through the years.
I plan to write more on the pier and what it can do to bring people in the doors. In the meantime, I am mounting a grass roots campaign to let Navy Pier management know what a mistake they made and, perhaps, ease my way back this summer. If you too will miss Magic Masters, please write Navy Pier. Address your letter to Bridget O'Connell Koconis or Marilynn Gardner
600 East Grand Avenue
Chicago, IL 60611