I used to work at a magic shop. Many people who came in said, “Oh this must be the best job in the world. It looks like you must have so much fun here.” Sure sometimes we did have fun there but the bottom line is it is still a job.
The magic shop I use to work at is a chain of magic shops in Las Vegas. The one I worked at was inside a shopping mall attached to a casino. A lot of people that come to Las Vegas seem to think that anything goes and there are no rules or common decency. They think they can do whatever they want, be rude to whoever they want, and it does not matter because it’s “Vegas baby!” so the experience of workers and magicians at places such as Denny and Lee Magic or Magic Inc. or Jimmy’s Magic Shop will most likely be dramatically different than my own experience. I used to like to say to my co-workers, “This sort of thing probably does not happen at Mall Of America“.
Zoltar machine at the front of the magic shop
People would come into the shop and demand, “Do me a trick!” They would often time come in to play what we would call ‘Bust The Magician’ where they would demand we show them a trick and they they would try to catch us mess up. As well, many people would have just seen a magic show at some casino and try to figure out how the trick was done.
Sometimes we got a lot of foot traffic past the front of the store. The general manager would call these people ‘twenty dollar bills’ as he said we should be able to get at least twenty dollars out of each of them…if they would only come in the store. Those who did come into the magic shop would more often than not be what we called ‘touchers’ as mostly what they wanted to do was come into the store and touch everything like most window shoppers will do.
Management had a way they thought would get people into the store. They set up ‘pitch stands’ at the front of the stores where an employee was supposed to stand and continuously perform magic tricks to catch the eye of people strolling by. They would give us a microphone headset at some of the locations so we could add dialogue like a carnival barker. Usually this would just cause more problems than did any good. Usually what would happen is people would walk by and if they did stop at the pitch stand it was just to demand a free show. I remember once I had a girl who walked up to the pitch stand and demanded I show her a trick other than the one I was performing at the time. Obliging I performed something else for her that she paid zero attention to. When I was done I said “There you go.” “What? Is that it? I should get more. I am cute.” Or there are those who stroll up to the pitch stand and proclaim, “It is Lisa’s first time in Vegas (or her 21st birthday or just got a divorce or whatever else) and you have to show her a trick.” Yep. That never happens at Mall Of America. Management said if the magician could attract a crowd then all of those people would come into the store and buy something. Just do three tricks and get them into the store we were told.
An enthusiastic employee at the pitch stand trying to draw a crowd.
Management said that all the selling happens at the pitch stand and that once the customer is in the store they should have already seen the three top selling tricks and all we needed to do was get them to buy a couple of them. Yeah, not so much. Many of those who came into the store, whether they saw anything at the pitch stand or not, just wanted more free show. We often got treated like we were the fountains at Bellagio or the Sirens pirate show in front of Treasure Island…just another free show.
One of the ways management got the magician / salesperson inside the store to attempt to sell more is with a bonus program. Seems like a good idea at the first look but actually caused more trouble in the end. It tempted many of the sales force to put any ethics or morals they may have had in the first place aside and do whatever it took to make a sale that qualified for a bonus, or ‘spiff’ as we called them. Management overlooked the negatives because more sales meant a bigger bottom line. The spiff program would see many of the employees trying to sell items the potential customer had no interest in or where not qualified to use just to make a $2 bonus. They would sell items to parents of children who were much too young for the item and lie directly to the customer’s face, “Oh yeah, this is perfect for a three year old.” Management did not care because after the sale was made and the customer went home and realized there was no way their child could do the trick it was too late. All sales are final. Management was not giving their money back even if the customer did come back and since they were usually a tourist from out of town odds where good they were never coming back. Management always said their top priority was repeat business. Seems to me their top priority was actually getting the money regardless of sleazy salesmanship.
Those of us who refused to actually lie to the customers watched as our weekly spiff reports, ie: extra cash in our pockets, were so much lower than the ratty, unethical employees. We would then hear from management about how we needed to work harder and how we must be slacking because others are doing so much better. For some of us, being sleazy salesmen was not the reason we got into magic.
Many of the employees are magicians who enjoy performing and will just do free shows all shift long. Many times I have seen an employee perform a half hour card routine just to have the spectator up and leave without buying a thing. Often times they are just practicing their moves so they can leave and take a position as a corporate entertainer and make some good cash. Can’t blame them for that but while they are there doing their long free shows it puts pressure on the other employees to mind the shop.
So many times I have had parents drop their children off at the store so they could have a drink at the bar on the other side of the mall. Once there was an unaccompanied child who was smacking a pain of glass on the Zoltar fortune telling machine. I told the child to stop and the child left and told the parents I scolded him. The father came over and yelled at me and told me not to tell his child what to do. He continued to yell at me and eventually spit in my face. Yes, he spit in my face. I suppose I should have just let the child hit the glass so hard it would break, cutting his wrist open and he could bleed to death in the store? Either way I would have been wrong I guess. That sort of thing does not happen at Mall of America.
I have been spit on and had my life threatened by a different man. I had several other people want to fight me for whatever reason. We had a mannequin dressed in a pink gorilla costume in the front of the store. The things people will do to that thing. I have seen people pretend to have sex with it. Both hetero and homosexual simulated sex acts. I have seen quite a few drunk people leaning on it to take a picture and knock it over. I even saw one guy run up to it and punch it so hard in the face it broke the mannequin’s nose. Good thing that was not a real person!
Notice the bored magician at the pitch stand? Maybe he could show a trick or two to the pink gorilla?
We had a display of Melissa and Doug puppets and I can not tell you how many people would come into the magic shop and perform puppet shows for each other. Often times it would take the form of marriage counseling where one
person puppet would tell the other things like, “You don’t lick me enough.” Oh the things we would hear!
It wasn’t all bad though. We did get a lot of cool people that came in including celebs like Michael Jackson, Mike Tyson and Nick Cage and many others as well as magicians from all over the world including David Copperfield, Criss Angel, Amazing Johnathan and Smoothini the Ghetto Houdini. Most were cool but one started an argument with me and told me I had no right to work in a magic store after he quizzed me with, “What is the magic capitol of the world?” I answered with ‘Las Vegas’ and he started to go off about how worthless I was as the correct answer was Colon, Michigan. Oh sure they have a magic festival for a week every year and call the town ‘The Magic Capitol of the World” but I figure he was asking a serious question about the other 51 weeks of the year. We would have people come in and give us pop quizzes on the topic of Houdini. What was his real name? Where was he born. More ‘Bust The Magician’ times. The funniest was when the people came in all convinced Houdini died while performing the Chinese Water Torture Cell. They quiz us all smug like get huffy when we correct them.
While working there I got invitations to stay with people from all over the world. I have been invited to Fiji, South Africa, India and many other places.
Management installed cameras throughout the shops. They told us it was for after hours security as one employee with a key came in late after the store closed and stole money from the safe. The IT guy told me it was so management could monitor us during work hours. Many of the employees got very paranoid and were constantly looking up at the camera to see if the tell-tale red light was flashing, indicating whether we were being watched or not.
Notice the bored magician? Maybe he could show his co-worker a trick?
Many of the employees would come into work high on drugs or would drink or smoke weed while at work. Don’t get me wrong. There were a few good apples there. One was Don. I think he actually liked working there. All the customers loved him and he seemed to enjoy being there. He even got some really nice reviews on Yelp although management accused him of writing them himself.
At the end of the day, for most of us it was just a job. A place we could be around magic, something we loved to perform and watch being performed. Sadly the people that came into the magic shop spoiled it for most of us. What does it tell you about a company when probably 90% of your employees do not want to be there and are planning to leave?
Have you ever worked at this particular magic shop or any other magic shop? What was your experience? Share your thoughts in the comments. Would love to hear from you.
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If you are looking to order magic tricks on line, do so at a company you can trust such as Jimmy’s Magic Shop or Magic Inc. or Denny and Lee.
If you would like to read more about this particular magic shop please read these two articles from Magic Leaks: “The Decline of Western Magic” and “Real Life in a Magic Shop”
(The images I used in this post of Houdini’s Magic Shop were taken from various places on the internet including Magic Leaks, the Las Vegas Review Journal and various other websites and should be considered available for use by the general public. I do not personally own the images and to the best of my knowledge neither does the magic shop.)