Monday, July 17, 2006

Hot Off the Presses

Greetings from the hottest city in California! It's only 112 degrees here today, and that's in the shade! We're doing our best to keep cool with the impending threats of rolling blackouts hitting us daily. Tuesday afternoon, it was a sweltering 116 degrees here and just down the street, a main transformer blew out, plunging us all into darkness. Over 85,000 homes and businesses were without power for a few hours until backup arrived. Fortunately for us, it was the end of the business day, and we didn't have to suffer all that much. Wednesday morning, all was returned to normal as power was restored and it was full steam ahead.

You may recall several weeks ago that I mentioned that a local newspaper reporter was coming to do a story on Hocus Pocus. It ran as a feature article in last Sunday's paper and we posted it below for you to read!

Shopping Magic

A Fresno store sells its tricks worldwide.

(Updated Sunday, July 16, 2006, 7:09 AM)

For years, local amateur magicians and professional prestidigitators from around the country and around the world have crowded into the small Hocus Pocus Magic Shop in Fresno.

The unassuming building, just a cloud of dust away from busy McKinley Avenue, has served as both the base for a hefty mail-order business and busy in-store traffic.

The shop's owner, Paul Gross, is able to pull a dove out of thin air. That skill didn't help him when he had to figure out a way to squeeze one more magic book, prop or client into the shop's small space.

The need for more space comes from the growth of the business every year. What started as a small shop for local magicians and consumers has grown to an internationally-known business.

"There are magicians from Europe who will take a day or two when they come to the United States to make a trip to Fresno," Gross says. "We have magicians from all over the United States visit all the time."

That long-distance appreciation coupled with local interest and a booming Internet business has made Hocus Pocus a major hub for the world of magic.

Magicians outside the central San Joaquin Valley found out about the local store through advertisements in national magic magazines or through word-of-mouth praise from the tight-knit magic community.

"Over the past 10 years, Hocus Pocus has become one of, if not the, biggest magic dealers in the country. It has become a gathering place for magicians, but not necessarily in person. Most is done through the Internet," says Louis Hirshorn, a Los Angeles resident and amateur magician. "It is sad to see all of the magic shops that are either downsizing or going out of business.

"It is great to see that Paul's shop is growing."

Hirshorn, who works in the music licensing department at Disney, has been ordering magic items from Gross for years. He explains that one of the big reasons Hocus Pocus has grown is the professional way the company does business, combined with some of the best customer service Hirshorn ever has seen.

What started out as a business relationship between Hirshorn and the Hocus Pocus staff has turned into a close friendship. On a recent buying trip here, Hirshorn ended up staying at Gross' home during the weekend visit.

The new location of Hocus Pocus has a showroom featuring magic props. The Internet has worked magic on the once-small, locals-only store; it now is a worldwide supplier to famous magicians and others.
The new location of Hocus Pocus has a showroom featuring magic props. The Internet has worked magic on the once-small, locals-only store; it now is a worldwide supplier to famous magicians and others.

"They are part of my magic family," Hirshorn adds.

While in Fresno, Hirshorn got to see the new site for Hocus Pocus. A building was found just a few blocks from the previous site. Gross moved his shop — lock, stock and wand — to the new location two months ago. He had been in the previous location for 10 years.

The size of the new building is as different as a card trick is from making an elephant disappear.

"We wanted to move a few years ago, but the landlord didn't want us to go. We stayed for a while, but the space just was too small," Gross says.

The previous location was 3,800 square feet. Gross moved the business into that location in 1998 from a shop that was only 650 square feet. Both of the previous homes for Hocus Pocus could be placed inside the new shop that covers 10,000 square feet.

A factor in the growth has been the recent surge in interest in magic. Large touring shows and television specials featuring the likes of David Copperfield, David Blaine, Criss Angel, and Lance Burton have sparked interest in magic and illusions.

The larger shop space also matches the ever-expanding love Gross has for the world of magic. He started as a performer 45 years ago after his grandfather took him to see a vaudeville show at Fresno's White Theater. His greatest inspiration was local magician Don Olson, who worked with Houdini and Harry Blackstone Sr.

Gross opened his first magic store in November 1974. His clients were local magicians who would come by to see the latest card trick or new illusion. There's less off-the-street traffic these days. The doors are open to those who want to buy the latest magic trick. But it's necessary to call in advance because most of the day is devoted to filling mail orders. By late afternoon, all of that day's shipments have been sent out the door.

But there are those who just stop by the store. Just recently, the road crew for Ozzfest stopped by to purchase items to be incorporated into the traveling rock show.

The mail-order side is the lion's share of the shop's business. Items get shipped to the four corners of the planet because of Internet shopping.

Gross estimates that 38% of the shop's business goes to overseas buyers.

What has attracted the booming interest by so many professional and amateur magicians are the huge shelves packed with a wide assortment of magic items: The Face by Borodin, The Breath of Fate, The Super Chair and The Black Widow Fire Purse.

If you have to ask what those items are, then it is better to stick with simple decks of cards and small magic rings.

"Paul has even made deals with magic creators to be the exclusive dealer of certain magic tricks," Hirshorn says.

The booming business didn't just cause a need for more space. Gross finally decided he needed to get some professional help.

"This is a specialized business. We just can't hire anybody. They have to have knowledge. Finding someone to fit the bill was difficult," Gross says.

Magician Tony Blanco agreed to leave the magic circuit in Las Vegas to join the shop staff a year ago. He had been a client of Hocus Pocus Magic for years.

"A lot of other magic shops have closed in recent years. They did not jump on the Internet part of the business, and that was a big mistake," Blanco says.

Just like Gross, Blanco found magic at a very early age. He got his first magic kit when he was 7. But it wasn't until he was a teenager that Blanco got serious about magic. His first paying job was as a street performer in New York's Central Park.

Blanco is a graduate of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Clown College. The skilled magic prop, puppet and costume designer and builder has been performing since 1977. In Las Vegas, he worked at Circus Circus, the Riviera, Dunes, Harrahs and Excalibur.

"It is great having him here. He works with all the customers. Tony has all kinds of patience," Gross says. "He also has a lot of talents. He can juggle, ride a unicycle, and if we need something built, he can do it. He is certainly a jack-of-all-trades."

Blanco is happy he made the move to Fresno. His work at the shop allows him to deal with some of the biggest names in magic. Past clients have ranged from Doug Henning to David Copperfield. Blanco also performs at local parties, business meetings and other events that need a little magic.

"Magic takes you to places you never thought you would be going. That's one of the things I have loved about being a magician," Blanco says. He's talking about how his interest in magic led to training in such diverse areas as stilt walking, fire-eating and writing.

Blanco also could be talking about his moves from New York to Las Vegas to Fresno.

Another plus of moving to the new building is that Gross now has a place to display his collection of vintage magic props, games, books and other items. The majority of the magic memorabilia had to be stored at the other location.

Blanco points to a stack of cases against the outside wall of Gross' office.

"That was the heaviest thing we moved," Blanco says.

Inside the cases were the items needed for a plate- spinning act. Previously, the items were stored out of sight. Now, the ultra heavy plates are on display.

One of the biggest items on display is a chalkboard used by Harry Blackstone Jr. Gross recalls fondly how he had the chance on two occasions to be an audience participant for a trick when Blackstone visited Fresno.

One of the things that Gross wants to pass on to customers is the thrill of being part of an illusion. The new building is giving Gross a hands-on way to do that. Magic classes are going to be offered for those interested in learning a little sleight-of-hand.

The four-week adult workshops will be held Thursdays starting at 7 p.m. Aug. 17. A childrens workshop will be held Saturdays starting at 9 a.m. Aug. 19. The price for the program, including all props needed, is $100.

The reason the classes are being added, says Gross, is that interest in magic has been on the rise in the past five years. His proof is the new larger space for the magic shop.

Paul Gross owns the Hocus Pocus shop, which is plastered with posters of famous magicians, many of them personal friends of Gross.

For more information on the local magic shop, go to

The weather reports a high of 119 degrees this weekend! WOW! Try to stay cool and keep us all in your prayers.

Until next time,


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