Presto performs a magic trick in his Long Beach shop. Photos by Jason Ruiz.
The tight quarters of Presto Magic shop--a wonderland of squirting calculators, jumping bandaged fingers and other tricks and gags--has become even more intimate with the influx of customers hoping to make one last magical purchase before the shop is shuttered for good Friday.
They shuffle through the stacks of magic starter kits, comic books and figurines to sift through the bargain-priced tricks and exchange stories how this shop has served as a hub for local magicians for the past 30 years. No one leaves without saying a final goodbye to their dear friend, Presto.
Fred “Presto” Broder, the bearded, blue-eyed wizard is not yet gone, but his shop is in its final days. The way he still greets the customers who have flocked to his shop recently to bid adieu would make you believe it was the grand opening instead of the final act of Presto Magic. And although he is “surprised and shocked” at the turnout, he sees no reason in changing his approach to business because being friendly and engaging toward his customers is all he’s ever known.
“I want people to enjoy coming here,“ Presto said. “That’s the big thing. Of all of my secrets, getting people to enjoy what you’re doing is the ultimate. And that means whether I’m doing a magic trick or anything…including running this store.”
His magic shop had its modest beginnings as a small display on the countertop of his mother’s used book store, a store he took over after she suffered a stroke. He used the small display of tricks and books as a way to reconnect with his passion that he discovered as a 12-year-old boy growing up in Saranac Lake, New York. But Presto is also the first to point out that it was also a way for a young, struggling businessman to purchase magic at a cheaper, wholesale price.
“It was a very sneaky way of doing things,” he said as he shuffled a deck of playing cards in his nimble hands.
Eventually he lost his mother’s bookstore in the '80s and was offered a discounted rent for a space on Atlantic Avenue. There, he created what he regarded as the biggest magic shop on the West Coast as he dove deeper into the magic scene, working as a speech professor at Compton College by day and performing at the Magic Castle in Hollywood by night. Presto developed a reputation as a magician that reached farther than any extendable tissue paper trick.
Erik Cougar has been shopping at Presto Magic since 1982. While digging through what’s left of the magic books this week, he recalled a time that two men in military fatigues walked into Presto’s shop. One soldier, who was from the South, was so excited to be stationed close enough to Presto’s store that he drove all the way from base just to shake the magician’s hand. Cougar has drawers full of tricks that he’s stored away since he started shopping and although he’s saddened that such an important piece of the magic community is going away, he knew it was time.
“It’s something of an anachronism,” Cougar said of Presto Magic. “I just think that the way things have changed with technology and entertainment…I’m not so sure you’re ever going to see this again. I think in a way, this shop has outlived its time and outlived its kind.”
Rising rents and city planning lead his store to its current residence at 4195 N. Viking Way, a location he owned until five years ago. Since then, Presto out of necessity has rented his space. But a combination of the failing health of his wife, his own “wobbly” condition and the tiresome smoke and mirrors act of trying to make ends meet have lead this old wizard to the decision that now is the time to close.
The seemingly thousands of tricks, most of which have hand drawn descriptions of the secrets that lie within the box, are set for a date with a storage bin. The thought of converting to an online store has never crossed the mind of Presto because in his words, he’s old, he hates online and he hates computers, But more than that, there’s no intimacy on the web and to Presto, magic doesn’t exist without it.
“What magic takes is the personal contact,” Presto said. You can buy a trick but that doesn’t mean you’re going to be able to figure out how to work it.”
As Friday approaches--seemingly with an end of an era in tow--there are many things the magician will miss about his shop. He’ll miss performing the Photo Copy Card trick he invented, mesmerizing children and adults alike as he changes five two of clubs in five three of diamonds. He’ll miss fostering the love for magic in those curious enough to wander into his shop for the first time. But most of all, he’ll miss what most people take for granted: getting up in the morning to go to work.
“When you get to be old, you sit back in your rocking chair and you rock back and forth and that gests you nowhere,” Presto said. “This store has kept me going.”