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Fantasma Magic: Now You See It, Now You Don't

CityGuide New York - November 2006

fantasma store photo Open sesame...abracadabra...hocus-pocus... Utter these alchemy-inducing incantations in the middle of the new, enchanting Fantasma store and you might move the floor, open secret doors, or even raise the specter of Houdini himself. (A life-sized Houdini automatronic drops out of the ceiling every 15 minutes to stage his famous straitjacket maneuver.) This shop is dedicated to electronic toys, glow-in-the-dark items, optical illusions, juggling supplies, practical jokes, and magic. The gadgets, gizmos, props, and illusionists’ supplies range from a mere $2 to $100,000 (an original Paramount movie poster, one of only five in the world, from the 1919 Houdini film, The Grim Game).

As one young visitor told us, “This is the funnest store.” But it’s in-the-know, grown-up practitioners of legerdemain who are truly bowled over. And our glee was due in no small part to the coin magic shown us by renowned performer and resident guru David Roth (you’ve seen him countless times on TV).

dave roth performing trick for boy in store photoBut this isn’t just a store selling “gimmicks.” It’s also a place where sleight-of-hand artists can “hang out and kibbitz,” as owner Roger Dreyer puts it. There are free lectures as well as classes and workshops on everything from basic magic to juggling, ventriloquism, and so on. There’s even a private party room available from anywhere from $2,000 to $20,000, depending on the entertainment selected.

Ask Dreyer, who collects Houdini memorabilia, to discuss the shop and magic, and his megawatt smile takes over. He’s performed since he was a child, “from the time kids were cheating me at cards. So my grandfather got me a deck of marked cards.”

The store houses items as diverse as starter magic kits for children five & up, charming antique automata (performing magic tricks), and even collectible, flacon-style bottles you can order with your picture custom-painted inside. There are countless versions of all types of supplies — for example, the three cups (used for the oldest trick in recorded history) come in plastic versions at $12 and also in exotic woods with mother-of-pearl inlays at $1,200 — and at every price point in between. 421 Seventh Ave. at 33rd St., 2nd flr., 212-924-8345;

Ruth J. Katz. Manhattan Living Magazine's shopping editor is one of the city's best-known experts on ferreting out great stuff for you and your home. No one knows more than she does about New York's unique services and "secret" artisans, all of whom can make your life easier and help you take care of your cherished possessions. (Write to her and let her know what you're hunting for, or what services you particularly need, and perhaps she'll address your quests in future pages.) "I was born with that extra 'retail chromosome.' I can't think of anything that's more fun than sharing my knowledge with our readers," she says.
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