Walking into J&B Magic Shop and Theater is almost like stepping into the pages of a comic book where color-splashed advertisements make outrageous claims to sell kids things like X-ray glasses, joy buzzers and fake vomit.
But at J&B, which opened last weekend in New Albany, there’s a big difference. You don’t just walk into the small store and buy a magic kit to take home; there’s always a trained magician on hand to show you the trick in action first.
“You get to be fooled first,” store owner Brent Braun says. “There’s a difference between seeing magic and feeling magic. It’s an emotional response.”
On a recent afternoon, a boy of about 10 walked into the store with his father — both admitted they were new to magic. Braun wowed the young man with a card trick in which every card the boy touched turned to the eight of hearts.
“My mind is blown,” the young man said after the entire deck changed to the same card and then back again to a normal deck.
That’s feeling the magic.
Braun’s main business is called The Magic Firm, a consulting company that works with magicians all over the country to perfect their craft. He founded the business in 2014 with a fellow magician, Daniel Martin.
In addition, Braun flies to Las Vegas several times a year to consult and appear on The CW show “Penn & Teller: Fool Us.”
J&B Magic Shop was sort of an accidental side-effect — Braun was using rented space for his consulting business, but as downtown New Albany grew, so did opportunity.
He saw plenty of restaurants and a lot of activity going on, but there was no dedicated space for entertainment.
And so the shop, which also doubles as a 30-seat live venue for magic, became the first, with the first magic shows slated for Aug. 23 and 24.
Later this year, Recbar will open a second location directly across the street, and a few blocks away, a music venue is planned as part of a renovation of Jimmy’s Music Center on Market Street, so entertainment opportunities in downtown New Albany are about to get a big boost.
The retail part of J&B Magic Shop offers a wide variety of ready-made card tricks, cup and ball sets, puzzles, pranks, books, videos and plenty more. Part of the décor involves a mannequin torso in a straightjacket, a 1950 Crosley TV cabinet that shows vintage magic via digital signage technology and a 100-year-old couch in the theater area.
Plenty of the tricks, which can be learned easily, are under $10. The young man who was mesmerized by the card trick also had a fun time with a box trick in which Braun had the young man choosing which color a block inside the box would show. Braun correctly told him each time what color he had chosen and made it plenty dramatic so the boy could, well, feel the magic.
The combination shop and venue is unique to the area, Braun says, although he notes there are similar concepts around the U.S., including one in Nashville and one in Chicago.
“I’m not the first crazy guy to do it,” the Henryville, Ind., native says with a smile.
Braun says he doesn’t plan to get rich from his store — rather, it’s part of his labor of love. His first business is consulting, which can be anything from development of new tricks — he said about 300 new magic tricks are invented each year by magicians — to writing and developing scripts for other musicians.
He doesn’t perform as often as he used to as a result, but it’s all about doing what he loves for a living.
“There’s really a huge market in magic,” he says.
The dedication to the craft he believes extends to the magicians who work with him in running the store, which he says is “Owned by magicians, for magicians.”
“I couldn’t do it without those guys,” Braun says. “They do it for love of the art.”
Braun says mail-order magic was hugely popular from the 1930s through the 1960s. It tailed off, but the access to magic through the internet — whether ordering it or watching it on YouTube — has given new life to the time-honored entertainment form, which traces its roots back to the 1840s. The shop already has sparked local interest.
On opening day, J&B Magic Shop was packed, and there were enough people inside the store on a recent weekday afternoon that it was difficult not to bump into someone in the main retail area. It’s surprising, yet it isn’t. Kids love magic, and the kids inside everyone love magic as well.
“It’s been phenomenal,” Braun says. “Business has been good. Magic is making a comeback.”
J&B Magic Shop and Theater, located at 129. E. Spring St., is open Wednesday and Thursday, noon-6 p.m.; Friday, 2-8 p.m.; and Saturday, noon-6 p.m.