Eagle Magic-man tricks the eye

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November 1, 2004 // UPDATED 4:32 pm - April 25, 2007
By: Brian Voerding
Brian Voerding

But will this be the Downtown gem's final disappearing act

Eagle Magic storeowner Larry Kahlow took time on a recent Tuesday afternoon to help a small pigtailed preschooler in a purple coat with a magic coloring book.

"Grab the book by the top corner, and flip the pages. See the pictures? Now, grab it in the middle and flip. The pictures are colored! Now, grab it by the bottom and flip. They're all gone!"

"Keeewwwl!" she exclaimed, gazing upward at the book.

"You'll have to practice this at home," he told her in the chock-full 708 Portland Ave. store. "And don't forget. You need a presentation, too." He handed her a plastic wand, free of charge. "This will help."

The girl's brother, a sandy-haired boy of 11, was already a bit more advanced. Kahlow walked the boy through a magic box trick with which he had been having trouble, and set him up with a new deck of cards and training video.

He rang up the purchases -- rather, he wrote them up and added them, longhand, on a tablet of paper receipts. The pair's father paid the bill, and they left the store.

This is how Kahlow runs his operation. It's apparently a successful formula; he's been making magic for 27 years, both in the store and as a consulting "illusionist" for local theaters. However, with the sale of the Sexton Building, which houses Eagle Magic, Kahlow wonders if it's time to hang up the store wand.

Grand illusions

"Not everyone has the pleasure of being in the same business their entire life," Kahlow said.

The small shop has been open in six Downtown locations since 1903, and has greeted countless famous magicians from Harry Houdini to David Copperfield. Kahlow first walked into the store in 1958 as a child, began his first job there 10 years later and bought the shop in 1977.

Kahlow speaks in a halting, scratched voice and dresses in a gray double-breasted suit, striped dress shirt and red tie; he looks the role of magician-turned-magic-store-owner.

Eagle Magic has the size and appearance of a small garage. Foam balls spill from plastic jugs, card decks overflow in cardboard boxes, trade magazines dating back to the '60s are stacked here and there, and a few dusty mirrors glint in the corners. It's cluttered, but not messy.

The shop isn't always bustling with customers -- "With only a bit of foot traffic, this is a destination sort of place," Kahlow elaborated -- and during the quieter hours he has time for giving advice over the phone and preparing mail order packages.

Kahlow sells everything from simple coin and colored handkerchief tricks to devices for more elaborate illusions, such as dove-concealing handkerchiefs and boxes to make people appear and disappear.

"You spin the box around, and out comes, say, a girl with red cheeks and a gingham dress," he explained over the phone one weekday afternoon to an interested customer.

"Yeah, I also have this sword-through-the-neck trick you would like," he continued after a pause.

Throughout the phone calls and store tasks, Kahlow cannot stop toying with the tricks on hand. Within the course of a half-hour, he turned nickels into dimes with a flick of his wrist, changed a scarf's hues with the snap of his finger and relocated foam balls between overturned plastic cups with a wave of his hand.

What he doesn't have, he can certainly build upon request. He has dabbled in "conceptual grand illusion," where he works with carpenters to build large-scale magic tricks for local theatre companies -- including the Guthrie Theater (725 Vineland Place), the Children's Theater Company (2400 3rd Ave. S.) and Triple Espresso (1407 Nicollet Ave.).

He said he particularly enjoyed assisting the Children's Theatre Company in the creation of a Pinocchio nose that grew and shrunk at will. "In most instances, I would like to go into the back room, put on my consulting hat, and charge $150 a comment," he said, but in reality he has done much work for free, either over the phone or in person.

All business

Magic isn't just left to the magicians and thespians, though. Kahlow gets plenty of customers from the Downtown corporate world -- "heads of industry," he calls them -- who are looking for ways to spice up presentations, trainings and celebrations. (He once set up a motivational speaker with a book that burst into flames.)

After they describe for him the industry they're in, Kahlow often gives them quips to go with the contraptions he sells them. The marriage of the gag and the presentation is of no small importance to Kahlow.

"See this flower?" He asked, holding up a long-stemmed daisy. "Watch." He blew toward the petals, and the flower wilted in his hand. "This is a great icebreaker for business meetings, but it doesn't go far without a joke. People who use the gag can say, 'Well, looks like you failed the breathalyzer, Bob.'"

Kahlow said his favorite task is helping beginners -- most often children such as the pair he assisted earlier -- get started in the right way. He sells them products he knows they can handle, and he often teaches them in the store how to use the tricks.

"Most people I've started out [on magic] have gone on to significant success," he said, gesturing to a promotional poster behind him featuring a tall blond magician standing next to his assistant and smiling grandly. "See this guy? His mom called me the other day because he doesn't want to go to college. He's having too much fun."

One last trick

When Kahlow bought Eagle Magic in 1977, he did so when he was an apprentice to the shop. Though he said he's had part-time employees in the past, he hasn't had any for years. He's concerned about who will take over the business when he prepares to retire, but right now, that isn't his most gripping headache.

Kahlow's time at this location, the Sexton Building, is limited. The building was sold recently, and Eagle Magic will be moving next spring, for the seventh time.

He isn't sure where he'll be relocating to yet, but he wants to keep his retail outfit Downtown. He said he will continue to bolster his store with its mail order arm, and he hopes to teach more classes and perhaps even begin performing professionally again, which he hasn't done in quite some time.

Whether he's based Downtown or not, Kahlow knows magic is in his blood, and he won't be considering a career change any time soon.

"[Magic] is using your creative juices to do something. It brings a lot of joy to a lot of people. And that's fun."