LONG BEACH - After four decades of spreading sleight of hand, time has forced Presto's Magic Shop into performing one last trick.
A disappearing act.
After 34 years, the "old-time" magic shop located on Viking Way will close, probably in late February, said owner Fredric "Presto" Broder, 80.
Many factors - among them advancing age, declining health and rising rent - are combining to compel the closure of the store, which moved to its current location five years ago, he said.
The economy hasn't helped, either.
"I have yet to have what I would call a successful month here," Broder said.
Though he was a hobbyist magician as a boy, Broder, a retired speech professor at Compton City College, came to professional magic in middle age when he first visited the Magic Castle at the age of 40.
"I thought, `God, I'd love to be up there,"' he said.
So Broder began "struggling," as he put it, to learn the tricks of the trade. It wasn't long before Broder returned to the Magic Castle and bluffed his way on stage under the guise of a well-known East Coast magician.
"They didn't know it, but it was the first show I had done in my life," Broder said.
Broder was a hit and was accepted into the club. Since then, he has performed thousands of shows, not counting the demonstrations at his magic shop that he first opened on Atlantic Avenue in the late 1970s.
Inside, Presto's Magic brings to mind an old general store, deeper than it is wide, the many shelves festooned with tricks and gags. Each product has its own handwritten sign.
The front wall is lined with pictures and mementos of 40 years of life spent absorbed with legerdemain. One, of Presto the Digitator himself, is of Broder in costume, holding his detached head in the crook of his arm.
"That only hurt the first time," Broder quipped.
John Altpeter, a longtime Broder associate, said times have been tough in recent years.
Gone are the heady days at Presto's old location, where the shop had a costumery with thousands of getups.
"We're always going to have professionals come in and buy supplies," Altpeter said.
What's missing in the 21st century magic world, he said, are people who have pursued the craft beyond the teen years.
"What are they going to do, buy a new magic trick or pay the rent?" Altpeter asked.
One magic hobbyist, Robert Earl, moved to the Bay Area a few years ago.
But he said he'll always remember his trips to Presto that started when he was 12.
"Fred's one of my favorite people on the planet and an all-around great guy," said Earl, now 40.
He said he was "crushed and depressed" by news of Presto's closing.
As Earl sees it, the experience of buying magic supplies in a physical store is something that doesn't translate well into today's world of online sales.
"When you make a decision to plunk down a dollar and buy the trick, you're sort of greeted as part of the family of magicians," he said. "If you buy it from someone who loves it and tells the story of it, it has added value that's really unique."
In the waning days of Presto's Magic Shop, Broder said he feels a great sadness but is happy that he has sent "literally thousands of kids" on their way with tricks and jokes to play on their parents or friends.
Whatever he does next will be "ad-libbed," he said, but he's going to put his floor-to-ceiling inventory in storage until he can sell it all.
Until then, he'll keep wowing whoever wants to watch with his tricks, like his famous "Photo-Copy" card trick, where he changes four cards into an odd card, one-by-one.
"Watch it closely, because I wouldn't cheat you for the world," Broder says with a wink, cards in hand.
Want to go?
What: Presto's Magic Shop
Where: 4195 N. Viking Way, Suite F, Long Beach
Hours: Tuesday through Saturday, noon to 5 p.m.