by Aaron London
It’s not sleight of hand that kept Harry Allen in business for more than a half century.
While magicians are known for keeping secrets, Allen, owner of Daytona Magic, said building a business that lasts is no trick, just dedication.
“Very simple, it’s hard work,” he said. “We’re very dedicated people.”
The business has been a Daytona Beach fixture since 1976, but the shop’s history goes back even further, first opening in 1966 in New Jersey before a move to Philadelphia and then Florida in 1976.
Allen said the shop’s first location in the Sunshine State was at the Bellair Plaza before eventually settling in at 136 S. Beach St.
Allen’s journey to success began at an early age.
“I was 9-years-old when I first walked behind the counter, literally,” he said.
Allen’s father owned a furniture store in the same mall as a magic shop and for a young boy, the allure of prestidigitation was stronger than that of home furnishing.
“As a kid you don’t want to hang out in a furniture store, you hang out in this neat store,” he said. “That’s how I grew into the magic business.”
But the road to owning a magic shop wasn’t a straight line for Allen.
“I got a real estate license and everything like that, but I figured if you have to work for the rest of your life, why not do something you like, otherwise it’s like you’re in prison,” he said.
Over the next half-century, Allen’s decision to devote his life to magic has taken him around the world to magic conventions and to perform, meeting famous magicians and celebrities along the way.
“I’ve performed around the world and met some big stars that we’ve sold to and dealt with,” he said. One of those stars was the famous comedian Henny Youngman, who introduced Allen to a lot of other celebrities.
“When there’s no virus, I’m around the world at magic conventions every three to four weeks,” Allen said. “We also put on a big magic convention every year when there’s no pandemic and people come from around the world to attend our convention.”
But lately, as the world endures the Covid-19 pandemic, that part of the business has been on hold.
While many businesses were forced to close their doors or come up with new ways to operate, Daytona Magic nimbly shifted its focus to online sales, something the shop had already been heavily involved with.
Allen said for years Daytona Magic produced a thick catalog of products that he would bring to conventions and with the advent of the Internet, the mail-order side of the business was able to expand.
“We always had a strong mail-order presence over the years, but customers switched to more online because they couldn’t leave their homes,” he said. “We were really geared up before the pandemic came, it was not something we had to do all of a sudden.”
The ability – and willingness – to adapt to changing conditions is a key to small-business success, according to J. Malcolm Richards, North Florida district director with the U.S. Small Business Administration.
“The key to survival for these businesses is the ability to change and adapt to the current climate,” Richards said. “They must consider short-term and long-term strategies for growth and success including a focus on technology. We encourage all our small business owners to work with SBA and its resource partners such as the Florida Small Business Development Center Network, SCORE, Women’s Business Centers, and the Veterans Business Outreach Center. These resources are available for small businesses at all stages of their growth.”
Allen said in addition to the store’s online presence, another reason for its enduring success is the commitment to serving magicians of all ages and skill levels.
“We’re like a supermarket of magic,” he said about the shop. With walls lined with tricks, illusions and gags, it is no wonder shoppers can find exactly what they are looking for.
“We make over 500 items including our magic kits,” Allen said. “When somebody comes in, we ask them how much (magic) they do so we can sell them something that fits them perfectly.”
With such a large range of products, that means customers can find items that fit their age and skill level. And it keeps them coming back for more.
“Repeat business is what [has kept] us in business for so long,” Allen said. “I am on the phone all day long and we literally ship around the world, to Russia, Israel, the Pacific Rim and, of course, domestically.”
While walk-ins are not as important as the online side of the business and conventions, Allen said it is still important. And recent investments by the city of Daytona Beach to Beach Street can only help bring more small businesses to the downtown area.
“In the 30 years we’ve been here, the empty stores have not changed,” he said. “So many of the other stores come and go.”
Allen said while the streetscape project and Riverfront Esplanade development are positive signs, there are still issues with the homeless population and parking that need to be addressed.
“You need to fill up the stores with proper businesses and make it easy for downtown businesses,” he said. “We have a certain amount of people that just come here for us, but it’s nice to have people that aren’t coming here just for us that stop in.”
Aaron London is a reporter and columnist who has covered business and economics for 27 years. He has worked for newspapers in Ohio and Florida and is also an adjunct professor of journalism at Daytona State College.