Sorcery, secrets and surprises: inside London’s last magic shop

A red painted door leads into a little known corner of magic in London.

International Magic, created in the early 1960s, is the last remaining magic shop in the capital. 

The family business, run by Martin MacMillan and founded by his father, Ron MacMillan, was once one of at least eight other magic shops, but changing high streets have squeezed out all but one.

“That’s a sign of the times,” MacMillan said. “It’s down to us now. I love it, so I’m still here.”

Watch: Inside London’s last remaining magic shop

He is lucky – the building in Clerkenwell, east London, is council-owned, which keeps rent stable. Many of his employees were customers first before they started working at the shop.

“Magic is a small world,” he said. “Customers tend to be friends, or tourists.”

Although sales in magic are not exactly big business, MacMillan insists it is enough for him.

“I don’t have as many expenses as a younger person would need,” he said.

Magic, he said, has changed over time. Although it was traditionally male dominated, it has become popular with women and girls.

“There’s a tremendous amount of women in magic now,” MacMillan said. “And there’s a lot of young girls who magic appeals to where it used to be mainly young boys.”

The shop has adapted to the modern world with its own website. One advantage, according to MacMillan, is that the internet has made magic more accessible to children and adults all over the world.

“Magic is easier to get into now,” he said. “It used to take an effort. Online presence for us is vital now.”

But the real secrets, he insists, are still found in books. And as much as things change, a magician never reveals his secrets.

“If I told you how something worked immediately after you had that amazement of watching the magic, that would deflate the thing, not improve it,” he said, after demonstrating a trick producing flowers from seemingly empty bags.

That sense of surprise and wonder is what MacMillan loves most about magic — and the reason why he thinks it is here to stay.

“I think magic has a great future,” he said. “It’s more popular than ever. Let’s face it the world needs a bit of that at the moment.”

Featured image: Phyllis Akalin

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