The Magic is Gone, but a New Store Blooms in Elmhurst
Bob James: "Because I owned a magic shop, I was able to offer private parties for children. Working out of the house, I’m pretty much the same as all of the other entertainers ... (People) don't know one entertainer from another. They go by price."
The popular saying, “When one door closes, another door opens,” is literally true as businesses come and go in a stubbornly depressed economy.
Bob James Magic Shop, at 131 W. First St., closed in 2010. This year, Silvia Maino takes over that spot with a European, full-service floral and gift shop. Topiary Floral Designs opens Dec. 1.
Maino, an Indian Head Park resident, explained how Topiary’s roots lie in Europe.
“Centuries ago, when Europeans started gardening, they didn’t have much land and they did topiary landscape designs,” Maino said.
They would grow their trees against walls and hand prune them so they wouldn’t grow out and take up too much room, she said.
"It would take a lot of labor to cut and trim into shape. That’s what a topiary is," she said. "Also, the Europeans did a lot of formal gardens.”
Exploring a creative side to work was always a draw to Maino. Born in Argentina to a Spanish mother and an Italian father, the family came to Chicago in 1960 to live near her father’s relatives and to have a better life. Seeing her father, Jose, do the gardening and landscaping at home gave her an appreciation for caring for nature and seeing its beauty.
“I really loved selling real estate but no matter what I did in the past two years, it failed. The market has declined. I had listings but they weren’t selling. I had calls but nothing really positive would develop.”
“I was always anxious around springtime to see him get started,” she said. “I liked to watch him garden and I loved when he would harvest everything and be proud of his products that he grew. My mother, Raquel, being Latin, would always have the brightest red tulips in the front of the house.”
Silvia Maino’s first career was not at a floral shop. She was a hairdresser and salon owner. She left that career to raise a family.
When her children were in middle school, from 1994 to 1999, Maino studied business and horticulture at College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn and earned a certificate in floral shop management.
During that time, she worked at Dominick’s floral shop in Western Springs while living in LaGrange. While gaining confidence and experience, Maino’s desire was to work at her favorite full-service flower shop: Sweet Pea Floral in LaGrange.
“I remember going there for La Grange’s Christmas Walk and just falling in love with the whole atmosphere,” Maino said. “The owner designed her store as a European flower shop. It’s still there. I went in and applied for a job. I was just very eager and convincing. I invited the owner to my home and she hired me. I convinced her even though I didn’t have a lot of experience, and she saw that I was very passionate about the business.”
From 1996 to 2000, Maino worked on merchandise floral and product displays and did some floral decorating for parties. She then left to take care of her newborn son and family. After some time, she wanted to go back to work to pay for her children’s college education. Putting on her creative cap, she and her husband bought some land, built a home and sold it to gain profit.
That experience led Maino into the real estate field in 2004. This year, she became a real estate broker. Unfortunately, the depressed real estate market stalled her new career.
“I really loved selling real estate but no matter what I did in the past two years failed,” she said. “I just wasn’t able to be a top producer, which I was in the previous year. As an agent, I received awards. I loved working with people. Now, the market has declined. I had listings but they weren’t selling. I had calls but nothing really positive would develop.”
After doing her job for two years, it was again time for a change of scenery.
Planting an Idea
Maino remembered her passion for flowers and her love of business. She married the two to create a new career: operating her own floral shop.
“I had come to a point where I had to work independently, to where I control the finished product,” she said. “I’m not afraid to go into business. The reason why I didn’t work for another floral shop was because with all of my life’s experiences, I feel confident that I can handle a business. I’ve done it before.”
She looked for locations near her home, but when she came to Elmhurst, she didn’t see a floral shop in the city’s downtown area. Maino found the perfect location, the former Bob James Magic Shop. The space was an ideal setting since it was on a corner lot and across from the busy Metra station. This equaled potentially high visibility for her.
Maino believes her business will succeed because of her location, business theme, inventory of specific imported products, affordable services and, most importantly, herself.
“I excel in business as I work with people and clients and really listen to them,” she said. “My new shop is really an example of my whole life’s work. It’s everything that I’ve done. I have a love and a passion for the work but it’s also having a business sense and compassion for people who are coming into to my shop. I think I can sell flowers and be successful because of (my) personality and passion for my work.”
With a Tip of His Magic Hat
When Bob James closed his magic shop, he ended an 18-year stay in Elmhurst. Changes in the magic industry made James, a professional magician and Elmhurst resident, see the financial writing on the wall.
“The magic industry started to not become so popular with the birth of the Internet and video,” he said. “I think the enthusiasts are getting into the high-tech stuff. Younger people who like to learn magic would rather play a video game and try to go from level to level rather than to open instructions, practice and read. There’s something to be said about this, since magic requires a little bit of work.”
Besides the shift to technology, the economy also affected James. With the majority of his business coming from the entertainment side rather than the retail side, it was easier to work from home. James is known for his children’s private parties. Guests used to visit the shop’s theater and learn how to do age-appropriate magic tricks that they took home and performed for families and friends. Pizzas, drinks and a cake were provided by local vendors.
“It was amazing because these were gift bags that were unlike any other gift bags; these items wouldn’t wind up along the baseboard of the bedroom,” he said. “These kids would treasure the tricks once someone took the time to show them how exciting it would be to fool someone else, like grandpa or a teacher.”
Last year, he created a web site where people can contact him for parties and special events. It was not an easy transition to go from a long established brick and mortar store to a home-based business.
“I always prided myself in having something that other local magicians who work in the Chicago metropolitan area didn’t have,” James said. “I had a location and visibility. Because I owned a magic shop, I was able to offer private parties for children and Cub Scouts. Working out of the house, I’m pretty much the same as all of the other entertainers from the standpoint of people looking for some entertainment for their parties. They don’t know one entertainer from another; they go by price. I think a lot of people think that all magicians are the same. It’s difficult.”
James is looking into purchasing an eatery that would let him continue offering his special children’s parties. The magic shop concept, though, is out of the question.
“Back in the 1990s, if you wanted a magic kit, you had to go to a magic shop or a specialty store,” he said. “If you want a magic kit now, you go to Walgreens where everything is made in China or Taiwan. For almost 20 years, we sold a magic kit that was manufactured exclusively in Chicago.”
He appreciated his store’s location, which gave him visibility and built-in recognition by many Elmhurst residents.
“It was a very unique and unusual store,” he said. “It was extremely family-oriented and it had some cool stuff too. I had a theater, party room and a secret bookcase that (opened) into the theater. I had unique things that nobody else had.”
You can find more articles from this ongoing series, “Dispatches: The Changing Amerian Dream” from across the country at The Huffington Post.