My Toronto

I al­ways have at least one magic mo­ment at my favourite T.O. store

NOW Magazine - Best of Toronto - - Retail - By PAUL QUAR­RING­TON

You can buy milk, bread, liquor, things that slake thirst and other com­mon­place hungers, at lots of places. But at the Browser’s Den (875 Eglin­ton West, 416-783-7022) you can feed your sense of won­der.

I en­ter the shop and ex­change pleas­antries with the pro­pri­etor, a young man named Jeff Pin­sky.

“What’s new?” I ask, and he goes to a felt-cov­ered box, lifts the lid, reaches in­side and an­nounces, “This is pretty good.”

One thing I love about magic is that it’s full of se­crets and ar­cana, and although raw in­for­ma­tion can be trans­ferred us­ing our spiffy new me­dia, se­crets and ar­cana re­quire more tra­di­tional means: books, for ex­am­ple, and places of con­gre­ga­tion like the Browser’s Den.

Now, for ex­am­ple, two or three other cus­tomers who have been in­spect­ing the mer­chan­dise suspended from the walls or read­ing the spines of the many books on dis­play ea­gerly turn their at­ten­tion to Jeff. But at a card ta­ble in the mid­dle of the shop, a group of young men not yet out of their teens con­tinue to show each other passes, con­trols and false shuf­fles. They’ve al­ready seen what’s new.

This is my favourite magic shop. It’s been in busi­ness for 30 years, not al­ways at its cur­rent lo­ca­tion. It was opened by the late Len Cooper, a trans­planted Brook­lynite who re­sem­bled a beefy Grou­cho Marx. “Are you a re­li­gious per­son?” Jeff de­mands. I shrug. “Not re­ally.” “Well, this may change your mind.” Jeff holds up two over­sized metal wash­ers and shows me that both have a hole drilled in the cen­tre. “It’s a very holy ex­pe­ri­ence.” Jeff af­fects a rather dead­pan man­ner when he demon­strates the magic tricks, in homage to the ex­tremely droll Len Cooper, from whom he pur­chased the shop 10 years ago. Cooper grew up fre­quent­ing the leg­endary Tan­nen’s Magic Shop in New York City, and un­der­stood that such es­tab­lish­ments are about much more than trade and cus­tom. “Hold out your hand,” Jeff in­structs me. He places one of the wash­ers on my palm, then folds my hand closed. Then he cov­ers the hole of the other washer with his own thumb and fore­fin­ger, keep­ing the rest of the metal disc in view. He pulls those fin­gers away, and there is no longer a hole in the washer. Jeff in­structs me to open my hand – my washer now has two holes drilled through it. “Wow,” I whis­per. “That's one of Jay’s,” Jeff tells me, mean­ing Jay Sankey, a lo­cal ma­gi­cian re­spon­si­ble for an as­tound­ing num­ber of as­tound­ing ef­fects.

I want to men­tion that Toronto is in­deed a won­der­fully mag­i­cal city. In ad­di­tion to the end­lessly in­ven­tive Sankey, there’s the men­tal­ist James Biss, who works tire­lessly at cre­at­ing a Mag­i­cal Arts Fes­ti­val in Toronto and es­tab­lish­ing per­form­ers in down­town venues; Bal­dini, who has man­aged to get into many of those venues; Magic Mike, who runs a magic camp for kids; and, of course, the in­ter­na­tion­ally renowned David Ben.

The rea­son I like magic shops in gen­eral and the Browser’s Den in par­tic­u­lar has ev­ery­thing to do with that whis­pered “Wow.”

I mean, im­me­di­ately af­ter­wards I start think­ing of ways the thing might be ac­com­plished, telling my­self, as we all do, that it was just a trick.

But there was that small mo­ment when all I could do was whis­per “Wow.”

Paul Quar­ring­ton can al­ways get a kick out of a trick at the Browser’s Den.

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