written by kevin savage
A Huntington magic store and costume rental shop is a national success story
You may not be familiar with Ken Fox or Ken Epperly, or their downtown Huntington business, but chances are you’ve seen their work. If you’ve caught a ballgame, attended a theatrical production, church play or even turned on your television, you’ve probably seen examples of their craftsmanship. But you haven’t seen anything until you’ve seen their monkey.
Magic Makers, located at 545 Fourth Avenue, is much more than a magic store, more than a costume rental shop. It is a complete factory, warehouse, retail and rental shop and mail order business all under one roof. They sell magic tricks, create animal mascots and supply theatre and stage productions large and small. It’s all made possible by a full-time staff of six, including a magician, seamstress, and costumer/historian. Fox says they work from one order to the next, and every order presents a new challenge.
The business began nearly 25 years ago when Fox and Epperly were both performing magicians. Back in the good ol’ days, they opened a magic shop at Johnson Plaza in Barboursville, in a 10 foot wide space. After moving to a larger store next door, they started selling costumes, and later opened a second location at the Huntington Mall. After business dwindled in Barboursville, they moved to the Frederick Building in downtown Huntington, eventually relocating to the upstairs ballroom, where they remained for 16 years. Being off the street helped develop their mail order business, which comprises the majority of their business today.
They bought the current 24,000 square foot building, at 545 Fourth Ave., four years ago.
The space was needed to house the extensive inventory of costumes and retail items, and provide additional workspace for the six full-time employees.
Fox says that although the store is never empty, Halloween is by far the busiest time, when the staff swells from 6 to 14, and business hours are extended. Some of the additional Halloween staffers return every year – like the retired grandmother who looks forward to slinking around the store each year wearing a sexy nurse costume or cat suit.
The name Magic Makers, Inc. National Costume Supply House, was chosen to enhance the national image of the store.
“Years ago we had a goal to open up a costume shop in every capital city in all 50 states,” Fox says. Now, because of their website and because they advertise in the Yellow pages of every major city, as well as toll-free directories and trade magazines, they have virtually achieved that goal. “We literally compete with every costume shop in the nation and the world because we have it all and ship it the same day.” Magic Makers won’t take an order if they don’t think they can fill it on time, and they’ve never been late with an order for a theatrical production. The attention to prompt, courteous service has paid off, with over 1,500 customers nationwide. Fox describes a sight he loves to see: 20 or 30 boxes waiting to be shipped to California, Iowa, Scotland, or wherever on a daily basis, after the web, phone and fax orders have been processed.
“We are the only store we know of worldwide that has the entire inventory online.” The website is maintained by the staff and contains over 5,000 web pages, with photos of every item. Magic Makers recently filled their most prestigious rental order when they supplied 14 custom-made uniforms to the U.S. Army for flag bearers to wear during a ceremony at the embassy in Pristina, Kosovo, which was televised to two million viewers.
The main floor of their facility is devoted to retail, with the bulk of the space taken by costume items on display. There are complete packaged costumes, as well as individual pieces like gloves, wigs and more hats than one can imagine. Although they carry an array of full-face masks, Fox says the individual prosthetic pieces and make-up have become more popular. They often get undercover police officers needing a disguise, but there are many other interesting examples. Like the grandfather, for instance, flying to Phoenix to kidnap his grandson back for his daughter. Or the woman from the mortuary that needed just the right mustache to replace the real one the mortician had mistakenly shaved off. One woman wanted a set of fake lips to use in a pig-kissing contest. Fox’s favorite was the soon-to-be bride seeking make-up to cover her fiancé’s tattoo – on his forehead.
Additional space downstairs is dedicated to workshops, such as the sewing room where the animal mascots are made. They supply mascots for various universities, banks and lotteries, and have an exclusive contract for the Blimpie’s Subs bear.
Individual animal parts are popular too. The San Diego Zoo, for example, orders 7,000 zebra and tiger tails every year for a Mother’s Day promotion. Someone recently wanted 5,000 pig noses. “That really throws off your animal nose count for the year,” says Fox.
And then there is the monkey-room, complete with a monkey-window looking out onto the street, and of course, a real monkey.
For 21 years, Casey the monkey has come to work everyday with his owners. For the past 19 years, he was accompanied by his monkey-companion, Dusty, who recently passed away. Casey and Dusty’s finest hour was perhaps this past January when Magic Makers supplied 60 costumes for a million-dollar extravaganza at the Greenbrier. Celebrities were flown in from Vegas, and the ballroom was transformed into the Coconut Grove. The monkeys got to walk across the stage with their owners, all wearing Moroccan costumes.
The upstairs portion of the building houses the inventory of more than 10,000 costume pieces available for rental. Fox and the staff made 90 percent of the costumes, while the others are authentic ceremonial and traditional wear from around the world.
Every item is numbered according to the Dewey Decimal System by year, from cavemen to present. Fox tells people: “We’re not the biggest costume shop or the best, but we’re the most organized.” Magic Makers is also one of the few companies that carry rentals just for children; they have about 300 that are the same quality as the adult versions.
Stashed in one corner upstairs is Fox’s cache of 630 stage plots, essentially blueprints of a theatrical production, all alphabetized. Some are from Europe and date back to the late 1800s. He also has rare scrapbooks and albums of stage photos and movie stills, which can be used for reference. “If any director calls for a show or play, I go to my files and I can tell them exactly what they need.”
No tour of the facility would be complete without a visit to “the tomb,” which contains recreations Fox made of the contents of the tomb of Tutankhamun, from the artifacts to the actual mummy, as well as other Egyptian items he has acquired. He became interested in Egyptology through his exposure to Egyptian mysteries as a magician. Thousands of school children came to see the pieces as part of an exhibit in the basement of the Frederick Building, photos of which may be viewed on the website.
So, if you’re staging a production of Moulin Rouge, need 60 bunny suits or Elvis in any size, no matter where you live, just log onto www.magicmakers.com, and your order will be at your door as soon as possible. But if you happen to be in town, you owe it to yourself to come into the store and look around, even if you don’t need a leather Wonder Woman costume or a pink gorilla suit. Ken Fox, costumer, historian and Egyptologist, will be more than happy to give you the fascinating tour. See the monkey. See the mummy. See how magic is made.
Office Box 384 Huntington, WV 25708-0384