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Local family business still making magic

Stoner’s Fun Store, this area’s magic headquarters since 1949, is celebrating its 75th anniversary with a city-wide block party on Saturday, June 29.

Four generations of Stoner family have passed through the doors of this familiar downtown Fort Wayne location, since Albert Stoner officially opened “Stoner’s Magic Shop” for business.

Besides magic supplies and lessons, the store specializes in costumes, theatrical makeup, and a full assortment of jokes & novelties, making it easy to live up to its reputation, which is all about the FUN!

Here, WBOI’s Julia Meek discusses the continued magical presence and staying power of this iconic landmark, as well as the craft itself with current owner, the legendary stage magician, Dick Stoner and his grandson, Colin Haines.

Event Information:

Stoner’s Fun Store 75th Anniversary Block Party
@ 712 S. Harrison Street, Fort Wayne
Saturday, June 29
11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
Admission is free and open to the public

For more information visit the Stoner’s Fun Store website or Facebook page.

Courtesy/Stoner's Fun Store
Classic view of Dick Stoner, working the magic

Here is a transcription of our conversation.

Julia Meek: Dick Stoner, Colin Haines, welcome.

Colin Haines: Hi.

Dick Stoner: Hi!

Julia Meek: Now, both of you have been making magic most of your lives and Dick, your fun store, where it all begins, is turning 75 years old this month! In a few words, magic or otherwise, what does that feel like?

Dick Stoner: (chuckles) It feels good to know that what you've been doing is working for people and making people laugh and have fun. That's why we call it fun store. (all laugh)

Julia Meek: 75 is quite a milestone. Congratulations! Now Colin, what's it like to grow up with a wizard of a granddad like Dick?

Colin Haines: Well, when you grow up with a magician for a grandpa, and my dad as well, you think that's normal, and that everyone's dad and grandpa's a magician. So when I got a little older and realized this wasn't everyone's normal, I felt very grateful. (all chuckle)

Julia Meek: And again, the magic was happening.

Colin Haines: Oh, yeah!

Julia Meek: That's quite something. Now in full disclosure, you are currently working on Dick's bio, Collin; there's an odyssey. Some might say that you're the real magician, if you manage to pull that off. Exactly what drives you to do this?

Colin Haines: Well, growing up, I'd hear so many crazy stories about his time working in magic with different celebrities or on the road. And people would ask him, do you have a book? Do you have a book?

And he'd say no, no. And eventually, I thought, well, this is a story that so many people want to hear and read. I might as well be the one to do it.

Julia Meek: Well, you do have an inside edge. I know that you're a, "special musician, an amateur magician. And a would-be comedian."

Colin Haines: Yes.

Julia Meek: Now, that's quite a, well, some would say you've got the genetic thing going on here. So, fair and square, you feel that you can get this job done?

Colin Haines: Yeah.

Julia Meek: That's perfect. Now, okay, we're going to have to read that oversized volume once it's ready to get your larger-than-life story Dick. But I'll note that it does include performance photos of you at 13, official ones. When did it all begin to hook you? How early did you know that it was your life's passion?

Dick Stoner: Well, I guess I was about 13-14. I'd be around magic with my dad and I'd say, well show me how to do something. And he show me that and then I'd do it, and it became fun and to fool people and it went on from there.

Julia Meek: So you were always encouraged?

Dick Stoner: Mmmhhmm.

Julia Meek: When did you have a first little kid magic trick in your little kid hands?

Dick Stoner: Oh, I don't recall any one particular thing. But you know, we always had a little magic trick we could do and dad would help me with it, and it was fun.

Julia Meek: Did you feel like Colin did, if it was always in the house it was just the thing to do?

Dick Stoner: Exactly, yeah, sure. Dad would encourage me a lot.

Julia Meek: So it's nature and nurture, we're hearing, at least for this family? (all chuckle) So Dick's career through decades of innovation was a wild ride, Colin, from stage to store to TV and beyond.

As you research everything, how are you seeing that it shaped his act? He's got a pretty amazing act by now. And, and how did his act shape him, by the way?

Colin Haines: Well, his act pretty much stayed the same ever since 1940 something, when he started. Over the years, it's different, adding tricks in gradually.

But the thing is, when he's on stage, he's the same person he is off stage. So, when I'd see him up doing tricks, and he'd come off, there's no character when he goes up. It's the same person.

Julia Meek: And everybody agrees, Dick's, a funny guy.

Colin Haines: Yeah! (chuckles)

Julia Meek: Is that natural, Dick? (all laugh) Is that something that you've always felt comfortable?

 
Dick Stoner: Well, I realized that comedy drew people in and made them want to watch, and then, that's what worked to make me keep doing the magic.

Julia Meek: So the comedy might be the more magic part than some of the tricks that you're doing?

Dick Stoner: Mmmhhhhmm.

Julia Meek: What does it take once you have them hooked in and on your side with the comedy? How much of their belief or maybe their attention--what is suspended so that you can then work your super magic?

Dick Stoner: Well, they, you surprise them and that, they don't know what to think? And they laugh and that makes you feel good, and then you keep on going.

Julia Meek: And it makes them think that you're the funniest, but also the most talented magician.

Dick Stoner: Yup, right, mmmhhmm.

Julia Meek: Amazing. Are you catching some of these secrets as you work with your grandfather over these years?

Colin Haines: Oh, yeah!

Julia Meek: I hope so. So, your Fun Store? It is magic. It's novelties, its costumes, its classes. How does all that work together under one roof?

Dick Stoner: Well, people are in theater, they like costumes and then they also enjoy making people laugh and putting that together makes the "Fun Store," I guess. Mmmhhhmm.

Julia Meek: And you added, kind of one by one, those elements since you opened the doors in the 50s?

Dick Stoner: Mmmhhhm. Yeah, I had fun ways to make people laugh and surprise people and you know, we had things that, like you opened a can a snake pops out. (all laugh) And things that surprise people like that. That's part of the "fun" of the store

Julia Meek: It's perennial, people would count on that, know they could come to your store and find those things. What about costuming? You added that at a time where it was hard to find costumes around town anywhere. People always seem to like to pretend.

Dick Stoner: Mmmhhhmmm. We bought this inventory of a store, and she said, I'm just too old to do the costumes. I can still teach dance and I'll do that. And she sold us the costumes. And we had a big start with costumes when people didn't have many.

Julia Meek: So that really took hold and again, brought you right into the home on the heart of the town?

Dick Stoner: Yeah. We had the upstairs of the building full of costumes, and ran that through the upstairs.

Julia Meek: Did you ever worry about running out of room in that location on Wayne Street?

Dick Stoner: (chuckles) Well, yeah, we, we did. We've used the basement, we used upstairs and had three floors. We had the one store opened and the other part was just storage, but later it opened into the store, too.

Julia Meek: And everything's still going strong, sales wise?

Dick Stoner: Yeah, mmmhhhmm!

Colin Haines: There's many different seasons, Halloween season will come and go and then it'll be play season and we'll be costuming, different plays and musicals around, even going into Ohio and Michigan, all different communities around the area.

Julia Meek: That's great! That's quite a reputation that you have built and it's another amazingly, well it's magical, certainly, but it's an old-fashioned kind of a service that you provide. And that's really special that you can keep it under one roof, keep it going strong and keep it really modern.
And with your 75th anniversary and Block Party coming up, speaking of making magic happen, just what is in store?

Colin Haines: Yeah, so June 29, a Saturday we'll be right in front of the shop, we have the street blocked off, eleven o'clock to four. Magicians going all day. The Fort Wayne Youtheatre, Three Rivers Music Theatre Company will be there performing.

Mayor Sharon Tucker will be there with a proclamation for Albert Stoner Day in the city. Tony Henry is going to have a beer tent set up so you know it's going to be a good time! (chuckles)

Julia Meek: And Albert Stoner is the man of the total milestone celebration; remind us who that is?

Colin Haines: That is my great grandfather.

Dick Stoner: Mmmhhhmm. My dad.

Julia Meek: Dick, your dad. So, we have four generations, all being celebrated, of course, here. What is the spirit? What is the feel? Of course, your own personal feeling, but what are you thinking in your hearts as you're getting ready to roll out with the amazing Street Fair of magic craziness happening? What are you feeling and who do you expect to see at this party?

Colin Haines: Well, we hope to see everybody there, (chuckles) all the city!

Dick Stoner: Mmmhhhmm! It's the same thing, like people like to have fun and that's what we try to peddle! (chuckles)

Julia Meek: Well. Yes, I guess that's the capital F-U-N Store on that day to be sure! (all laugh) That is fantastic. I am kind of curious, are costumes and sleight of hand mandatory that day?

Colin Haines: (laughs) If you want to dress up, come just a few days beforehand. We'll get you set up with a costume.

Dick Stoner: Yeah, mmmhhhmm! That's right, that is right! (all laugh)

Julia Meek: That's perfect. Now on the making of parlor magic and sleight of hand. What's the hardest part to master?

Dick Stoner: Well, I don't know, there's some tricks are just self-working almost and easy to do. Other things take sleight of hand and a lot of practice.

Some people go one direction on some another. But as long as they can fool people and make people laugh doing it. Why, that makes it a fun store.

Julia Meek: And the difference between illusion and magic tricking? Which one's more difficult?

Dick Stoner: Oh, probably the illusion is more difficult. But if you do it in a fun way, that overshadows it and all of a sudden they realize they've been fooled, and got it, that came in the back door. (chuckles)

Julia Meek: So you change the perspective. As you were mentioning, if you really do it right, the illusion almost works itself if you can keep people distracted.

Dick Stoner: Right.

Julia Meek: And keeping them laughing. Is that easy in itself? Colin, you're a young wanna-be comedian. Tell us?

Colin Haines: (chuckles) Well, it just depends on, I think most good comedians will pick up lines from here and there; they heard their uncle say something or they'll work it into their act.

And I think the mixture of the magic, them already being fixated with what you're doing, it is a little easier to get him to laugh. And sometimes that laugh can buy you a couple seconds to pull off the trick the way you need to.

Julia Meek: Now, you sound exactly like somebody I know, that would be Dick Stoner, because I've heard some of his basic instructions before. (all chuckle) And that's telling it really like it is. Now, on the teaching of magic, since you brought it up, Dick, what's the most important thing to learn as a magician's student?

Dick Stoner: Well, it's how to deceive them. (laughs)

Julia Meek: Well, that's...you make it look easy. And Colin makes it sound easy. But that can be learned?

Dick Stoner: Yeah. And you just got to fool them, and entertain them with laughter, and surprise, and...

Colin Haines: Lots of practice.

Dick Stoner: Mmmhhhmm.

Julia Meek: And timing, of course. I mean, everything you're saying does require a lot of timing there. And compared to making magic, what is it about teaching that makes it special, especially a kid, but anybody that doesn't know magic, how to be magic?

Dick Stoner: Well, they bring the kids in, and then you show them something as very simple, but they love it and they go out and fool people.

That's (chuckles) fun to be able to make them pick up that same thing and go with it and make people laugh too.

Colin Haines: Yeah, it's fun to teach that person the trick and then later, they'll come back and be able to do it for you.

But, when they really do want to learn the magic, not just to know what's going on, but to be able to do it and you show them what it is, when they realize what's going on, because magic is a lot stupider and simpler than people realize.

People have all sorts of theories on how things are done. And when you realize what is going on, it's fun.

Julia Meek: That's amazing. And when you have somebody like, well, any of the four generations of your Stoner family in your life to be making ait fun, teaching it, or doing it, that's really magic.

Now, having it four generations, always being around it. I am kind of curious. Is it in your blood and your hearts? Are you doing it, are you being funny and magic, even when you're not even trying to?

Dick Stoner: Yeah. (chuckles) It's a really fun thing to do. And it's quite satisfying to make people laugh. That's why we call it the Fun Store.

But then we're fooling people too, and so, you fool them and make them, you know, surprised. And, you've fooled them, and then you've made them laugh. And that's about as far as you can go.

Julia Meek: Which is, yeah, up, up, up up. Yes!

Colin Haines: Me and my sister have some friends who just the other day, they said, Colin, jeez, your life was just so much more fun than most people.

And like I said before, when you grow up around this, it's just normal. And I'm like, what do you mean? They said, Uh, your family does magic and has a Fun Store? I'm, Oh I guess so just predisposed to it. (all laugh)

Julia Meek: That's its own kind of coolness to be sure. So, Dick, your comedy magic routines are legend in the corporate world, which is pretty cool. What's that like? Why does it work so well?

Dick Stoner: Well, I guess they're… it's unexpected with people. They, they think you're showing them something maybe to fool them. But then all of a sudden, you do it and make them laugh. And now they're surprised that they were fooled.

Julia Meek: And you've done conventions and pretty high test gatherings at all kinds of institutions, all around, nationally and internationally. What do you see?

Does it really make it easier to drive home a very business point, a PowerPoint with magic? And what kind of a PowerPoint is magic itself?

Dick Stoner: Well, it's something magical, which is fun. And it's a way of fooling people and yet, not deceiving them. You can use deception in a bad way, but you can use it in a fun way too.

 Julia Meek: And the trade shows and such. Obviously, you're using your very whimsical profession to sell any number of things, including the art of selling to a bunch of people.

Dick Stoner: Yeah, right.

Julia Meek: Do they realize that it's happening? Again, do you suck them in to a point where they're not realizing what you're teaching them?

Dick Stoner: Oh, I don't know. I think they are seeking it really. They're looking for that being able to fool people. And, and you fool them. And now they want to fool somebody, too.

Julia Meek: That's interesting, too. That's a very, very interesting comparison. So Colin, have you done any of the corporate work yet?

Colin Haines: I have not yet. But I've heard magic works so well with that, because in the corporate world, it's just completely, you can catch them off guard, because that's not normal for that world at all.

I know, I've heard from grandpa and many other corporate magicians, like their favorite audience is engineers, because they're set in a certain way. This works like this, and that's that. And then you show them a magic trick, and it completely baffles them and their way of thinking.

Julia Meek: Picking one's audience, or letting one's audience pick you, I guess is another PowerPoint of magic, then, right?

Dick Stoner: Mmmhhhmm!

Julia Meek: Now, with all the bells and whistles, and TV, and special effects, is it more difficult to trick your audience in the 21st century, Dick?

Dick Stoner: No, I don't think so. I think some of the oldest tricks around are still very strong with people and others are new. But it's just people trying to figure out what you're doing and and then you surprise them. And they are growing into that.

Julia Meek: And, they remember how funny you were as well as how clever you were. And with your book, and call for memories and memorabilia, Colin, and you've got a lot of them, and thank you for sharing a lot of them, we look forward to reading even more, have you any surprises along the way?

Colin Haines: Not necessarily surprises, more just wealth of amazing stories that I had never heard before. Because my grandpa is so humble, and you know, hasn't told me.

I think one of my favorites was during the flood of '82, when there were volunteers constantly taking shifts, putting sandbags out and working down there, he was out in some of the centers while in between shifts, until 2:00-3:00 in the morning, doing magic for people as they just got done with all that labor.

You know, stuff like that, that I'd never hear from him. (chuckles)

Julia Meek: That's amazing. And yes, yes, total proof that of course, magic makes things go easier, and certainly the humor. But the kindness, the one on one, that's incredible. How does that make you feel to get those memories coming in, even today, Dick?

Dick Stoner: Well, It's good to feel good that you made people happy and made them laugh. You know, everybody likes to tell a joke and then have people laugh at it.

And that's the same thing, only it's embellished, mainly.

Julia Meek: Do you ever stop and think about the sheer mass of numbers of people whose lives you have delighted, enchanted, surprised?

Dick Stoner: Well, I (chuckles) I never think about it that way, I guess, but I guess there's been an awful lot of 'em! (all laugh)

Julia Meek: And if we all have our way, there's going to be a lot more, but yes, collectively we will thank you for doing that. It's a grand job that you do. And Colin, in your mind. What's the most amazing thing about your granddad?

Colin Haines: Well, for me personally, I think about how, if I didn't have him for grandpa, I wouldn't be playing music, he got me playing music.

I wouldn't be doing magic, I wouldn't be getting to work with theater. He set me on this path which I am so grateful to be on.

Julia Meek: It is magic.

Dick Stoner: Mmmhhhmmm. (chuckles)

Julia Meek: So, all in all, you continue to work your magic from the Stoner’s Fun Store and out in the field, both of you. At the end of the day and the bottom line, what is that rush that we've been talking about? What is the major rush that continues to make "making magic" magic to you?

Colin Haines: Well, uh, one of my favorite tricks to do is one with a cup and a ball, and you put the ball in the cup, shake it, it jumps from your pocket to underneath the cup, back again.

People try to catch you, and at the end you'll lift the cup and there's a baseball, you lift again there's another baseball, and another. And I love doing that one.

Just recently did it for a friend, and I pulled the baseball out and, ooooh, she screamed so loud! And it wasn't the fact that she was fooled or I tricked her, but just the moment of "WOW! When I get that, it's like a drug. You get hooked on it--just that one little moment!

Julia Meek: Dick?

Dick Stoner: Surprise, yeah! That surprise that you brought to them!

Julia Meek: Ever gonna get tired of that?

Dick Stoner: No! (laughs)

Julia Meek: (all laugh) Dick Stoner is the legendary magician owner of Stoners Fun Store and Colin Haines, Dick's grandson, a musician, amateur magician, wanna-be comedian and author. Thank you to both of you for making magic all these years and sharing your story today. Have a great celebration, do carry the gift.

Dick Stoner: Bye.

Colin Haines: Bye.

 

 

 

 

 

A Fort Wayne native, Julia is a radio host, graphic artist, and community volunteer, who has contributed to NIPR both on- and off-air for forty years. Besides being WBOI's arts & culture reporter, she currently co-produces and hosts Folktales and Meet the Music.