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Howard's Fun Shop


icepickphil

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I used to go to this store alot in the early 70's. It was downtown someplace and had been there since the 50's I think. Anyone remember it? If you were a kid into magic at that time in Houston it was the place to buy your tricks.

There was also another magician's supply shop at that time on S. Main maybe. I think it was called Archie's Magic.

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I had forgotten about Howard's. Like some of the previous posters, I also rode the bus downtown to Howard's. Wonder how many early-teens would be allowed to do that today? This was in the late 40's. Howard's was somewhere near the tailor shops of the period (Rex, Real, Polmar's, Duke's) in the Travis/Milam area between Prairie and Congress. Some of the "neat" stuff of the time was sneeze powder, itch powder, popping cigarette loads, hand-shake buzzers, wax teeth, wax harmonicas, and one of my "favorites"... a small ceramic squatting dog that came with a little plug you could insert you know where; light with a match, and a brown, foamy mess would ooze out. Really high tech stuff for that era. I almost forgot another item that got me into trouble more than once... fake dog poop placed in unusual places at family reunions and Thanksgiving/Christmas dinners.

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The only magician supply stores I can recall were the one in the Galleria...

I do remember the "magic store" in the Galleria. When I was a kid, we did not seem to go there unless we had visitor's in-town. So it said that we didn't do there very often, I thought it was perticularly odd that the same spooky magician man was always there!

He would lure us kids in the store and proceed to scare us away! Maybe it's because we had no money.....

Edited by Gilder
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Guest Sebastian De La Ghetto

I too have fond memories of the magic shop in the galleria, i used to roll over there from the skating rink just to look around. Sadly, i could only afford the trick gum.

I think there is a magic shop on Leeland on the east side. I ride by it when i take the bus home from work, but i cant tell if its wholesale only or if its even open anymore. Next time i go by i'll check it out.

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Hello everyone - first post on this great forum.

I remember Archies being downtown on a corner but not exactly where. Drove by it many times on trips to Houston but my parents would never stop to let us check it out. Finally went in the store when I was in high school and we all bought a pair of glasses w/nose & moustache. We were wearing the glasses while leaving downtown and stopped at a red light. I'll never forget the woman in the car next to us doing a double-take and then calmly reaching over and locking the door.

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Hello everyone - first post on this great forum.

I remember Archies being downtown on a corner but not exactly where. Drove by it many times on trips to Houston but my parents would never stop to let us check it out. Finally went in the store when I was in high school and we all bought a pair of glasses w/nose & moustache. We were wearing the glasses while leaving downtown and stopped at a red light. I'll never forget the woman in the car next to us doing a double-take and then calmly reaching over and locking the door.

Were they Groucho Marx Glasses?

Grouch_Marx_Glasses.jpg

Groucho_Dances.jpg

Edited by isuredid
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Never been there. But does anyone remember a little majic shop on park place or maybe Bellfort is southeast Houston. I remember going in there as a kid but this was in the early 80's. It was somewhere near reveille or broadway.

Yeah I believe it was called the Fun Shop. I believe they moved to Clear lake (hwy 3 south of bay area). At least in the 90's I went there a few times for a few halloween items.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Howard's Fun Shop became the focus of my youth for several years. As a young boy at 10 or 11, I began making annual trips to the Fun Shop with my dad around my birthday. Dad would throw in $10, I would add what was left from summer grass cutting, and off we would go from South Houston, up I45 to downtown Houston.

Howard had a cow bell that clanged from the top of the door as a customer entered. I can still remember the slightly musty, dank smell of the shop and the allure of the magical props that lined the top shelf that wrapped around the back of the shop. We could never afford those. I remember the joy in my first set of linking rings, the Chinese sticks--a gift on my 11th birthday--and my first small dove pan. Howard was kindly toward my father and me. He always took time to give us tips on handling the props we bought, but that didn't save my red plastic multiplying ball set that slipped from my fingers during the South Houston High School Talent Show when, with sweating palms, each ball slipped from my extended hand, crashed to the floor, and split, ending my talent show career but earning me a standing ovation and howls of ridicule.

Bev Bergeron, the 1996 President of the International Brotherhood of Magicians and better remembered by many as "Rebo the Clown" on Mark Wilson's televised magic show, worked in the Fun Shop in his late teens. He has shared many a story with me about the elusive and enigmatic Howard Campbell. According to Bergeron, Campbell came out of Tennessee on the train. An itinerant magician, he would stop in a community and hire a driver to take him from the station to the closest school where he would negotiate a contract for a magic show. The following week he would give the show, collect the proceeds, and move on to the next town.

Campbell arrived in Houston in the 1940's and opened the Fun Shop in downtown Houston around the time he married. His wife managed the front of the shop, selling newspapers and magazines. They lived for the duration of their lives together in a suite in the Rice Hotel. Later, Campbell dropped most of the paper sales and replaced them with gag gifts and stunt props with the magic in the rear of the store. I still remember the black curtains behind the showcase in the magic section that led to the rear of the store. I always wished I could go to the back area, but I never got an invitation. I don't recall his wife.

Bergeron remembers Campbell as a man who knew how to make a buck. Location was the key. Everytime he had to move his shop to accommodate downtown expansion, he always relocated closeby so that his clients were always in walking distance from the high rise office buildings. He made a lot of money around holidays, selling gag gifts to the young corporate staffers who populated the Fun Shop during their lunch breaks.

Campbell always wanted to make it big in magic and attended the regional and national magic association conventions. Bergeron notes that on one occasion, after Campbell had won big in the Houston area numbers racket, he invested his winnings in suits. Prior to one convention, at least, he packed up suitcases with enough new suits so that he would have two obviously different changes of clothes each day of the convention. He wanted everyone to know he was finally "Mr. Big" in the Houston magic scene and a successful businessman.

As a kid, I couldn't have known all that. Many people still living probably have even more Fun Shop stories. It would be great to hear them. All I know is that Howard Campbell inspired me to become a magician, and here at the age of 62, I owe my lingering delight and part-time career in magic to the genial old man who made me feel so special everytime I walked in the Fun Shop.

I have written a short story honoring those early childhood memories, "Howard's Fun Shop," that can be found on my website at www.docsmagicshow.us The children's one-act play version premiered in October 2006 at Mountain View College in the Dallas County Community College District.

I'd love to learn more about my mentor in magic.

Doc Grimes

Edited by Doc Grimes
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Howard's Fun Shop became the focus of my youth for several years. As a young boy at 10 or 11, I began making annual trips to the Fun Shop with my dad around my birthday. Dad would throw in $10, I would add what was left from summer grass cutting, and off we would go from South Houston, up I45 to downtown Houston.

Howard had a cow bell that clanged from the top of the door as a customer entered. I can still remember the slightly musty, dank smell of the shop and the allure of the magical props that lined the top shelf that wrapped around the back of the shop. We could never afford those. I remember the joy in my first set of linking rings, the Chinese sticks--a gift on my 11th birthday--and my first small dove pan. Howard was kindly toward my father and me. He always took time to give us tips on handling the props we bought, but that didn't save my red plastic multiplying ball set that slipped from my fingers during the South Houston High School Talent Show when, with sweating palms, each ball slipped from my extended hand, crashed to the floor, and split, ending my talent show career but earning me a standing ovation and howls of ridicule.

Bev Bergeron, the 1996 President of the International Brotherhood of Magicians and better remembered by many as "Rebo the Clown" on Mark Wilson's televised magic show, worked in the Fun Shop in his late teens. He has shared many a story with me about the elusive and enigmatic Howard Campbell. According to Bergeron, Campbell came out of Tennessee on the train. An itinerant magician, he would stop in a community and hire a driver to take him from the station to the closest school where he would negotiate a contract for a magic show. The following week he would give the show, collect the proceeds, and move on to the next town.

Campbell arrived in Houston in the 1940's and opened the Fun Shop in downtown Houston around the time he married. His wife managed the front of the shop, selling newspapers and magazines. They lived for the duration of their lives together in a suite in the Rice Hotel. Later, Campbell dropped most of the paper sales and replaced them with gag gifts and stunt props with the magic in the rear of the store. I still remember the black curtains behind the showcase in the magic section that led to the rear of the store. I always wished I could go to the back area, but I never got an invitation. I don't recall his wife.

Bergeron remembers Campbell as a man who knew how to make a buck. Location was the key. Everytime he had to move his shop to accommodate downtown expansion, he always relocated closeby so that his clients were always in walking distance from the high rise office buildings. He made a lot of money around holidays, selling gag gifts to the young corporate staffers who populated the Fun Shop during their lunch breaks.

Campbell always wanted to make it big in magic and attended the regional and national magic association conventions. Bergeron notes that on one occasion, after Campbell had won big in the Houston area numbers racket, he invested his winnings in suits. Prior to one convention, at least, he packed up suitcases with enough new suits so that he would have two obviously different changes of clothes each day of the convention. He wanted everyone to know he was finally "Mr. Big" in the Houston magic scene and a successful businessman.

As a kid, I couldn't have known all that. Many people still living probably have even more Fun Shop stories. It would be great to hear them. All I know is that Howard Campbell inspired me to become a magician, and here at the age of 62, I owe my lingering delight and part-time career in magic to the genial old man who made me feel so special everytime I walked in the Fun Shop.

I have written a short story honoring those early childhood memories, "Howard's Fun Shop," that can be found on my website at www.docsmagicshow.us The children's one-act play version premiered in October 2006 at Mountain View College in the Dallas County Community College District.

I'd love to learn more about my mentor in magic.

Doc Grimes

I attempted to pull up your short story on Howard's Fun Shop, but it did not work for me. I don't know if this is universal or just my browser and Internet connection.

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Thanks Doc for this great info. When did Howard pass away and the Fun Shop close?

The short story on his site is a downloadable PDF file. You must have Acrobat Reader or Preview (mac) to view it.

I attempted to pull up your short story on Howard's Fun Shop, but it did not work for me. I don't know if this is universal or just my browser and Internet connection.
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  • 1 month later...

Astonishing info on Howard Campbell and the magic shop.

Doc, do you or Bev remember anything about Howard being in the record business?

In 1950-51 there was a record company operating in downtown Houston called "Phamous." The address on the label was 908 1/2 Travis. I looked this up in the 1950 city directory: this was the location (at that time) for Howard's Fun Shop.

The bizarre / fascinating aspect of this story is that everyone on the label was blind. The labels to the records always read, "Blind Troubadors."

Here is what the Phamous label looked like:

phamous403qh8.jpg

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  • 1 month later...
Wasn't there another shop like that in an old building on the east side of downtown? I remember going in when I first visited Houston late 1970s or early 1980s.

Ok everyone, I think I may have solved the mystery!

There was a place called Archie's Funshop at old Market Square in downtown. It was either next door or where Warren's Bar now is. I am almost positive because everytime my big brother would take me on the bus we made it our main destination point! It stands out because we would always get freaked out when we would see that scary Charlie McCarthy mannequin sitting on top of the high shelf leering down at us! He was proped up next to I think his name was Mortimer? and other puppets. I know they had some major cool gag gifts, but I was focused on the blacklight posters and strobe lights. It was such a mysterious place to us especially for me because it was like something right out of a "Night Gallery" episode. I expected to see Rod Serling standing outside as we left each time. Yes, it was a far-out place and the only one I knew of came later in the Galleria but was in no one comparable to the one at Market Square. If memory serves well they added a tiny peep show in the back where I would see these scary old men enter quietly. You could only see the tiny draped booths from a distance.

There really was a placed called the Pink Pussycat on Main st. It was there at the height of the go-go dancing era. There was a game room either next door or 2 doors away that had tons of pinball machines and also had peep shows in the back. I was too young and frightened to even consider though it seemed tempting! That was when Main street had already hit the skids. Whino's, street walkers and bad odors.

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Going way back in the darkest recesses on my mind (where it can get mighty scary), I get a mental image of the Pink Pussycat sign on the Sweeny-Combs building. Maybe it was next to or near that building, but I can see the sign and the familiar corner structure of Sweeny-Combs both in the same mental picture.

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Going way back in the darkest recesses on my mind (where it can get mighty scary), I get a mental image of the Pink Pussycat sign on the Sweeny-Combs building. Maybe it was next to or near that building, but I can see the sign and the familiar corner structure of Sweeny-Combs both in the same mental picture.

There are pictures of the Pink Pussycat on Main in this topic.

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Ok everyone, I think I may have solved the mystery!

There was a place called Archie's Funshop at old Market Square in downtown. It was either next door or where Warren's Bar now is. I am almost positive because everytime my big brother would take me on the bus we made it our main destination point! It stands out because we would always get freaked out when we would see that scary Charlie McCarthy mannequin sitting on top of the high shelf leering down at us! He was proped up next to I think his name was Mortimer? and other puppets. I know they had some major cool gag gifts, but I was focused on the blacklight posters and strobe lights. It was such a mysterious place to us especially for me because it was like something right out of a "Night Gallery" episode. I expected to see Rod Serling standing outside as we left each time. Yes, it was a far-out place and the only one I knew of came later in the Galleria but was in no one comparable to the one at Market Square. If memory serves well they added a tiny peep show in the back where I would see these scary old men enter quietly. You could only see the tiny draped booths from a distance.

There really was a placed called the Pink Pussycat on Main st. It was there at the height of the go-go dancing era. There was a game room either next door or 2 doors away that had tons of pinball machines and also had peep shows in the back. I was too young and frightened to even consider though it seemed tempting! That was when Main street had already hit the skids. Whino's, street walkers and bad odors.

I think I remember Archie's Magic and Fun Shop was on Main Street and much further up the street like 1300 or 1400 block. Maybe they moved from somewhere else. I'm thinking of the 1970s.

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  • 5 weeks later...

I found this forum while searching the Internet for "Howard's Fun Shop." As others have mentioned, it was a magically mystical place for youngster interested in the conjurer's art. My first recollection of magic was at 7 or 8 years old, when I saw Mark Wilson perform his miracles at the Texas State Fair in Dallas.

Shortly thereafter, my parents told me of a place downtown where I could actually buy magic tricks. They had met Howard when they worked downtown and attended night school in the 40's. The said he had more of a "stand" than a shop back then and I am sure that must have been the newspaper operation mentioned here. But by the time my dad took me there it was in the shop on Travis.

I remember with awe the sights and sounds and smells of that little shop. Cluttered and poorly lit, it was always bustling with excitement. The cow bell on the door announced your entry into the tiny little customer area. Old glass display cases on either side, crammed full of tricks and novelties. And, directly opposite the door, at the end of the customer area, were the heavy black velvet drapes, beyond which every budding magician just KNEW the real magic lay. The only way for Howard and the other employees to get from behind one counter to the counter on other side was to go around the end of one counter and walk behind the drapes to appear on the other side of the store.

One of the first items I bought there was the "bird chirper" thingie. Howard would make his go chirp. Chirp. Chirp as he leaned over the counter looking down at your feet and exclaim, "look out for the chickens & don't get too close to the floor or you'll get your shoes full of feet." No matter how determined I was not to let him catch me with that YET AGAIN, it never seemed failed that at some point he would sense that my guard was down and deliver that admonishment, only to have me step back and look at my feet before realizing he had gotten me again. BTW: I still have that bird chirper, though it was worn out and replaced years ago.

By my 11th birthday, I was riding the bus downtown about once a month to visit Howard's. I remember knowing to get off when the bus was in front of Foley's and needing to go to the next street and turn right. As I recall, it was on the other side of the street and about a block and a half off of Main. I'd always take whatever I had saved from the money I got for my allowance and the odd jobs I did around the neighborhood. I usually spent most if it right there. On the bus ride home, I pour over the instructions for my new miracles and be anxious to show my folks and friends. I do not recall my folks being much concerned about their 11 year old son making that journey all by himself. What a different world we live in today?

Having magic as a hobby for some 50 or so years has had quite a few memorable moments for me, but one of the best was the day I walked into Howard's Fun Shop and Howard disappeared around the end of one of the display cases only to push aside the black drapes and invite me into the back of the shop. It was then that I realized I had been right all along. All the real magic was back there.

Thanks for this thread and the opportunity to reminisce a little about times gone by.

PS. I remember Archie's too, but it never had the mystic of Howard's.

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  • 7 years later...

Going to Howard's Fun Shop was a rite of passage in 7th grade for kids my sister's age. She graduated from Bellaire in 1971, so that was probably 1965.ish. When she was 13 and I was 10, I would always hear about her friends going there on the Beechnut 88 bus. It was usually a proto-date, boy asking the girl if she wanted to go with him. Whether he asked about Howard's in particular, or downtown in general, I don't know. For some reason, when I got to be 13, in 1968, no one was doing that any more. Maybe Howard's was gone. I remember going downtown on the bus with two friends in 5th grade for a series of fashion and makeup classes at Neiman-Marcus. I loved downtown. I heard that "bums" lived in the rr cars at the end of downtown, but we never saw any. Nearby was Sam's Pawn Shop (I think) where I bought stuff that enchanted me, don't remember what. I remember signs outside the Adult clubs. I thought "No cover" meant that the dancers were naked. 

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  • 1 month later...
  • 2 weeks later...
  • 2 months later...

I would visit Howards Fun Shop whenever I went to downtown Houston with my dad. My dad a

was the Continental Trailways bus terminal manager in the 1960s and Howards Fun Shop was right around the corner. I remember buying the "grab bags" for 25 cents.

I also remember the electric shock gags they had in there. The lady in there was always tricking me into getting shocked by picking something off the counter!

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I would visit Howards Fun Shop whenever I went to downtown Houston with my dad. My dad a

was the Continental Trailways bus terminal manager in the 1960s and Howards Fun Shop was right around the corner. I remember buying the "grab bags" for 25 cents.

I also remember the electric shock gags they had in there. The lady in there was always tricking me into getting shocked by picking something off the counter!

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  • 3 years later...
  • 9 months later...

In the early 60s, my friend and I would catch the 10 S Main bus downtown on Saturday mornings, watch the matinee at Loew's or The Majestic or The Metropolitan, eat lunch at James Coney Island, and spend the rest of the afternoon at Howard's. After a while we got invited to the back where you could often see guys trying new tricks or old guys just showing off close up moves. Because of my magic education at Howard's, I know how most stage magic is done and a lot of close up work, too, and it only makes me appreciate the talent and skill it all takes even more.

Edited by Jami
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  • 1 year later...

In the 60's we lived in the southeast neighborhood of Overbrook, and because of my allergies, my mom would drive me to the medical center every Friday for a weekly allergy shot. From time to time mom would combine these allergy clinic visits with a downtown shopping visit to Foley's and of course drag me with her. It was during one of those of those downtown treks that I discovered Howard's Fun Shop nearby Foleys. What a magical experience for a kid! There was a cowbell on the door to alert employees of our entrance. I'm not sure if Howard was still alive when I discovered his fun shop as it would have been at least 1968 if not later, but I relish the various magic trick demonstrations which they showed during my visits. I still have a hand buzzer from Howard's that I purchased as a child, but all the other tricks I purchased from that shop have unfortunately seem to have disappeared. I remember a plastic egg with balls trick and a disappearing coin trick which were mesmerizing to me at the time.

 

The only thing that I haven't heard discussed on this forum (maybe I missed it) is that at the glass showcase, at least during the late sixties, they had a lot of adult-only nudie card sets, pens w/nudie pics, racy cigarette lighters, etc. that were probably a lot of fun for grown-ups of that era. Those kinds of adult gag gifts are unfortunately probably considered too politically incorrect for today's social climate. God bless Howard.
 

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