Conjuring Magic in Queens

Article and photos by Thomas Seubert

Roger “Rogue” Quan had just finished a two-hour show involving fire, a disappearing soda bottle, reappearing coins, card tricks and even some levitation. But as the crowd dispersed on a recent evening, Rogue, as he prefers to be called, sat at the base of the stage in his Rogue Magic Bar in Rego Park, Queens, above the Lobster House Seafood Buffet, teaching a 6-year-old audience member how to perform a few tricks.

“My motto has always been ‘Magic for the people,’” said Rogue, who enjoys inspiring young magicians.

Rogue’s interest in magic began when he was a child. He went to art school and worked as a graphic designer for a number of years. But, eventually, he was drawn back to his childhood passion and abandoned the office life for a career in magic.

A joyous performer, Rogue is particularly interested in nurturing young, would-be magicians.
A joyous performer, Rogue is particularly interested in nurturing young, would-be magicians.

Starting in 2000, a year after quitting his job as a graphic designer, Rogue launched Rogue Productions Magic and Funshop, which, until recently, was located at 85-08 Queens Blvd. and served as the headquarters for his magic emporium. For years, the store was a haven for Rego Park’s neighborhood kids and aspiring magicians, as well as an object of curiosity for all magic lovers.

The documentary filmmakers Ted Wallach and Jason Sosnoff spent several years following magicians who got their start in the shop, including Devonte Rosero. A former member of the Bloods who left the gang to pursue a career in magic, Rosero is now the director of the South American chapter of Magicians Without Borders, an organization that sends magicians to perform for orphans and refugees around the globe. The rum company Bacardi also made a short documentary about Rogue and his shop called “The Magic Man,” as part of its “The Untameable Series,” a marketing campaign showcasing people who fearlessly pursue their passions.

But even after 15 years of building a strong following within the niche world of magic, a combination of increased online sellers, rising rent and poor business decisions recently forced Rogue Productions Magic and Funshop out of its storefront and into rented space in a 99-cent store down the street.

Some musician (Dr. S?) works his magic on a young crowd.
Dr. S, a longtime colleague of Rogue, works his magic on a young crowd.

“What really kept me afloat were the people who came in for the first time and buy that first trick but don’t come back,” said Rogue, who appeared on “America’s Got Talent” in a July 2014 episode. “There were thousands of those people.”


While still working as a graphic designer, Rogue started performing street magic all around Queens and selling magic tricks and supplies out of his backpack. He did so well that he began to sell out of his apartment. “I had all kinds of crazy people showing up, knocking on my door for magic lessons,” recalled Rogue.

A fellow magician, Dr. S, was one of Rogue’s early followers. He and others would walk around Rogue’s apartment, admiring his magic tricks and gadgets and saying “I want this,” recalled Dr. S, whose real name is Sal Sasko. Dr. S specializes in close-up magic and still performs with Rogue from time-to-time, including at the new Magic Bar.

In those early days, Rogue set up a curtain in his apartment, which he shared with his parents, and put on free shows for anyone who would show up. But this business model–strangers coming into the apartment at all hours–irked his family, so Rogue decided to relocate the business.

He started “renting” a few shelves in a Rego Park bookstore, splitting his profits 50-50 with the owner, in early 2000. Eight months later, the bookstore went out of business. With just a week’s notice, Rogue scrambled to find an actual storefront.

“Everywhere I went they turned me down,” he said, because the landlords didn’t think a magic shop owner would be able to afford the rent. After a few months of searching, he landed the location that became the Rogue Productions Magic and Funshop at 85-05 Queens Blvd., where he started out paying $1,400 per month in rent.

Rouge now performs a weekly show in a bar upstairs from the Lobster Box restaurant in Queens.
Rouge now performs a weekly show in a bar upstairs from the Lobster House restaurant in Queens.

For years, Rogue focused on only selling magic tricks, gags and DVDs. But, as competition from online sellers grew, he had to expand. “Everything is online. It’s much cheaper,” said Rogue. “There’s these teenagers in underwear selling from their house.” Online sellers of magic tricks have much lower overhead than brick-and-mortar business, he added.

Overall, New York’s brick-and-mortar stores fared well from 2001 to 2012, which was an expansionary period for online retail. Approximately 2,300 new retail businesses opened their doors in New York City during that period, according to the New York State Economic Development Corporation, but hobby shops didn’t perform as well as the retail sector at large. In Queens, the number of hobby shops fell 20 percent from 2002 to 2012, according to census data.

Rogue experienced this contraction firsthand: the “thousands” of first-timers who would come in and buy a single trick stopped showing up. The city’s transformation of the nearby Pan American Hotel into a homeless shelter also hurt the business during its final few years on Queens Boulevard. “We used to get a lot of tourists” from the hotel, said Yanni Pierros, the magic shop’s manager, who began buying gags from Rogue when his shop was in the bookstore.

From its inception, the magic shop hosted shows staged by Rogue. But as sales of products declined, the live shows became the primary source of revenue. In 2001, when the shows first began, admission was free, but by 2012, an adult ticket cost $12 and a children’s ticket $10.

“When I sell stuff, I have my cost, but the show was pure profit,” said Rogue, who upgraded his small store so that it could be transformed into a 40-person theater equipped with fireproof curtains.

Magicians like Dr. S would perfect their acts in magic shop shows, not charging Rogue to perform. “It was a brotherhood,” said Dr. S, referring to all the magicians who grew up in the shop, spent most of their day hanging out in the shop’s “members section” and looked forward to performing in front of a crowd at night.

Veronica N., a Yelp reviewer, wrote of the show: “I went to see the Saturday night show with just my husband, hoping to get a fun date night, and boy we weren’t let down…The show itself was outstanding, and was fun and safe for people of any age.”

Megan L., another reviewer wrote, “My cheeks hurt from smiling and laughing.” But she added that the store “is a bit small” to fit a 40-person crowd.

The shows did so well that, a year ago, the owner of Lobster Seafood Buffet Restaurant, formerly Panda Asian Bistro, a restaurant down the boulevard, asked Rogue to take his act into the unused upstairs bar area for a weekly Friday night performance. Unable to resist a bigger stage–the bar could fit 80 people–Rogue moved his act and the production portion of his business down the street to what is now known as the “Rogue Magic Bar.” But this caused a problem for his magic shop, which didn’t have weekly shows any more.

The magic shop’s rent had nearly tripled to $3,800, and without a steady revenue stream, Rogue got “backed-up on rent.”

Selling tricks and props was always part of Rogue's business, though it has suffered from their wide availability online.
Selling tricks and props was always part of Rogue’s business, though it has suffered from their wide availability online.

Last December, Rogue moved his business down the street into the Emerald 99 store where he currently has two display cases and keeps his inventory in the basement. Some magicians still come around to hang out in the store’s basement and buy supplies, but Rogue said the temporary location “isn’t conducive to selling.”

“Now I’m more focused on magic as a performance art,” said the magician, who performs at the Rogue Magic Bar every Friday night along with an array of other magicians and is regularly hired for private events. His typical rate is $200 per show but that is subject to change depending on the venue.

In the meantime, Pierros is looking for a new location for the magic shop. “We want a five-year lease for a steady price,” he said.

Pierros and Rogue have considered adjusting their business model, looking for a space in Queens that could facilitate a combination arcade/magic shop and mini-theater. “We want to do birthday parties there, too,” said Pierros. “Just hire the magician and use the machines.”

With people in the store for arcade games and parties, Rogue hopes to attract customers who will also buy magic tricks. Another option is to move back into the magic shop’s old location on Queens Boulevard as the current tenant is looking to sublease a portion of the space. But at least for now, Rogue is keeping his options open.

The one thing he’s confident of is that he’ll stay in business as long as he stays true to his motto “Magic for the people.”