Icon May Go Up in a Puff of Smoke

Barry Taylor does a
Barry Taylor does a "burning book" trick at his shop in Wheaton. Wife Susan Kang and store mascot Frankie often perform for visitors as well. (Photos By Bill O'leary -- The Washington Post)
By Christian Davenport
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, July 24, 2006

Check this one out, Barry Taylor is saying as he pulls a gold-colored coin from his pocket. He holds it aloft for the customers of his Wheaton magic store to inspect, then tucks it into his right fist.

He waves his left hand over the fist, opens it and -- poof -- the coin is gone. Nothing but palm and wiggling, taunting fingers. Another flash of the hands and the coin is back, conjured, it seems, from thin air.

How did you do that?

Magic, he says, grinning to the crowd.

For more than 30 years, Taylor, 53, has been performing all sorts of tricks at his store, Barry's Magic Shop on Georgia Avenue. In the cramped and dowdy boutique, where the novelties, gags and costumes are piled from floor to ceiling, he makes dollar bills float, shoots fireballs from his palm and always knows what card you're holding.

But Taylor cannot figure out how to make his problems disappear.

Montgomery County has used eminent domain and spent nearly $1 million to acquire the building that houses Barry's Magic Shop from Taylor's former landlord. The county plans to tear it down and build a walkway as part of an effort to revitalize Wheaton's downtown.

If that happens and he is forced to relocate, Taylor could be out of business because he can't afford higher rent, he said. Taylor pays about $2,500 a month to rent the two-story building. He has looked at two other storefronts in the area, but the landlords wanted to charge more than four times his present rent, he said.

Still, Taylor is hoping that his shop might be able to remain where it has been for decades. An e-mail campaign has sprung up, and U.S. Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and County Council member Steven A. Silverman (D-At Large) have gotten involved.

Silverman called Barry's shop an "icon in the community" and said the council committee that approved the walkway project did not realize it would be displacing the magic shop. The council will look at the situation, he said, and try to help the parties come to a resolution.

"We're in the middle right now of trying to pass a zoning change to allow revitalization of downtown Wheaton while preserving small businesses," Silverman said. "And here the other arm of the government is looking at evicting Barry's from its longtime home."

Last week, the council approved the zoning change, which would allow for more dense development and taller buildings in the downtown.

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