By Dave Paone
Port Jefferson Station is able to make a claim no other place on Long Island can: It’s home to the last brick-and-mortar magic store in all of Nassau and Suffolk County. Ronjo Magic & Costumes on Route 112 is the last of its breed, yet doesn’t look as if it’ll be performing a disappearing act anytime soon.
The 2,000 square-foot store is stocked with magic trick pieces, novelty items, costumes and a room for performances. The costume articles include wigs, masks and an extensive line of hats that hang from the ceiling. The novelty section is small, but contains the usual gags, like exploding cigarettes, hand buzzers, itching powder and the obligatory rubber chickens.
Last month, Hope Galasso, of Bellport, discovered Ronjo through a Google search and brought her 15-year-old nephew Zack Galasso to the store to purchase a Chinese coin trick for $7.
While Halloween is the bread-and-butter season for costume sales, it’s not the only time they’re in demand. Last year, 19-year-old Suffolk County Community College student Christine Day came into the store with her brother and a friend. The trio was preparing to attend Comic Con, a convention for comics, graphic novels, anime, video games, toys and movies, in New York City. Her brother was dressing as Jack Skellington from Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas, and her friend was dressing as Beetlejuice. The three of them needed makeup.
Owner Ron Diamond provided them with just what they needed. “We looked great,” Day said.
She also said Diamond was “really helpful” and “inviting,” so when he offered her a part-time job at the store, she took it. Currently she handles data entry, shipment of online orders, and works the counter for costumes and makeup.
Diamond’s lifelong interest in magic began in 1966 when his mother bought him a magic kit called Box-o-Magic for $3 at Billy Blake’s department store in Setauket. Then 8 years old, Diamond said the box contained just a handful of tricks, but enough to get him started.
Diamond continued to learn tricks, but with no magic store nearby, he resorted to learning new illusions from library books, and by age 12, even started to handcraft his own tricks with the help of a classmate.
Diamond got the itch to perform.
So at 13, he recruited a girl named Joanne from down the block to play the part of his onstage assistant. He wanted to give Joanne top billing, and name the act Joron, but his sister, Deborah, said he should call it Ronjo, so he did.
Ronjo’s first public performances were free for local charities in Suffolk. Since the two performers were only in eighth grade, his mother had to drive them to wherever they were performing.
Eventually, the charity work led to paying gigs. Their first was at a birthday party for a 6-year-old, where they made $6. Diamond kept $4, and paid Joanne $2.
A year later, Diamond became more polished and added new tricks to the act, and with it, the price of a show jumped to $35. The clients from the first job called to book him again, but when he told them the new rate, they hung up.
At 15, he thought he could make additional money by giving lessons and selling magic tricks in a retail setting. He talked one of the merchants at the Old Town Village indoor flea market in Setauket into letting him rent space in his booth, where he set up a 2 feet by 4 feet showcase with 12 tricks for sale.
The retail locations kept changing, and with each move, got bigger. Diamond added more showcases with more tricks for sale, and eventually landed his own 13 feet by 100 feet store at the Arcade Shopping Center in Port Jefferson Station at 16 years old. He stayed there for 14 years.
As the years went on, Diamond became a professional magician, but Joanne was no longer in the act, because her father wanted her to get a “real job.” By 1982, he had a crew working for him, including, at times, a driver, a stagehand and other performers including a sword swallower, belly dancer and disc jockey.
On occasion, customers in his store would ask for wigs, makeup and costumes. Since he never says no to a customer, he’d get whatever items they were looking for.
In 1991, Diamond hired Pete Albertson, who was one of his students, to manage the store. He’s been there for 25 years. Diamond purchased his current location in 2000. When Magic Shop in Hicksville closed three years ago, Ronjo became the last surviving magic store on Long Island.
The storefront acquired a little slice of cyberspace and joined the internet in 2003. The website saw tremendous growth over a five-year period, which peaked in 2008, almost to the point where physical store was no longer needed. But all that changed when more and more retailers began selling online, and cyber sales dropped considerably. Now, there are “more websites than customers,” he said.
On the magic side, Ronjo’s customers range from the loyal to the new. Mike Maimone of Port Jefferson Station has been purchasing tricks from Ronjo since he was 12. He’s now 48. He owns nearly 350 decks of cards — each for a different illusion — plus 250 other items for tricks. More than half of them were purchased at Ronjo.
The uncertainty of operating a shop that sells exclusively what amount to non-essential items looms over Diamond and his business, but for now, Long Island’s only magic store is still here.
“Everything here is a luxury,” he said.