WINONA, Minn. (AP) — Winona barber Tom Schneider is swift with scissors, but he also has a few tricks up his sleeve. Tom, 59, a barber for 31 years, serves 10 to 15 customers a day at Tom’s Barber Shop at 475 West Seventh St. And some of his regulars have discovered his secret trade — as a magician.
“It’s fun to entertain people,” Tom said. “I’m the only barber in town that entertains his customers with magic tricks.”
Tom likes to keep magic as more of a hobby than a side job. Those in the know of his special talent found out by “word of mouth.”
As news traveled, Tom has since done a few shows at local schools, company picnics and birthday parties.
“It helps pay for new magic tricks,” he said.
But it’s never been about the money. For Tom, magic is purely “fascinating.”
When Tom was a boy, his uncle performed simple magic tricks when he came to visit. From then on, Tom spent a lot of time at The Eagle Magic Shop in downtown Minneapolis, where he bought books and videos teaching the trade.
He studied for hours until he learned his first trick – cups and balls.
“This (trick) goes back to ancient Egypt,” he said. “It’s probably one of the oldest tricks in the world.”
Tom says he masters his tricks by breaking them down into segments. He also spends hours in front of a mirror to “see what his audience sees.” He learned this and other techniques through Society of American Magicians and International Brotherhood of Magicians magazines. He also picked up some tips from attending magic conventions in Las Vegas with his wife. Such sources taught him how to deal with a more difficult crowd.
“The biggest challenge is trying to entertain teenage boys between the ages of 11 and 14 because they believe they know everything,” he said.
Tom recalls a birthday party where a teenage boy adamantly insisted he knew how the tricks were done, calling him out during Tom’s performance. Finally, Tom said, “Come on up here and do it.”
“He fumbled around for awhile until he said ‘I can’t do it, but I know how,”‘ Tom said. “I was ready to quit after that.”
But over time, doing magic for kids in his shop kept the magic alive. Almost every day, Tom pulls out his magician’s table hiding next to the cash register, covered in a black velvet cloth with dangling gold fringe.
“(Magic) makes kids think,” he said. “I can hear them talk to their parents when they leave, and they say ‘How did he do that, Daddy?’ Sometimes I teach the kids a simple trick so they can go home and show their parents or their classmates. It keeps them coming back to see more.”
But kids aren’t the only ones interested. Tom keeps a few tricks handy at his shop, and he finds himself using them for adults as well.
“It’s a different way to connect with customers,” he said. “When I do magic for adults, it brings back the wonder of being a child. If I can bring back a bit of that awe and the children in us all, I think it’s all worthwhile.”
Tom performed his favorite rope trick recently as customer Nathan Teachout sat in the barber chair and put on the cape, covered in playing cards and poker chips. Nathan has been getting his hair cut at Tom’s for about seven months, and even though he’d seen the trick before, he says he’s still “mind-boggled.”
“I’m 23-years-old,” he said, “and I’m still intrigued.”
Even when Tom’s not at work, customers call him at home to tell him, “David Blaine is on TV,” or, “We saw this trick, how’s it done?” But Tom tries to keep the secrets to himself.
“I’ve got 95 percent of the answers, but I don’t tell them,” he said. “If everyone knows, it’s not magic anymore.”
Tom says he has “hundreds” of tricks up his sleeve.
“When I see somebody do something, I have to learn how to do it,” he said. But as customers come and go, he promises to keep them wondering.
“Some people like not knowing,” he said. “Some just like to be mystified.”
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