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Sergei Schukin

Russian free-enterprise pioneer finds comrade at The Magic Shop

Sergei Schukin is a free-enterprise pioneer.

Schukin is from Saratov, Russia, a city of about one million people on the Volga River near Moscow and Volgagrad (formerly Leningrad). His dream is to open a magic store in his city this summer.

When he does, it will be the first magic store in Russian history, Schukin says with pride.

“Now it is possible to open a shop because the communists are gone,” Schukin says with a strong accent. “The communists, they did not like magic.”

To help make his dream become a reality, Schukin is spending a month working under the tutelage of Tom Frank, a professional magician who opened The Magic Shop in the Carew Tower Arcade last fall. The tutorial was arranged by the International Visitors Council of Greater Cincinnati, which also has offices in the Carew Tower.

“Tom shows me many things, ”Schukin says. “He is an artist. I want to open a shop like Tom Frank has.”

Schukin, 44, grew up in the former Soviet Union during the height of the Cold War. He graduated from the Moscow High Theatrical School and became a producer in a govern ment-operated theater — the only kind of theater allowed before former Premiere Mikhail Gorbachev began relaxing many of the restrictions placed on the citizens by hardline communists, “I like your American playwrights,” he says. “I once staged Streetcar Named Desire. I love that play.”

Schukin later married an actress who worked at the theater. He and his wife, Rita, now have two children, a son age 12 and a daughter who is 18.

Schukin’s interest in magic began to bloom five years ago, after he attended a magician’s convention in Moscow.

“I liked it, and I decided to open a magic theater,”he says. «My wife was a dramatic actress, but I switched her to magic.”

Even though Russians now live under democracy and have more freedom of expression, Schukin’s theater was the first private venue that opened in Saratov. With help from his wife and son, Schukin’s theater now offers four shows weekly for children and adults.

Schukin decided to open a magic shop in conjunction with the theater after successfully test-marketing some tricks and illusions that were sent to him by a friend in New York City. Magic-related items are nearly impossible to find in Russia, he says.

“In your stores, you have thousands of magic books,” Schukin says. “In Russia, we have none.”

Schukin got the opportunity to come to study in Cincinnati by applying to a business exchange program offered by the United States government. The process included testing in English, he says.

“There were many people who wanted to go, and I won,” Schukin says. “Many Russian magicians asked me to make connections with American magicians so they can write letters and get books and magazines.”

While in Cincinnati, Schukin is living with three different families and spending his days at The Magic Shop.

“We’ve been learning about capitalism, wholesale and profit,” Frank says. “It’s exciting. We are comrades. ”

Frank also took Schukin to Dayton recently to see magician David Copperfield perform. After the show, a friend of Frank’s who works for Copperfield got an autographed poster for Schukin to take back to Russia. When asked what he found surprising about life in the United States, Schukin quickly replies, “Everything.”

“Your life is very convenient,” he says. “I was surprised that when you go to the store, the doors open themselves. You have so many goods to choose from, I don’t know what to buy. Your grocery stores are palaces. I have also visited your churches. Our churches are very dark. Yours are open and very bright. ”

Schukin will return to Russia on April 18. He and Frank are forming a supply network through which Frank can export American magic goods and Schukin can export items that cannot be found in the United States.

Schukin says he is also taking back home a new vigor for developing business in his homeland. “Your government does the right о things,” he says. “In Russia, I will о fight for life like you have in your country. Your country is beautiful.”

Jeff Simmons