It's Your Business: Sharing the Magic

It's Your Business: Sharing the Magic

Professional magician Andy Dallas, who has escaped from water coffins and body bags, is now attempting his latest feat: extricating himself from his costume and magic business.

Dallas is turning over management of Dallas & Co. Costumes & Magic to his son, Rob, and daughter-in-law, Ashley.

"I'm really trying to push this as fast as I can, so I can pursue other things, magically and otherwise," said Dallas, 65, whose costume shop has been at the corner of First Street and University Avenue in Champaign for about 35 years.

Rob, 28, has been involved in the company since 2008. Now that he and wife Ashley are managing the business, they've reorganized the store.

One of the changes: putting children's costumes close to the ground, so kids can easily spy Captain America, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and characters from the Disney movie "Frozen."

Rob majored in entrepreneurship at Millikin University, graduating in 2008.

While in college, he considered starting a watch-and-jewelry business and a car remodeling business. But he concluded that "starting a business was more difficult than running an established one."

Ashley went to nursing school, but decided she liked business better.

Don't expect the new management to alter the surreal, quirky and ghastly nature of Dallas & Co.

The store still has the 12-1/2-foot-tall angry gorilla lurking above the showroom; the 6-foot-tall sitting clown with a recorded laugh that once occupied a "fun house" in Benton Harbor, Mich.; and of course, the ever-popular "puking man" who regurgitates water when you press a button.

And Dallas & Co. still has its "haunted room," where witches, zombies and a host of other nasties pop up and fly into your face as you pass through.

"I didn't want to make it a store, I wanted to make it a destination," Andy Dallas said of his business at 101 E. University Ave.

That's exactly what it's become, meriting mention on the website, along with the Big Cheesy Noodle in front of the Kraft plant, the Giant Indian sculpture at Curtis Orchard and the Roger Ebert sculpture outside the Virginia Theatre.

Dallas, who has been recovering from surgery earlier this year, has a list of things he wants to do once he is retired from the business.

Lecturing and performing are high on the list. Dallas, who served as president of the Society of American Magicians in 2006-07, plans to lecture and teach a master class at next year's convention.

He's also hoping to perform another series of shows at Busboom Castle in northwest Champaign County — plus he has plans for a new business that he's not willing to talk about yet.

After all, a magician doesn't reveal his secrets.

Dallas got into the costume business by happenstance. He initially owned a pinball arcade in Campustown. When he put a few masks on the wall, customers clamored for them.

About that time, needles and razors started showing up in apples and candy put in trick-or-treat bags. Halloween suddenly changed from a children's holiday to an adult holiday, Dallas said.

"Everything converted to Halloween parties," he said, and the demand for costumes was "male-dominated."

The business moved several times and adopted the Novelty Village name before landing at First and University under the Dallas & Co. moniker.

In the decades since, Dallas has seen numerous changes. A few years ago, the ratio of costumes to accessories was 60/40. Now it's reversed.

No longer is the costume business male-dominated. "Now most of the costumes are female," Dallas said.

In recent years, Mardi Gras-style eye masks have become popular. They're even used at proms, he said.

"It's a pop-culture business," Dallas said. "The movies bring in something new. First it was 'bubba' teeth, then vampires, now zombies are big."

That ever-changing demand for the latest trend kept Dallas on his toes.

"It's tricky, You have to keep your eye on the business. It changes on a dime," he said.

To succeed, he said, he found he needed to carry three types of goods:

— Bread-and-butter items such as tooth black and spirit gum.

— New items such as a "fan brush" that allows people to simultaneously paint red, white and blue stripes on their face.

— Unique accessories — such as monocles — that other stores might not think of carrying.

Dallas said Rob and Ashley are well-positioned going into Halloween season the next two years.

Halloween falls on a Friday this year and on a Saturday in 2015, making those holidays potentially more lucrative for Dallas & Co. than years when Halloween falls on a weekday.

Jimmy Jimmy John John's

Danville staff writer Tracy Moss reports that a second Jimmy John's will open in Danville this fall.

Seth Hobbs, owner and manager of the Jimmy John's at 3120 N. Vermilion St., said plans are in the works for a second, bigger store at 306 W. Fairchild St.

That location would be next door to Papa John's on the southeast corner of Fairchild and Gilbert streets.

The layout and look of the new Jimmy John's will be similar to the existing store, but will be able to seat more customers — about 50, Hobbs said.

"It will extend our delivery zone big-time," he added.

Hobbs doesn't know the exact delivery area for the new location, but he expects it to serve all medical facilities in the area and most of downtown.

Renovations should begin soon, with the goal of being open in early November.

Tentative hours will be 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week.

The new store is expected to employ about 35. There won't be a drive-up, but in the spring, an outdoor seating area may be added.

However, a drive-up will be considered at the store on North Vermilion Street, he added.

Catering biz booming

Hendrick House Catering is doing so much business these days, it's adding a new catering kitchen at 801 W. Killarney St., U.

"We've just expanded so much," said Sue Dawson, vice president of food service for Hendrick Dorms Inc.

"With the expansion of our catering business, our Greek food service business on campus, our farm operation and our food truck, we need more production space," she said.

Dawson said she hopes the new space, just off North Lincoln Avenue in Urbana, will be ready before Christmas.

The building most recently housed Jericho Missionary Baptist Church, before its move to 1601 W. Bloomington Road, C.

Hendrick House Catering is remodeling the southeast end of the building for the kitchen and eventually hopes to turn the other end of the building — the former sanctuary — into event space, Dawson said.

The catering business is based at Hendrick House, 904 W. Green St., U, but operates from about 30 locations, including fraternities, sororities and residence halls.

Most recently, the catering business began providing food service for Newman Hall, in addition to Armory House, Presby Hall and Nika House residence halls.

The "farm operation" that Dawson mentioned started out two years ago as two 30-foot plots at Meadowbrook Park in Urbana.

Last year, it graduated to a half-acre plot at the Student Sustainable Farm on campus.

The farm provides the catering firm's clients with tomatoes, green peppers, green beans and greens, such as spinach and kale. The rooftop garden atop Hendrick House furnishes herbs and cherry tomatoes.

"Next year, we're hoping to expand to 2 acres — and up to 3 or 4 acres," Dawson said.

Meanwhile, the Hendrick House food truck continues to serve chicken-and-waffles and side dishes at Market at the Square in Urbana and at events in the University of Illinois Research Park and Clark Park in Champaign.

The truck is slated to appear at the Pygmalion Festival in late September and at events for fraternities, sororities and residence halls on campus.

But the truck doesn't keep a day-in, day-out schedule on campus during the school year.

It's mainly used "as a marketing tool and as backup for existing clients," Dawson said.

Hendrick House Catering has "175 employees and growing," she added.

Half-century party

Caitlin Richardson, the 2013 winner of The Chorale Young Artist Scholarship Award, will provide musical entertainment for the 50th anniversary celebration of Renner-Wikoff Chapel's Philo Road location.

The event is set for 5 to 8 p.m. Saturday at 1900 S. Philo Road, U.

Refreshments will be served, and a DVD outlining a history of the funeral home business will be shown.

Stephen Ater, who has co-owned Renner-Wikoff with Matt Schable since 2012, said there will be tours of the building.

He said he is often asked by visitors whether they can see the crematorium, and this will be a chance for them to see it if they wish.

Ater said his research showed that two funeral directors by the names of Asbury Shuck and Samuel Fox did business in downtown Urbana — first at 116 W. Main St., and then at 157 W. Main St., before renting a building owned by the Enos Renner livery service at 206 E. Main St.

Renner later purchased the funeral business and eventually moved it to the former home of Judge William Somers at Race and Green streets in Urbana.

Renner provided ambulance service with horse-drawn vehicles, and after he moved the business to the Somers home, he ran the first motorized ambulance service in the area, Ater said.

P.T. Wikoff acquired the business in 1930, and the Wikoff family moved the funeral home to Philo Road in the early 1960s after selling the downtown Urbana property for the development of Lincoln Square Mall.

'Smoothies for Service'

Public safety workers are getting a bonus from area McDonald's stores.

During the week of Sept. 8-12, McDonald's Restaurants of Central Illinois will offer a free small McCafe Smoothie to local police officers, firefighters and emergency medical services workers.

All the public safety workers have to do is show their state-issued identification card.

The smoothies come in three flavors — blueberry-pomegranate, strawberry-banana and mango-pineapple — and are made with fruit, fruit juice and low-fat yogurt. But McDonald's said the smoothies can also be made without the low-fat yogurt.

Film showings offered

The Reading Group in Champaign has acquired public performance rights to show "The Big Picture: Rethinking Dyslexia," a one-hour film about the learning disability.

The organization is offering to show the film to area groups interested in learning more about dyslexia.

The organization has already shown the movie at the Art Theater, the Champaign Public Library, the Urbana Free Library and Stone Creek Church.

The film, directed by Robert Redford's son James, discusses myths, stigmas and truths surrounding dyslexia, clears up misconceptions and provides information on new scientific and neurological research.

It shows how dyslexics can learn and also points out advantages that can accompany the condition.

For more information, contact The Reading Group's executive director, Jennifer Bell, 351-9144.

Contact Don Dodson at 351-5227; by email at; or by regular mail at The News-Gazette, c/o It's Your Business column, P.O. Box 677, Champaign, IL 61824-0677.

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sanjuan wrote on August 31, 2014 at 10:08 am

I applaud Hendrick House as a local business for their success, but I do question their farming operation.  From the article it appears they are profiting commercially from the use of public land, first at Meadowbrook and now on U of I property.  Are they paying rent?  Contributing in other ways, say by tilling space used by others?  There's a fine line here somewhere and I honestly don't know where it is.