House of Chuckles owner Tracy Kidd readily admits that it makes little economic sense to keep his small novelty, magic and costume store open at 247 E. 300 South on the outskirts of downtown Salt Lake City.
After all, 96 percent of the rubber chickens, stink bombs, fuzzy dice, itch powder, exploding golf balls, invisible-ink pens, whoopie cushions, hand buzzers, pet puke, shocking digital cameras and fake mustaches he sells can be ordered online.
But Kidd offers two things in short supply these days.
He loves one-on-one contact with customers, including the many clowns and magicians who frequent his store. And he enjoys laughing, something he does all the time.
"In today’s society, so much is done online," said Kidd, who opened his first store in West Valley City in 1982 shortly after graduating from Granger High School. He has been at this location for about 3 1/2 years. "With this type of shop, I like the one on one."
He likes making customers laugh, scaring them with his latest invention (a spider that jumps out of a wooden box when a curious customer opens it) or amazing them.
For example, when I recently visited, we started talking about a card trick I saw on a hilarious episode of "The Big Bang Theory," one that baffled the brilliant but socially inept Sheldon Cooper (played by Jim Parsons) on one of my favorite shows.
Kidd pulled out a deck of cards and performed basically the same trick. He had me pick a card without showing it to him. He shuffled and reshuffled, at one point leaving half the cards face up, and then all but the six of hearts I picked face down. I have no clue how that trick is done.
To a kid like me who grew up loving seeing movies at the old Utah Theatre on Main Street and then ducking into the tiny hole-in-the-wall Loftus magic and novelty store next door to purchase some fake vomit to torment my mother, walking through the House of Chuckles was a trip down memory lane.
Kidd said that he also visited Loftus. Now Loftus is a strictly wholesale outlet, still in Salt Lake City, and Kidd visits it nearly every day in search of the rare new novelty item.
I’m not sure if that’s where he found the Inflatable Husband that he gave to employee Crystelle Stroud, but the packaging alone made me laugh out loud.
The Inflatable Husband is billed as a "low-maintenance partner for a stress-free, easy life." Its advantages include the facts that "all your friends will like him, it won’t upset your parents, it is always willing to please, it doesn’t watch football, it never breaks wind, is always faithful and floats."
"It’s a riot," said Stroud, who said the doll was too short in height but otherwise perfect.
The most expensive item in the store costs about $500 and is a magic trick that allows the magician to turn a dove into a rabbit.
Kidd said he liked doing magic and took classes when he was a kid, but the thing that really brought him into the novelty business was Halloween. He worked at the March of Dimes Haunted House for 15 years and developed a love for masks and costumes.
Alas, while he has virtually no retail competition for the novelty and magic items, he can’t compete with the big box stores that have virtually taken away the Halloween business from smaller stores. He does carry some specialty masks that might be difficult to find.
But Kidd offers some things those big stores don’t often have: one-on-one service, a smile and a place where it’s still possible to purchase a rubber chicken or exploding pen.
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