How Blackpool Unlimited helped Russ pull a rabbit from a hat
With so many other licensed premises in the area, Russ Brown’s ambitions to launch a family magic bar in the centre of Blackpool faced an uphill struggle. But that was before Blackpool Unlimited’s Kriss Wilson became an unlikely magician’s assistant.
If you’re a Blackpool local, you’ll know Russ Brown. The early part of his career saw him learn his craft alongside Russ Stevens at Blackpool Pleasure Beach’s acclaimed Mystique show. That lead to a 10-year residency at Blackpool Tower, followed by his own shows back at Blackpool Pleasure Beach.
Throughout, Russ maintained the ambition to open something truly unique in the town. “I've thought about opening a family magic bar in Blackpool ever since I was at the Tower years ago,” he says. “It’s something Blackpool hasn't got, and it felt like something that would appeal to locals and visitors alike and really fit with the town’s variety heritage.”
Russ eventually found a venue on Church Street which is part of the Winter Gardens complex. “From securing the premises it took more than a year to open our doors,” he says. “The space needed a complete refurb costing tens of thousands of pounds. We worked night and day to launch in time for the annual Blackpool Magic Convention [for which Russ is also stage manager] but we managed it.”
Ever since, Russ Brown’s House of Secrets has been welcoming a growing clientele each weekend. “Out of season, entry has been free,” he explains. “You can enjoy a few drinks and some magic. We've already had plenty of people stopping by who are heading towards shows or events. During the season we’ll be running a show every night. For a small entry fee you'll get a brilliant, intimate magic show - which is the best setting for magic.”
How to make licensing worries disappear
Although the House of Secrets is now enjoying growing success, Russ feared he may never realise his ambition.
“I’ve worked across Blackpool but always at someone else’s venue. I never needed to understand the intricacies of licensing laws or business rates. Licensing was absolutely crucial. If I hadn’t been able to secure a licence then the idea of a bar would have fallen at the first hurdle. I was concerned that, in an area not short of bars, I might struggle to gain approval, but Kriss Wilson at Blackpool Unlimited was a big help. She helped me apply for the licence. She advised me who to speak to and gave me pointers on what to say to support my case. I think that the fact the House of Secrets is aimed at families helped my application.
“Kriss helped me understand business rate too and she’s definitely made the process of getting open easier.”
Having his own venue has also given Russ greater creative freedom to devise new tricks. “Without giving away any secrets, having my own venue enables me to rig illusions without having to ask anyone’s permission. It’s enabled me to revisit and update some old tricks and introduce lots of new ones.”
“One thing that's been great for me has been the support from other businesses in the area. I’m based in what is really part of the Winter Gardens, but they've been so supportive. And I’ve had lots more support from other businesses wanting us to do well and wanting to collaborate. It creates this virtuous circle that has been really terrific.”
What would Russ’ advice be to anyone looking to launch their own business in Blackpool?
“Take the plunge. Do it. We've only been open a month (and even then only at weekends) but we’ve been really encouraged by the response and we’re doing well. But before you launch, plan what you're going to do, and speak to Kriss at Blackpool Unlimited.”