Zeezo's Magic Castle

The Empire Mall, in the space left behind by Herberger's departure
For a short time in the early 1980s, Zeezo's Magic Castle brought some magic to the Empire Mall.
Larry Campbell was first introduced to magic at a shop in Hollywood in 1960. He walked into the store and demanded that one of the clerks do a trick for him. The clerk showed him a color-changing pocket knife trick, and Campbell was hooked. Before long, Campbell had adopted a clown persona and was entertaining children with magic. While he was stationed with the Marines in Juneau, Alaska, he developed a children’s television show featuring his alter-ego Zeezo the Clown. A short time later, an auto accident cut the show short, along with his military career. Rather than let it get him down, Campbell rebounded. He moved to the Denver area, where he was able to restart his television program. Though he made no money from the show, the two-year exposure got him a gig promoting Safeway stores across the country, which he did between 1968 and 1976. When Safeway declined to renew his contract, Campbell opened a magic shop.
The first Zeezo’s Magic Castle opened in a Denver shopping mall around 1977, with the motto: “We only sell fun”. Five years later, there were 11 more locations, including one in the Empire Mall. In March of 1981, it had been announced that Zeezo’s and several other stores would be taking over the space left behind by Herberger’s, which had left the mall early in the year. It was the days of the infectious Empire Mall jingle “It’s here, it’s here at the Empire - of course it’s here”. The Herberger’s remodel was promoted as a mall within a mall. They called it Empire Second Edition, though this language wasn’t employed after the grand opening, which happened October 16-18.
Larry Campbell shows his magic skills at the opening of the new location in the Empire Mall.
The grand opening of the Second Edition was accompanied by a decent amount of fanfare. There was a ribbon cutting, a drawing for a trip for two to Hawaii, Wally Wingert’s tribute to Jim Henson’s Muppets, and a magic show by Zeezo.
Chad Boese performs at the Spaghetti Works
Larry Campbell’s business model was to open a new shop and, within a year, sell it to the manager of the shop. It was a way for his name to go on and to give the managers something to work toward. This wasn’t easy for Campbell; after selling a store, he’d be pretty depressed for a couple of weeks, but it was the right thing to do. Ken Simmons took the mantle of Zeezo’s from Larry Campbell, but by 1985 sold it to Chad “Count” Boese. Boese had been doing magic since he was in third grade. He and a friend had put on a magic show for their graduation from Emerson Elementary. Before getting into magic again as a business, Boese taught music and sold real estate. Boese promoted Zeezo’s well, performing at parties and weddings and he even put on a dinner show at the Spaghetti Works.
Owner/Manager Ken Simmons poses in the Jack-O' Lantern mask behind some popular masks of the early 1980s.
The biggest time of the year at Zeezo’s was Halloween. Starting October first, the display cases at Zeezo’s shifted from cups and balls and other tricks to rubber chickens and severed limbs, makeup and masks. The Magic Castle made one-third of its yearly revenue during the Halloween season. Imagine the traffic one can see at the Spirit Halloween store churning through a much smaller space in the mall.
An average sale at Zeezo’s was $3, and rent at the Empire was somewhat steep. In the end, the sales weren’t enough to keep the doors open at Zeezo’s. After Halloween 1986, the store vanished like a rabbit into a hat, though Boese kept performing when he could.