The unicorn, of course, is a mythical beast, but don’t tell Martin Proctor. As proprietor of a shop called Unicorn City in New York’s Greenwich Village, he regards himself as a man with a mission: the unstinting promotion of his improbable merchandise. “The unicorn is a wonderful, magical creature,” he maintains. “Do you know that Confucius’ mother saw one before he was born?”
Proctor, 44, insists there is a unicorn boom in the offing, an event that may have missed public attention. “Excitement is building in England and France,” he announces happily. “The unicorn is becoming more popular everywhere. I imagine soon you’ll see it even on paper towels.” As the ultimate evidence of spreading unicornomania, he points to the scheduled release next spring of The Last Unicorn, an animated movie featuring the voices of Mia Farrow, Tammy Grimes and Alan Arkin. It’s about a lady unicorn on a quest for her lost race.
Meanwhile Proctor keeps the horned merchandise moving among such regular customers at his store as comedienne Kaye Ballard, actress Betsy Palmer and choreographer Tommy Tune. The shop is a veritable unicornucopia of T-shirts, baseball caps, jewelry, posters and stuffed baby you-know-whats, plus bumper stickers reading, “Caution, I brake for unicorns.” Bette Davis and Patti LuPone wear the store’s signature silver unicorn pendant, and playwright Edward Albee slips in to buy unicorn wrapping paper. As for magician Doug Henning, it’s no dilemma what to give as presents. “He spends hundreds and hundreds of dollars on unicorns for everybody,” says Proctor.
The store owner’s own obsession dates back to his childhood days in Brooklyn. “I remember painting water-colors of horses and putting horns on them,” he says. “I always felt sort of isolated, so I used to do a lot of magic and puppetry.” Proctor went on to study acting at the New York Dramatic Workshop and later opened his first store, Papier Maché, Ltd. in 1961. By 1975 he was devoting himself exclusively to unicorns. Does he believe his merchandise might benefit from a touch of variety? Well, maybe. “Lately I have begun to sense,” he says, “that I am falling in love with dragons.”