PHILADELPHIA -- Of all possible locations for a store in downtown Philadelphia, Rand McNally & Co. recently chose one of the most visible when it expanded its retail map and travel-book division.
The shop, at 17th and Market streets, is the most prominent storefront available in One Liberty Place, one of the city's most prestigious office addresses.
Other new Rand McNally retail stores in Boston, Chicago and Costa Mesa, Calif., as well as long-established ones in Chicago, New York and San Francisco, are similarly situated, in places highly visible to those working in nearby offices.
The locations illustrate how Rand McNally, the world's best-known publisher of maps and other travel data, is pushing into the market of business travelers and vacationers who want increasingly sophisticated information.
Even though travel in general is flat this year because of the sluggish economy, officials of the 134-year-old family-owned company see the purveying of travel information as a growth business. Rand McNally plans to open retail travel stores in Washington and Cleveland this year and perhaps half a dozen more next year in other cities, company officials said.
The expanding retail division is expected to do well because of four trends detected by market research, according to Ted McNally, the retail division's vice president and a great-great-grandson of company co-founder Andrew McNally. Company headquarters are in Skokie, Ill.
More business travel abroad by Americans is one important trend, Mr. McNally said. Increases in domestic and international vacation travel also are key trends.
The other trends are the demand for additional information from the growing number of foreign visitors to this country, plus widespread concern about geographic literacy, he added.
"Travel is softening up, but our stores are still doing all right," Mr. McNally said in an interview. "We think that people who might have gone to Europe now are cutting back and are going to
travel in the United States. Right now, some of the book buyers may also be armchair travelers. A lot of books are bought to plan travel in the future."
Mr. McNally said selection of prominent locations for its stores was a key to Rand McNally's reaching its market.
In Philadelphia "we looked for a spot where we would be prominent, that would be highly trafficked, that would be business-oriented and that would attract a customer who is upscale, one who travels," he said.
CAlthough it's not large, the Philadelphia store has a spacious feel because of its expanses of glass, almost two floors high, that flood natural light onto globes suspended from the ceiling and onto display cases of books and maps.
Two television monitors on a shelf over the door constantly run travel videos, another product Rand McNally sells. The book and map displays were carefully designed so that low shelves and signs tilt upward to a shopper's eyes, and signs above the head are tilted downward.
There also is a large selection of children's gifts, including games, puzzles, maps and globes.
Most of the globes and many of the large wall maps are practical items for someone trying to locate a particular spot on the globe. They can be displayed as art on walls or placed strategically in other spaces in offices and homes.
The most visible of all the Rand McNally globes also could be a gift for the company or person who has everything. It's a hand-
painted, six-foot-diameter geophysical globe that provides an astronaut's view of the world. Complete with motorized stand, it sells for $39,000.