When Rand McNally went looking for the best place to open its seventh store, the company's maps pointed to Orange County.
"People here are globally oriented. They're more sophisticated, and they have the money to travel," says Steven Newman, manager of the new Rand McNally Map & Travel Store in South Coast Plaza, Costa Mesa.
Since Rand McNally opened the store in September, Newman has been amazed at the boundless curiosity of his worldly clientele.
"They're information-starved," he says. "I have three people (on staff) who are map and globe specialists, and the customers pump them for information."
On a recent afternoon, geography buff Kurt Roudybush of Seal Beach happily lost himself among the travel guides.
"I'm kind of a geography nut," Roudybush says. "I love this stuff."
"I like watching the Discovery Channel," he adds, "and when I passed by the store I thought, 'That looks like a lot of fun.' "
"He'd live here if he could," says his wife, Diana.
Rand McNally has 600 road maps, an assortment of geography-related games and toys, atlases, travel videos and a host of specialized travel guides, from "The Best Places to Kiss in Northern California" to the official guide to Disneyland.
R.M. Heydon of Quincy, Mich., an airline pilot, stopped into Rand McNally after landing a 757 at the John Wayne Airport. He bought a World Ocean Floor Map.
"I've been flying 42 years. I've lived with maps all of my life and studied cartography in school," Heydon says. "I'm buying a map of the world because I'm decorating a new home."
One need not be a cartographer to appreciate much of the merchandise. Rand McNally offers various novelty gifts designed to make geography more palatable to those who lack Heydon's love of maps.
Some knowledge of geography could rub off on the wearer of "The World Jacket," a baseball-style jacket printed with the map of the world. One can also shoot hoops with a basketball painted up like planet Earth or recline in a global beanbag chair.
Parents can begin teaching toddlers geography with toys like "Hugg America," a stuffed map of the United States, and "Hugg a Planet," for the child who wants the whole world in his hands.
For older children and adults, there's Geo Safari, a computer geography game that can amaze players with their geographical illiteracy. Hint: Salem is not the capital of Massachusetts.
"They're selling like hot cakes and they cost $100 a crack," Newman says.
History lovers can buy reproductions of antique maps, including a map of North America from 1650 that depicts Baja California as an island.
The shop has globes that come in all sizes, from a massive six-footer for $39,000, available on order, to a two-inch global paperweight.
"With everything happening in the world today, everyone needs a globe to find out what's going on," says Penny Barre, director of stores for Rand McNally in Skokie, Ill.
As the global community shrinks, people have grown more concerned with events that can affect them from halfway around the world, Barre says.
"The Sunday paper is required reading, especially the travel section," Newman says. "If something's happening in Berlin, it goes in the front window."
The store's inventory is directly influenced by the evening news. Since the crisis in the Persian Gulf broke, maps of the area have been big sellers.
"We had 75 maps of the Middle East crisis, and we sold half of them during the first three days of business," Newman says. "People want information and it seems price is no object. The maps sell for $5.95, but I could have sold them for twice that amount."
He sold out of maps of Kuwait.
"They were $18.95, and they're gone," he says.
On Oct. 3, all maps of Europe became obsolete when East Germany and West Germany officially reunited. Rand McNally anticipated the unification when printing its latest international atlas by making both halves of the country the same color, purple, but leaving the border.
"It looks like a unified country," Barre says. The company's cartographers deal constantly with such changes. Countries (not to mention counties, cities, townships and burgs) change names, borders and alliances constantly, but they don't often receive the massive publicity that Germany did when it unified, Barre says.
The best that any cartographer can do is represent the territory at the time of printing. That's why all of the maps and atlases have a copyright with the date.
As map makers at Rand McNally know, it's a tough job, staying on top of the world.