Niketown Unsurprisingly, Nike swooshed past its competitors with the superstore concept, opening the first Niketown flagship store in Chicago in 1992. The multilevel retail store cum sports palace is divided into different "pavilions," offering all the gear and merchandise an athlete or sports fan could hope for. The top level is devoted entirely to Air Jordan, with countless Michael Jordan products, museum cases, accessories, posters, and even a small video theatre. If you want really big video, there's a three-story-tall video screen that runs inspirational videos, Nike ads, sports highlights, and of course, company videos during your party. Each Niketown store has an in-house marketing manager who serves as the contact for your after-hours event. The Chicago location also collaborates with a local company to produce games and activities for groups.

FAO Schwartz At FAO Schwartz, life-sized (in fact, live) Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls stand sentry at the doors. Tomorrow, it might be Mother Goose, Barbie, or the famous FAO Toy Soldier. Once inside the Fifth Avenue Store in New York City, guests are immediately immersed in the ultimate children's fantasy world, a 70,000-square-foot toy chest, with the familiar strains of the store's theme song in the background: "Welcome to our world! Welcome to our world! Welcome to our world of toys!" (Anyone who has visited this store knows that this tune is likely to run through your head all day.) FAO Schwartz is known for its specialty boutiques--notably, the hugely popular Barbie boutique. The New York flagship store recently added a Star Wars boutique, with the most Star Wars dedicated floor space of any retailer (appropriately the site of Lukasfilm, Ltd.'s launch party for the recent Star Wars release). FAO Schwartz knows how to throw a party, and makes it easy on the meeting organizer, often adjusting store hours to accommodate events. Says Alan Marcus, corporate public relations and special events manager, "It's the ultimate party atmosphere, where people are literally taken into a fantasy land." There are five FAO Schwartz flagship stores: New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Las Vegas, and Orlando.

Phipps Plaza Atlanta represents the New South, and nowhere is this sophistication more evident that at posh Phipps Plaza, in the city's upscale Buckhead neighborhood. With its ironwork benches, rare woods, grand staircases, and delicate chandeliers, it conjures up images of a luxury ocean liner from a bygone era. Groups of up to 1,000 can mingle among the three upscale department stores and over 100 specialty shops. Says Marketing Director Nicole Bostic, "People deserve an elegant atmosphere where they can feel comfortable while shopping and socializing, and Phipps Plaza is the very definition of elegance.

Discovery Channel Stores At the Discovery Channel Store: Destination D.C., visitors come face-to-face with a 40-foot-long cast of the largest T-Rex skeleton ever assembled. The store, located in Washington's new MCI Center, is a tourist destination in its own right, attracting 3,500 visitors daily during high season, and more than a million since the store's opening in March of 1998. There are 30,000 square feet packed with merchandise on four floors, each with its own theme, including Sky & Space/Science Frontiers, where you can climb inside an authentic B-25 cockpit. On the top floor, the Discovery Channel Theatre seats 80 to 100 persons (currently showing: "Destination DC," a 15-minute high-definition film on our nation's capital). The store's creative displays, dazzling architecture (construction costs were estimated at over $7 million), and ongoing in-store demonstrations, activities, and exhibits have taken retailing to the next level.

Guests at the Discovery Channel Store: Destination San Francisco (in the brand-new Metreon Sony Entertainment Center in San Francisco's Yerba Buena Center area) are greeted instead by a 20-foot-long, 40 million-year-old Dorudon whale skeleton, along with three saltwater aquariums; a 110-foot-long video screen wall; and a restored biplane suspended upside down from the ceiling. Here, employees seem more like tour guides than retail clerks, leading customers through the different "worlds": Ocean, Science, Exploration, Aviation, and more.

Ducati For motorcycle enthusiasts, the name Ducati has stood for quality and excellence in design since Fratelli Ducati produced its first bike, the Cuccilo, in 1946. The Ducati Showroom in Manhattan is a testament to the company's position on the cutting edge of innovative motorcycle design. Inside, there's the Ducati Racing Wall, with six giant photographs of the Ducati machines, and the entire back wall is taken up by an enlargement of a factory design sketch. There's also a display of the Ducati line of Italian racing attire and accessories. The uber-industrial space, with exposed pipes and polished concrete flooring and an impressive sound system, lends itself to a variety of uses, among them corporate events in a hip, nightclub setting.

Pacific Place Seattle is a town known for its commitment to the environment. No surprise, then, to learn that a former parking garage has been recycled into an exciting new retail environment: Pacific Place. This shopping center has five levels of upscale shops and restaurants and an 11-screen cinema, all surrounding a floor-to-ceiling atrium that floods the facility with natural light. The exposed, open levels add drama, especially on the ground floor looking up toward the sky. It's certainly hard to imagine cars ever having been parked here. Says Marketing Manager Lynn Beck: "It's very welcoming, both from the inside and the outside."

Blue Canoe In the June 1999 VM+SD (Visual Merchandise + Store Design) Readers' Choice Poll, Seattle's Blue Canoe, located in the trendy University District, was described as "a lovely subtle and eclectic retail environment full of idiosyncratic merchandise, loosely themed around life in the lake country . . . a welcome change in a world of national chains." The accolade alone is enough to pique one's interest, but when owner Randi Seversen further described her 18,000-square-foot showplace, with its high ceilings, arbors, hardwood floors, bleached wainscoting, and rough-hewn furnishings, all designed with lake country living in mind, we knew we'd found a unique and charming venue for an intimate, relaxed corporate gathering.

American Girl If there's a young girl in your life, you're probably aware of the American Girl phenomenon. If not, here's the scoop: For the last 13 years, 50 million American Girl catalogs have been delivered to eager fans of these educational dolls and related accessories. So it was only a matter of time before American Girl went retail, opening American Girl Place in Chicago in November of 1998. The store recently won the distinction of "Best Overall Themed Retail Experience Award" from the Themed Entertainment Association. Marketing Manager Amy Barbre describes the store as "an experiential venue--a destination for girls and their families"--as well as for groups, including The Chicago Tribune sales staff, who, according to Barbre, are still talking about their event at American Girl Place. The store features a 153-seat American Girl Theatre, a live orchestra, a one-hour live musical theatre presentation, and a cafe that seats 145 persons. The theater, the cafe, and the entire store are available for events on a limited basis.

Niketown * 669 North Michigan Avenue

* Chicago, Ill. 60611

* (312) 642-6363 ext. 236

* www.nikebiz.com

* Contact: Lisa Gil, marketing manager

* Capacity: up to 500

* Availability: MondayFriday, hours vary by request

* Square Footage: 64,000

* Features: gift certificates, merchandise, interactive sports activities

* Other locations: Chicago (flagship), Portland, Seattle, San Francisco (flagship), Orange County, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Denver, Boston, New York (flagship), Miami, Atlanta, Honolulu

FAO Schwartz * 767 Fifth Avenue

* New York , N.Y. 10153-0199

* (212) 644-9410, ext. 4110

* www.faoschwartz.com

* Contact: Alan Marcus, corporate public relations and special events manager; Amanda Keropian, special events coordinator

* Capacity: up to 2,000

* Availability: flexible

* Square Footage: 70,000

* Features: gift certificates, discount coupons, costumed characters

* Other Locations: San Francisco, Chicago, Las Vegas, Orlando

Phipps Plaza * 3500 Peachtree Road, NE

* Atlanta, Ga. 30326

* (404) 261-7910; (800) 810-7700

* www.phippsplaza.com

* Contact: Nicole Bostic, marketing director; Jaime Adcock, tourism coordinator

* Capacity: up to 1,000

* Availability: per request

* Square Footage: varies by request

* Features: goodie bags, "MallPerks," discounts

Discovery Channel Store: Destination DC * 601 F Street N.W. MCI Center

* Washington, D.C. 20071

* (301) 771-4506

* www.discovery.com

* Contact: Shannon Jones, marketing and promotions manager

* Capacity: up to 1,000

* Availability: Saturdays, 9 p.m.12 a.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m.12 a.m.

* Square Footage: 30,000

* Features: gift certificates, discounts, store merchandise, store maps, store tours, science experts

* Other Locations: San Francisco, Baltimore, New York

Discovery Channel Store: Destination San Francisco * 101 4th Street

* San Francisco, Calif. 94103

* (301) 771-5994

* www.discovery.com

* Contact: Kim Airhart, marketing manager

* Capacity: varies

* Availability: per request

* Square Footage: 10,000

* Features: gift certificates, discounts, store merchandise, store maps, store tours, science experts

* Other Locations: Washington, D.C.; Baltimore; New York

Ducati Showroom * 555 West 42nd Street and 11th Avenue (entrance on 11th Avenue)

* New York, N. Y. 10036

* (212) 290-2275

* www.ducati.com

* Contact: Ryan Cunningham, general manager

* Capacity: up to 200

* Availability: complete or partial days 9 a.m.5 p.m. (2 months prior notice); evening parties (30 days prior notice)

* Square Footage: 3,000

Pacific Place * 600 Pine Street (between 6th and 7th)

* Seattle, Wash. 98101

* www.pacificplaceseattle.com

* (206) 652-1300

* Contact: Lynn Beck, marketing manager

* Capacity: per request

* Availability: per request

* Square Footage: per request

Blue Canoe * 2592 NE University Village

* Seattle, Wash. 98105

* (206) 528-1776

* Contact: Randi Seversen, owner

* Capacity: up to 30

* Availability: Sunday evenings

* Square Footage: 18,000

American Girl Place * 111 East Chicago Avenue

* Chicago, Ill. 60611

* (312) 943-9400

* www.americangirl.com

* Contact: Amy Barbre, marketing manager

* Capacity: up to 850

* Availability: flexible

* Square Footage: 35,000

* Features: discounts, American Girl products