For sale: dinosaur skull, just $184,000; Discovery: The Discovery Channel opens its Harborplace store tomorrow with some things 65 million years old and some things space-age new.

THE BALTIMORE SUN

It's probably the only place around town where you can buy a 65 million-year-old triceratops dinosaur skull.

The Discovery Channel Store at Harborplace, which opens tomorrow, is banking on more than cable brand recognition to lure tourists and locals alike into its new showplace in the Light Street pavilion.

It's also counting on one-of-a-kind merchandise that reveals something about the world, though the prehistoric remains for $184,000 is as exclusive as it gets.

The store relies on a format that makes use of interactive exhibits and lively displays, such as the dozen video monitors encased in sculpture and suspended over the cash registers.

And it features products that tie into Discovery Channel's programming, such as replicas of artifacts uncovered for the channel's forthcoming program, "Cleopatra's Palace: In Search of a Legend."

The Baltimore store, opening in the 7,000-square-foot space formerly occupied by the Nature Co., marks the latest retail venture for Discovery Communications Inc. of Bethesda.

Besides the Discovery Channel, the $1 billion media company also produces cable television's the Learning Channel, Animal Planet and Travel Channel.

"We're transferring the channel into the store," said Elizabeth Wainio, general manager of the Harborplace store, where science, technology and exploration are themes in sections focusing on kids, home decor, aviation and the ocean.

In the ocean area, for instance, shoppers will find oil lamps, sharks teeth and metal crab sculptures.

Discovery made its first foray into retailing a year ago, tapping into a trend toward combining entertainment, education and shopping.

It opened a museum-like, flagship mega-store at the MCI Center in Northwest Washington, a four-story extravaganza with 18 interactive exhibits, a giant ant colony and a 42-foot tyrannosaur skeleton towering over areas that depict the area under ground, the surface, the ocean, the Earth, sky and space.

"The MCI Center store for us has been terrific," drawing 1 million visitors in the first year, said Sheila Arnold, president of Discovery Channel Retail, based in Berkeley, Calif.

The Harborplace store has some of the touches of the flagship store, a wide array of telescopes, an interactive cockpit display where visitors identify aircraft that dart across the screen and a video game that shows how pebbles are formed.

Since the MCI Center store opened last March, four more stores have opened, at Philadelphia International Airport, in Minneapolis, in Farmington, Conn., and in Century City, Calif. A second flagship-type store will open this summer in San Francisco.

Besides opening new stores, Discovery has converted 17 of its mall-based Nature Co. stores into Discovery Channel Stores, infusing them with a new mix of merchandise and decor.

The company has owned the Nature Co., with stores in Towson Town Center and in Annapolis, since 1996, when it bought the then-130-store chain from CML Group Inc. for $40 million. Some less profitable stores were closed.

The company has used its MCI Center store as a testing ground for product categories that it has since expanded into its mall stores, such as African art and pottery and automobile lore.

"With the smaller spaces, it's hard to have the same kind of ambience as you have with the flagship design and architecture," Arnold said. "The way we look at the conversion stores is broken down into categories of the business that represent the exploration idea but presents it in a different way."

By year's end, Discovery expects to have 120 Discovery Channel Stores, including the converted and newly constructed stores, said Kim Airhart, a spokeswoman for the chain.

Pub Date: 3/11/99

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