THE 1992 STORE OF THE YEAR Nike Town combines the razzle-dazzle of show biz with first-rate service to get customers to pay full price -- happily.

(MONEY Magazine) – As the solid black door slides open, you hear an excited voice over a loudspeaker: ''Ladies and gentlemen, the 15-year veteran of the National Football League, D-a-a-a-n Fouts!'' The crowd roars. Then the voice fades. Inside the two-story space, you blink. It's dark. The show is about to begin. As you adjust to the dim light, life-size plaster casts of Andre Agassi swinging a tennis racquet and Bo Jackson pumping iron appear alongside you. High above, a statue of Michael Jordan, going up for a slam dunk, is eerily suspended from the ceiling. There are manhole covers at your feet and catwalks overhead. In the central square where you stand, you are surrounded by brick storefronts, set at odd angles. Through their open doorways, you see clothing racks, seemingly floating in air, filled with high-tech, Day-Glo athletic shoes, stylish sweatsuits in a myriad of colors, black spandex running pants and Gore-Tex jackets. Recessed lights overhead simulate dawn turning to daylight, gradually brightening, then dimming again. As the lights come up, you hear the sound of birds chirping. Are you dreaming? No, you just walked into MONEY's 1992 Store of the Year. ''Welcome to Nike Town,'' says an athletic-looking young salesman, shod in Nikes, natch, and clad in black gym shorts and a brightly colored T-shirt. ''What can I help you with today?'' Located smack in the middle of downtown Portland, Ore., this 20,000-square- foot emporium is more movie set than store. It was opened last year by Nike, the company based in Beaverton, Ore. that turns out more athletic shoes than anyone else in the world. Nike, it seems, is on to something. ''Today's shoppers want to be entertained,'' reports Madison Riley, a retail specialist for Atlanta-based management consultants Kurt Salmon Associates. ''Nike Town is theater,'' says Riley, ''and for retailers, that's a key to the future.'' Nike Town is putting the fun back into shopping, and that, along with a commitment to first-rate service, is why it is our Store of the Year. Nike is bold in its timing and almost unique in its positioning: it has launched the store while the retail industry is faltering -- U.S. retail sales have fallen from $186 a square foot in 1980 to $161 today -- and showing no signs of rebounding. Most other retailers are offering consumers no-frills, find-it- yourself outlets or lookalike, cavernous concrete warehouse clubs. As with most fancy packages, though, this one carries a pretty price. While athletic shoes and gear are widely discounted elsewhere, Nike Town customers always pay full retail price. Nothing goes on sale -- ever. Nike Town is designed to dazzle you into paying $100 or so for athletic shoes, $120 for a nylon running jacket and $500 or more for a total ensemble that puts you in matching socks, pants, top and sweatband. ''Nike Town combines the fun of Disneyland, the museum quality of the Smithsonian and the merchandising of Ralph Lauren,'' announces Gordon Thompson, the store's 31-year-old designer, who also worked on set ideas for the 1989 movie Back to the Future II. There are signs that other retailers are following Nike's lead. For example, outside Minneapolis, real estate developer Melvin Simon is building what will be the biggest shopping mall in the world -- a combination entertainment and shopping center dubbed the Mall of America (see the box on page 160). Simon is betting that millions of shoppers every year will be pulled in by the pizazz. Nike Town's popularity has been overwhelming, especially considering its location. ''Portland is not exactly the crossroads of the retail world,'' quips Nike chairman and founder Philip Knight, 53. In the year since the store opened, an estimated 1 million people have shopped there. And Knight claims that the store is profitable, although he refuses to disclose any figures. For those of you who can't make it to Portland, Nike Town may be coming to a city near you. The company will open a 60,000-square-foot store on Chicago's upmarket Michigan Avenue in May and then move on to New York City, Atlanta, possibly Tokyo, and other major cities. Nike plans to add at least one store every year throughout the 1990s, and it is urging national retailers like Nordstrom, Macy's and Foot Locker to install full-service Nike Town boutiques in their stores. But these boutiques are expected to carry only a portion of Nike's wares. Today, even Nike's largest account, Foot Locker, carries just 30% of the company's complete athletic line. The new Portland store, however, stocks every one of the company's creations -- more than 1,000 new products each year -- for 25 distinct sports activities. There are three shops for basketball alone. Other ''pavilions'' offer equipment and head-to-toe togs for tennis, jogging, biking, water ! sports, hiking, golf, soccer and aerobics. Goods range from $1 postcards to $15 T-shirts, from $20 spandex shorts to $60 sweatshirts, and from $125 basketball sneakers to $225 Michael Jordan warm-up suits. While nothing is ever discounted, price ranges are wide enough that you can get outfitted for anywhere from $100 to as much as $1,000. To pump you up, Nike Town goofs with your senses. ''We manipulate sounds, temperature and lights in each of the 14 shops,'' says Thompson. ''People love stimulation. It keeps them interested, and it keeps them moving.'' Every shop, for instance, plays a New Age sound track of soothing mantras that hum louder when you pull merchandise off the shelves. Subliminally, the gods applaud your move. In the Aqua Gear shop, which offers wet suits and windsurfing shoes, the temperature is warmer than in the so-called Town Square outside, and you hear surf crashing and seagulls squawking overhead. Across the way, in the All- Conditions Gear room where biking and hiking wares are displayed, the sound of wind whistles from hidden speakers, and a bracing breeze comes from strategically placed fans. Here it's chillier than in the square by some 15 degrees. In the International running pavilion, the thud of a lone runner pounds out first on terrain that sounds like pavement, then gravel, then dirt. Next door, in The Force basketball boutique, a wooden floor and girders evoke your high school gym while you hear the sound of the ball dribbling and the sharp squeak of sneakers on polished wood. Scattered throughout the complex are autographed memorabilia such as Nolan Ryan's baseballs, Michael Jordan's first pair of Nikes and John McEnroe's busted racquets. ''The displays make you believe there's more to a shoe than a pink sole and a pump,'' says Sid Doolittle, a retail consultant with McMillan/Doolittle in Chicago. But Nike doesn't rely only on special effects and nostalgia to get you to pay top dollar. The company has gone out of its way to hire a sales staff of dedicated athletes -- amateurs, college team players and even a former professional, ranging in age from 25 to 35. Before hitting the sales floor, each one is trained for three months at the 74-acre Nike World campus 12 miles away in a Portland suburb. There the staff is lectured and then quizzed on Nike history, technology and products. ''You can't BS a runner,'' sums up Nike Town store manager Jeff Nichols earnestly. ''They want to know: What's the midsole? What's the outsole?'' & While the sales team is uniformly attentive, there is no full-court press to get you to buy. The company profits when you purchase its goods elsewhere too -- even if you pay marked-down prices. It's your basic assist play. ''Our job is to get customers to buy Nike product,'' says Helena Manset, 30, an assistant store manager who played professional tennis for three years. ''It doesn't matter where they buy,'' she says. ''As long as they buy Nike, we've done our job.'' Most of the merchandise is durable, well crafted and targeted to customers who care about both the right image and the right gear. With shoes, at least, technologically correct gear can prevent injuries. ''It is worth the investment to get a well-made shoe with the proper support for the motion and the proper sole,'' says Dr. Steven Dribbon, a podiatrist in Highland Park, N.J. ''For example, it is not wise to wear a running shoe to play tennis. It just doesn't have the same lateral support.'' Why did Portland shopper Nancy Biel, 22, buy her latest pair of athletic shoes at Nike Town? ''The store, with its huge selection, is like an F.A.O. Schwarz for athletes,'' she says. ''I take my running seriously. I know I am making an investment in my equipment, and I want to buy from a guy who knows what I need.'' In general, if you wait for a sale, you will get a better price elsewhere. For example, a pair of Air Pegasus running shoes sells for $65 at Nike Town. But at G.I. Joe's in Beaverton, you can pick up the same pair on sale for $51.99. Shopping on sale, of course, usually means settling for limited selections or last year's models. Besides higher price tags, Nike Town has other drawbacks. The display space for women's and children's apparel is skimpy. Also, the store's layout confuses some people. For example, the staircase, designed to look like a StairMaster exercise machine, is tucked away in the Cross-Training shop. Finally, there are few places to sit down and rest. According to designer Thompson, the Chicago store will have larger shops and a simpler floor plan. In addition, there will be video theaters with plush seats where you can relax while watching winning moments in sports. No matter the flaws, Nike Town is an exciting place to visit -- fourth- graders and middle-aged marathon runners alike drool over Bo Jackson's dirty cleats. If you walk out with just a $6 poster, you leave feeling good. The store bestows enough of a lift that, chances are, you'll leave resolved to ; start running or playing tennis, or at least to jog to your car. As the sliding black door releases you back to the streets of Portland, you get one last message, and it is not subliminal. Emblazoned on the wall in nearly foot-high letters: JUST DO IT.