Augusta is the capital of Maine, which is the Pine Tree State -- not the Lobster State. And the Peach State of Georgia is governed from Atlanta.

For the many who laboriously learned and then quickly forgot their state capitals and nicknames in grammar school, the answers can be found again in the multitude of maps and gaggle of globes at the new Rand McNally Map & Travel store in Washington.

"This is where we live," said a mother to her small child, pointing to the speck of the nation's capital on a very big map as she browsed last week.

With the December opening of the store at 1201 Connecticut Ave. NW, downtown Washington seems to have become the center of the Earth of the retail map and travel world.

Right up the street from the new Rand McNally store, on the south side of Farragut Square, is the long-popular Map Store, which has been a cartophile's dream for decades.

And around the corner at 17th and M streets NW is the map maniac's mecca -- the National Geographic Society's worldwide headquarters, with its small retail operation, called the Explorer's Den, which has annual sales of nearly $1 million.

"We are opening here and elsewhere because we thought the trends in terms of geography and travel are up," said Ted McNally, Rand McNally retail division vice president and great-great grandson of Andrew McNally, co-founder of the 134-year-old closely held family firm. "People are taking more care in their travel plans, the number of international travelers is rising, there is an increased awareness of geography and recent current events worldwide have spurred interest in knowing where everything is."

Rand McNally is one of the world's largest commercial mapmakers. Including its publishing and printing operations, the Illinois-based company has annual sales of $300 million. (Rand McNally, incidentally, makes all tickets for Washington's Metro system.)

The retail division is the company's newest growth vehicle. The company has opened new stores in the past year after selling merchandise from only three stores -- in New York, Chicago and San Francisco -- since the 1950s.

So far, McNally said, the new stores have been grossing revenue typical for specialty operations -- an average of $500 per square foot.

McNally said the company is considering even more new locations, mostly in urban centers, though he thinks the stores also would work in upscale malls. But more expansion depends on the success of the new stores, including the one in Washington.

He is optimistic about the local store's prospects. "We think Washington should be a great earner for us with its travel-oriented, international and sophisticated consumer," McNally said. "It's a natural."

The new Rand McNally store here, with its wood paneling and soft lighting, allows the many kinds of maps -- topographical maps, satellite maps, political maps, antique maps, wall maps and others -- to be displayed like works of art.

But maps aren't the only offering in the store. Its 10,000-item inventory includes travel guides, literary travel books, business reference manuals, audio and videotapes and travel-related gift items, such as a basketball with the world painted on it and a clear map shower curtain with the Western Hemisphere covering all the right places. Map pins come in a dozen different colors.

And there are 30 different models of globes -- from a six-inch one for $8.95 to a specially made six-foot sphere that is motorized and can have any combination of vegetation, political or other illustration costing from $21,250 to $43,150.

"We want to be the superstore for travel," said manager Mike Zuber. This holiday season, he said, the store has sold a lot of coffee table books and other gifts, but the current geopolitical crises also have been good for business.

"With Iraq, the Middle East maps are going as fast as we can get them in and what is happening in Eastern Europe and Germany has prompted a lot of interest," Zuber said. "And Costa Rica seems to be a popular vacation destination these days for Washingtonians."

A more established measure of Washington's interest in geography is the Map Store, which the Fine family bought in 1972 from a failed Rand McNally attempt at retail sales.

Barbara Fine and her mother own the small store. It seems less of a retail contender, but the activity behind the scenes is intense.

Unlike the Rand McNally store, which is more for the general public, Fine does a lot of business with corporations, the press and government and educational institutions. Behind the 600 square feet of retail space, there are three large stockrooms filled with thousands of maps.

"It's more for purists," said Fine. "Things like guide books and travel gifts are more of a sideline for us." She did not want to discuss the firm's finances, except to say the business was profitable.

Still, she said, the economic slowdown locally has hurt the Map Store.

"Big corporations have cut back on map-buying for their marketing and demographic studies, for example, because they are doing less business expansion," Fine said. "And baby boomers are not traveling as much as they realize the burdens of their debt ... the first thing to go is travel."

But the national and international activity that rivets Washington is always a boon.

"You can see the business rise in a crisis -- like the run on San Francisco maps when the earthquake hit in 1989," Fine said. "Right now the Middle East is hot and interest in Yugoslavia and Russia is heating up."

That interest has spurred National Geographic, acknowledged by many devotees as the maker of some of the best maps around, to make a new map of the Middle East, scheduled to be out soon. It includes new information, including updated population, military capabilities and religious status.

The elegant National Geographic maps are not available except to Society members or at its retail location -- open in some form since 1951. Full of National Geographic Atlas books, maps and other publications, the store is usually busy with shoppers drawn from the organization's many exhibits in the lobby.

"We tend to do well in difficult economic times, since maps and other geographical books are things people buy to keep forever," said Suzanne Toft, store supervisor. "But we'd have this here no matter what, since our mission is to promote geography."

If having one map store in a lobby promotes interest in the subject, then having three within walking distance would seem a critical mass that could attract shoppers. And they are by no means the only map and travel sellers in the region.

The retailers said there's growing competition from sources as varied as the Automobile Association of America, oil companies, book chains such as Crown Books and, of course, the federal and state governments.

A number of agencies in Washington, including the Defense Mapping Agency and the Library of Congress, produce or have extensive map resources.

But with all the changes in the world, from the joining of the Germanys to the unification of Yemen, there always is a need for more maps, which are altered frequently. "That's the thing about this business," said Fine. "The borders are always moving."