BROOKLYN, N.Y., JULY 22 -- Fifty people were lined up at the front door of the just-opened Spike's Joint. Cashiers inside were ringing up 12-buck "Do the Right Thing" T-shirts and 15-buck "Mo' Better Blues" caps nonstop. And in the back room, autographing purchases with a waterproof marker, sat the hyphenated filmmaker himself.

"I still have to pay for this," said a customer, offering an official "Mo' Better Blues" souvenir program ($5) for the writer-director-actor's signature.

"Why don't you pay for it first?" Spike Lee suggested pleasantly, then reminded the man at the door to admit only those shoppers bearing receipts. This was not a charity event. This was business.

In the year since his portrayal of racial tensions in Bedford-Stuyvesant, "Do the Right Thing," set the screen sizzling and pundits debating -- a year during which race relations in New York City made him look like a prophet -- Lee's been called on as a sort of messenger from young black America. It's not a role he's particularly comfortable in. "I understand why it's done, but I don't really accept that responsibility or that burden," he said a little before the store's ceremonial opening. "I'm not a spokesperson; I'm a filmmaker."

He'll accept the term entrepreneur, though. "Yeah, I think we need more black entrepreneurs," he said. "A lot more." Though that may be too understated a term. Lee's not only releasing his fifth movie next week, he has also directed a series of Levi's 501 jeans commercials ("like 30-second documentaries") that's set to break on nationwide television July 31. He makes short films and videos (Public Enemy, Tracy Chapman, E.U., Anita Baker), publishes books that accompany each of his films, costars as Mars Blackmon in Nike's Air Jordan commercials. He's an employer and a landlord; he's a growth industry.

Spike's Joint -- a 1,700-square-foot corner storefront on DeKalb Avenue in Fort Greene, the neighborhood that's home to Lee and his production company, Forty Acres and a Mule Filmworks -- grew out of fans calling Forty Acres wanting to buy movie paraphernalia. Merchandise was being shipped all over, including to Europe and Japan, says Forty Acres' marketing director, Pedro Barry. Lee was running a de facto mail order business out of his offices and he decided to get serious about it.

He bought this four-story brownstone last month and got the construction finished in record time, allowing the business to be launched, probably not coincidentally, at about the same time as "Mo' Better Blues," which opens Aug. 3. Spike's Joint, with its polished wood floors, spiffy green-black-and-red exterior and bodacious sound system, replaced what was a ground-floor real estate office. The back room will be used for "telemarketing," Barry says; Lee's devotees will be able to dial an 800 number and place their orders for videos, posters, $1 key chains and $300 leather-sleeved jackets. Franchised Spike's Joints, Barry said, are planned for Los Angeles, Atlanta and Chicago late this year or early next.

The purpose is straightforward, Lee said: "to make money." He grew testy when reporters asked how much he'd invested in the store ("it wasn't cheap") or how long it would take him to break even ("private enterprise; it's not a public company") or how much he expected to earn. He didn't want to talk about how much property he owns in Fort Greene, though he also has purchased the building up the street that houses Forty Mules.

"I find it {expletive} amazing that the minute black people start a business, you get asked all these stupid ... questions," he said with annoyance. "When white people start a business no one says a word. Black people want to make some money, it's 'So, Spike, are you going to give all your money back to the community?' " he mocked, slipping into an officious tone. " 'What about all those babies on crack?' "

He did allow that he's interested in making enough money to self-finance his movies. He did it once -- "She's Gotta Have It," his first mass-distributed movie, was made for a paltry $175,000 in 1986 -- but he now relies on studio money. His budgets are ascending: "School Daze" and "Do the Right Thing" each cost $6.5 million, "Mo' Better Blues" (which stars Denzel Washington) reached $10 million, and "Jungle Fever," which he'll start shooting in a few weeks, is looking like $14 million. Lee would like to have "a financing source outside Hollywood. It's going to come to that -- there will be scripts they're not going to want to touch." But even with telemarketing, he acknowledges, "It's not going to happen from selling T-shirts."

Still, several hundred people turned out to welcome Fort Greene's newest retailer. Sharmila Voorakkara saw the Joint's ad in the Village Voice and came by because she admired "Do the Right Thing" as "an honest depiction of what someone knew." James Rencher will commute from Queens for a sales job at Spike's Joint ($16,000 a year, no benefits, he said). He could sell T-shirts closer to home, but "I would like to work for Spike Lee. It's going to be a growing company."

The tenants who live above the store were drinking the landlord's health with plastic cups of cider and cans of Pepsi. "We always said this was going to be a famous building," said Lillye Davenport, who's lived there for a decade.

"The neighborhood years ago was really bad; you didn't even want to drive by in a bus," added tenant Denise Andrews. But Fort Greene looks to be rebounding and Lee's presence has helped, she said. "It's nice to have him here. He's a people-person; he waves, he's friendly. We're almost into Hollywood status here."

When noon came, Lee and his associates gathered before the crowd at the front door. Monty Ross, who co-produces Lee's movies and is vice president of Forty Acres, served as toastmaster. Spike's Joint, he said, "is more than T-shirt, hats and books. It's history." And although Lee could by now have set up shop in Manhattan or be lounging around a pool in Beverly Hills, Ross said, his latest venture was "right here in the heart of Brooklyn to make a statement. ... 'We're here, we're not going nowhere. We're fired up, we're not going to take it no more.' There's more to come."

"I think we're making a very important statement that we black people have to start building and owning our own businesses," Lee said, after thanking the crowd for turning out. Then, with flashbulbs blazing and video cameras rolling, he turned to push open the front door. "Here we go," he said.