Did you get the memo? Navigation systems aren't just for pilots and geeks anymore. And it's not like they're content staying put in your car, either; they've migrated to your wrist, your bike, and your phone. They've gone so mainstream, in fact, that Garmin decided earlier this year that they could justify springing for a brick-and-mortar store in the heart of one of North America's trendiest shopping districts, Chicago's Magnificent Mile. For the record, yes -- this is the same Magnificent Mile fellow tech companies Motorola and Nokia have also decided to call home in 2006 (in fact, you can see Motorola's joint across the street). Spending big bucks on the glitz and glamor of a Michigan Avenue address is all well and good, but realistically, what sets the world's first Garmin Store apart from, say, your local Best Buy or Circuit City when it comes time to mess around with Garmin's latest navigational wizardry? Read on for our sneak peek!

This is what a would-be Garmin customer sees the moment they step through the glass double doors of the entrance. The store is laid out logically: consumer products (StreetPilot, nüvi, Forerunner, and so on) on the main level, specialty products (aviation, marine, outdoor) on the second level, and conference rooms on the third.

Jay Leno's personal zumo-equipped Kawasaki Ninja ZX-14 sits near the entrance as a stark reminder that nav systems are used and enjoyed by cool people, too. Note the miscellaneous scraps in the lower right -- the store has really come together in record time, and workers were putting the finishing touches on the facility even today for Saturday's grand opening.

Repeaters mounted in the ceilings of the first and second levels provide GPS reception to all the units on the show floor. We thought it'd be cool if they were computer-controlled and could be programmed to make the units think they were elsewhere (or perhaps following a route) but it turns out they just pull in the actual GPS signal through an antenna mounted on the building's roof.







From the trail to the cockpit, every (and we do mean every) Garmin product a consumer could possibly care about is on display. With the exception of the aviation line, everything is also on sale here -- so to answer the obvious question, no, you can't buy this G1000 glass cockpit system here and mount it in the headrests of your BMW.

The "Wall of Accessories" (our clever name, not theirs) should bail out folks desperately searching for that hard-to-find mount or case.







The store had a nifty organic / tech feel going on that we were really digging. The walls are composed of wavy wood panels with white, rounded rocks at their base, while most everything else is sharp metal and glass. These video panels were kind of going crazy when we were watching them, but they can be set up to show fragments of the same image as well.

Hmm... looks a little iffy. And we forgot our umbrella.

Garmin's own people summed up our experience best: if people walk in off the street and buy their navigation system here, great. But if they just fiddle around here then go back from whence they came and buy the equipment from their local shop, that's great too. The point is, we came away with the impression that the Garmin Store is a great place to lower the barrier of entry and get everyday folks exposed to what exactly it is that GPS can do for them. If you're not in Chicago, readers can live vicariously through Garmin's own blog of the opening; meanwhile, Midwesterners and passers-by can get their first taste of the Garmin Store tomorrow, November 10, with a number of special events progressing throughout the day.