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NORMAL Loss of four well-known stores by the end of the year doesn't surprise Crossroads Center owner SugarOak Management Services LLC.

By Jan. 1, VF Factory Outlet, Kitchen Collection, Rue 21 and Dress Barn will close.

Rue 21 and Dress Barn are consolidating operations to their stores in the Shoppes at College Hills.

No one could be reached for comment at VF Factory Outlet. Corporate officials for Kitchen Collection decided not to renew their lease.

The kitchen store was the first store to open at the mall when it began 10 years ago.

"We are not surprised. Being in the business of revitalizing malls, we deal with this all the time. The mall is becoming less of an outlet center. That's why we took outlet out of the name," said Stephen Roberts, SugarOak marketing director.

SugarOak officials have repeatedly said Crossroads Center will become more a mix of destination retail, service, office and entertainment. In the last year, most new businesses have been destination retail, including saltwater fish and coral business The Mad Reefer, antique store The Bronze Giraffe and hand-blown glass/Polish pottery store Once in a Blue Moon.

Monica Robinson, Kitchen Collection assistant manager, described business as good, but sales had declined. She chalked up the situation to a general economic slowdown marked by tight-fisted consumers which has affected other retail stores.

Kitchen Collection will not have a close-out sale. All inventory will be packed early next year and sent to another store, said Robinson.

Despite the recent closings, Crossroads Center still contains 10 retail shops, a women's workout facility, a salon, a martial arts center, a soon-to-open bingo hall and two businesses — AFNI and Credit Union 1.

“I don't think anyone else can compete with us on office lease rates. We have one of the largest, contiguous office spaces in the market," said Roberts. “My job is to figure out what the market dictates. The Bloomington market is growing really fast for the type of tenants (locally owned, destination retail stores) who have come and are coming to Crossroads Center."

Occupancy at the 245,000-square-foot mall amounted to just 35 percent when SugarOak, of Herndon, Va., bought the property for $2.5 million in June 2004. By July this year, occupancy soared to 57 percent. As of Jan. 1, occupancy will stand at 47 percent.

“Our goal is 100 percent occupancy. We have 10 good lease prospects, which I can't yet discuss. We are working as quickly as possible to meet that goal. It's one of those things that just takes time," said Roberts. “I would suggest people come out, ask about our rates and take a tour of the facilities with Chad (Jones, Crossroad Center manager)."

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