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BLOOMINGTON Paying $10 for a gift card at Eastland Mall isn't worth $10 at any of the mall's stores. It's worth $8.

The mall's new owners are charging a $2 fee on gift cards, which are redeemable at any of the mall's stores. To give a $10 gift card worth $10 of merchandise, a shopper has to pay $12.

"Across the shopping center industry, something that many mall developers do is charge a service fee for gift cards," said Deborah Gibb, spokeswoman for Tennessee-based CBL & Associates Properties.

CBL purchased Eastland Mall in October as part of a three-mall, $516.9 million deal. When the sale finalized in November, CBL took Eastland's old gift cards off the shelves.

The old gift cards are still redeemable, however, Gibb said.

New cards, though, carry the $2 fee.

"It covers administration costs, overhead expenses, computer costs, tech costs," Gibb said. "It ensures that we can offer the service available to our customers."

The Illinois Comptroller and other consumer advocacy groups warn shoppers to watch for such fees on cards, including upfront fees like Eastland's and interest charges and expiration dates.

Other Twin City retail chains don't charge fees on gift cards, including Best Buy, Target, Barnes & Noble Bookstore, Circuit City, Kmart, Wal-Mart and Borders Books, Movies, Music & Cafe.

"You don't want to discourage gift cards," said Toby Ford, a manager at Target in Normal. "Nine times out of 10, that person receiving the gift card is going to spend more than the value of the gift card. They're going to buy something else."

Normal's Shoppes at College Hills doesn't yet offer gift cards, but will sometime in 2006, said spokesman Brian Buralli. The cards will not carry a fee, he said.


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