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As you enter Crossroads Plaza, a sign suggests you leave.

Not a great first impression. But anymore, this Salt Lake City shopping center isn't out to dazzle. More mausoleum than mall, just three stores remain open where 160 once thrived.

Oddly, this is a sign of progress: The windows at the closed Mervyn's are papered in black. The escalator at the entrance is walled off. The shuttered fourth floor is home to garbage pails that catch water from the leaking roof. The food court is starved of eateries.

Plants outnumber shoppers.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints owns the ghost town, along with the comparatively bustling ZCMI Center across Main Street. The church, with its headquarters to the north, bought a struggling Crossroads in 2003 to protect its nearby Temple Square from blight.

Now Crossroads is being cleared out so it eventually can be rebuilt. (ZCMI will be renovated, too.) The church hasn't said when that will happen. In the meantime, Crossroads has become a sort-of museum - a monument to extinct 1980s-era malls.

Standing at the balcony overlooking Crossroads' still-working fountain, Scott Jinks took in the vast emptiness earlier this week. He knew the mall was being vacated, but didn't realize how efficiently. The 60-year-old Salt Laker used to come to people-watch. There weren't many to spy this day.

Most of the foot traffic is headed to and from the Key Bank Tower, a 300,000-square-foot office building that stands inside Crossroads. It, too, is being cleared out because the church apparently wants to demolish it.

The shoppers who do show are there for Nordstrom, where sales nevertheless are slow.

"People ask us on a daily basis if we're going out of business," said Adam Morales, a salesman at the department store's The Rail section.

The answer is no. The store is expected to remain open during construction. However, a clerk at the neighboring women's clothing shop Mariposa said her store may shut down by Dec. 1.

Morales is lucky. He has a big-screen TV flashing MTV in his department to keep him entertained while he waits for the 15 or so customers he helps a day.

The two couples from England and Wales sitting near Nordstrom's cafe stood out for their mere presence. On a bus tour of national parks, they had stopped in during their window of free time.

"We've been very pleased to find someone who does latte," said Alma Bishop of North Wales.

They were surprised, however, not to find fellow shoppers. "It's a bit empty, isn't it?" added her husband, Peter Bishop. Pushing through the glass doors, intrepid visitors will find no open shops or other visitors. Piped in music masks the lack of human chatter. Crooning the song "Drift Away," an artist sings, "Thanks for the joy you've given me."

How apt. Built in 1980, Crossroads once was hailed by its developers as "instrumental in the revitalization of downtown Salt Lake City." The hulking big box was meant to lure suburban shoppers to save a sputtering Main Street.

But as fortresslike malls have given way to outdoor "lifestyle centers" such as The Gateway, places like Crossroads have become obsolete. Its stores started moving to Gateway in 2001. Nordstrom wanted to, but the city said no to protect Main Street. The food court remained for a time, but it too shuttered.

"Once Chick-fil-A left, that was the killer," says a shop owner.

In other words, no mall rat would be caught loafing at Crossroads. "I used to shop here a lot - when they had stores," said Kiefer Burke, a 17-year-old senior at West High who mistakenly thought Crossroads' food court had one remaining eatery.

The lack of activity keeps a security guard's job, uh, secure. "There's nothing to steal," said one patrol person.

City officials are forgiving - if not ready for signs of redevelopment.

"I know the expression is calm before the storm. This is the darkness before the light," said Alison McFarlane, the mayor's economic-development adviser who recently shopped at the mall to be supportive of downtown businesses to the "bitter end."

While she and others would prefer the church had more to show after three years of planning, McFarlane would rather the developers - nationally renowned mall operator Taubman Centers also is involved - take their time and get it right.

"There's no doubt in my mind that we're going to have a project that is amazing. It's just getting there."

The LDS Church declined to respond to specific questions about its plans, instead saying tenant negotiations are ongoing.

Even if it's not yet a great place to shop, Crossroads can provide adventure.

Angie Lillywhite came from Draper to hit Nordstrom, but she ventured out to the empty corridors with her four children on a lark. "They wanted to see what an empty mall looks like."

And what does it look like?

Luke, 5, replied: "Weird."

Stores still open at Crossroads

* Nordstrom

* Ypsilon

* Mariposa