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Getting a go-ahead from any national retailer to build a store in today's crazy economy is one tough challenge. Yet the Shiloh Crossing Shopping Center has its share of workers laying masonry, framing up walls and opening small retail stores.

So far, three businesses are open on the site southeast of the Shiloh Road and King Avenue West intersection: Kohl's Department Store, Candy Town USA and Cellular Connection.

Huntington Learning Center will open mid-December, Subway by the end of December or early January and City Brew in February. Carmike Theatre's 14-screen complex is already walled in, and Taco Bell's skeleton is framed up just south of the main entrance off of Shiloh.

Another half-dozen businesses are building or planning to build here, including up to three junior box stores or smaller national retailers.

During a trip to New York City, Shiloh developer Steve Corning said he talked Monday with one potential tenant that is almost ready to go. Two others are expected to hold meetings in December to decide whether to build in Billings.

"They are at least in the letter-of-intent stage, and three of them are nationals," said Corning. "But I cannot disclose their names."

The three national retailers could potentially take up a total of 31,000 square feet of retail space adjacent to Kohl's. At one time, Macy's was rumored to be considering this location, but there is no current news about that retailer coming to Billings.

Corning's partners in the development company, Shiloh Crossing LLC, are Joel and Andrea Long's sons Ralph, Malcolm and Joel Thor Long. Corning and the Long family also have formed a second limited-liability company that owns two mini-malls in the development. A third LLC owns the theater's land and building and a mini-mall being built in front of the theater.

Joel Long founded JTL Group, which was renamed Knife River Corp. after he sold the business to MDU Resources Group. Long and Corning also developed The Marketplace and Marketplace West in Billings.

"Things are coming along quite well out there. Taco Bell is well under way," Joel Long said.

Negotiations are almost complete with McDonald's Restaurant to build across from Taco Bell on the north side of the Shiloh entrance.

First Interstate Bank purchased the two acres at the prize corner of Shiloh and King, but no construction is planned for another two or three years until the Shiloh Road improvements are completed.

"We've got the ability to build a 20,000-square-foot building," said the bank's Regional President Keith Cook. He is considering a two-story bank.

Just south of Kohl's, Georgia-based Carmike Cinemas is building a 14-screen theater that requires 51,000 square feet. The movies will shown digitally, not by traditional film projectors, and some 3-D movies are planned. The complex will employ about 90 people, most part-timers.

When the Shiloh complex opens in May, Carmike plans on closing its Carmike 7 Theatres at 2255 Overland Ave. Then the nation's fourth-largest movie chain will operate two theatre complexes in Billings, the Wynnsong 10 Theatres and the Shiloh building.

The potential customer draw of Carmike has Corning smiling.

"It will be the state-of-the-art mousetrap in this region. This will generate up to 600,000 to 700,000 visits a year at a minimum," he said.

Here's a rundown on the other businesses moving to Shiloh Crossing:

• Cellular Connection, which started business in Billings in 1995, opened at Shiloh Crossing two weeks ago. After operating for 13 years in Bozeman, Cellular Connection decided to close that store and focus on the Billings market.

C. Jay Deeney and Cliff Schwahn own the business, an Alltel Wireless agent. This seems to be the right time and the right location in what amounts to an outdoor shopping mall, Deeney said.

Cellular Connection also plans on opening a store by Cabela's in the town's other start-up shopping center, Billings Town Square, off Interstate 90 and South Billings Boulevard.

• Cellular One, formerly Chinook Wireless, is expected to open next month, but a spokesman could be reached for comment.

• As soon as its city building permit comes through, Subway has its equipment ordered and is ready to move into a mini-mall just west of City Brew's new building.

Kevin Perreault and his partner, Steve Barkley, run a dozen Subway restaurants in Billings and claim double-digit growth each year since 2002. The opportunity to open a third store in a Corning project was attractive despite the down economy, Perreault said.

"There are no guarantees in life no matter which way you look at it. You have to plan ahead," he said. "We're in it for the long haul."

• Meanwhile, City Brew is opening a coffee shop in February. This is the only new location the Billings-born business is opening this year and in 2009.

"We're very brave and courageous right now to move forward with this store. Everyone in this company decided to proceed," said City Brew founder Becky Reno.

Finding the right employees is too tough over the busy holiday season, which is why Reno won't open a store in November and December, even though she'll miss the shopping rush.

"It's just too hard on our people. Last year, we opened in Bozeman in March," she said.

• In mid-December, Jennifer Quinn will open a Huntington Learning Center at 851 Shiloh Crossing Boulevard. The franchise has tutored children and adults for 30 years. For Quinn, moving to Montana and starting a business was a dream after logging 20 years working in the securities industry on Wall Street.

"I have a very strong business background, and the people that I work with have a strong educational background," Quinn said.

Other businesses are eyeing the commercial subdivision, but wouldn't talk on the record yet.

Draw is as critical to a developer as it is to a poker player.

Corning, who has developed shopping centers across Montana, said he wouldn't start one without at least one anchor store unless he owned a killer location.

"In the long pull, those anchors are going to do a service for the smaller retailers," he said. "That's why they are so valuable."

Contact Jan Falstad at jfalstad@billingsgazette.com or 657-1306.

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