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Destiny USA adds more entertainment attractions to make up for retail market decline

Payne Horning
Alex Deno and her son Andrew stopped by Cuse VR, a virtual reality store, while shopping at Destiny USA.

From arcades to bowling alleys to go-karts, Destiny USA doesn't look like your typical mall and management says that's because it's not.

Credit Payne Horning / WRVO News
Customers at Destiny USA can race go karts at RPM Raceway.

"It's a destination primarily," said Nikita Jankowski, the director of marketing at Destiny USA. "It’s the largest shopping, dining, and entertainment venue in New York state. We eliminated the word mall because it’s way more than a mall."

Of its more than 250 stores, there are at least 16 that offer a break from shopping for those inside and more on the way. They range from escape rooms to a comedy club to virtual reality entertainment.

Alex Deno, whose son Andrew just escaped virtual dinosaurs at Cuse VR, says these new family friendly options make it more attractive for her to drive over from Utica.

"We can do a little shopping and entertain the kids," Deno said. "It feeds everyone’s needs."

But it's not just providing a break from shopping. Leila Dean, assistant curator for the Museum of Intrigue that offers customers a live-action mystery game, says these unique attractions are the reason some people are coming to Destiny.

"Yesterday, our first two groups of the day were from Rhode Island and Denmark," Dean said. "They come from all over for the entertainment value, so having entertainment in the mall is really, really good for Syracuse."

Credit Payne Horning / WRVO News
Leila Dean, or Dr. Ariana Rastrinson, is the assistant curator at the Museum of Intrigue, an immersive mystery game.

Destiny's director of travel and tourism Rose Hapanowich says foot traffic at the mall is not down, but it is there for different reasons. Visits from out of towners are up, especially from tourist groups traveling from New York City to Canada and Niagara Falls. An Embassy Suites connected to Destiny by a covered pedestrian walkway opened in 2017.

Hapanowich says the retail industry is governed by trends and this is Destiny's attempt to ride the latest wave.

"Whereas before, being a traditional mall, we catered to a certain demographic who was looking to shop," Hapanowich said. "Now, we are catering to people looking for an experience. And whether that experience is grabbing a bargain at an outlet, having fun with their family at an amusement, or just enjoying a drink and some fine food, you can get that all here."

Despite its relative success compared to other malls, Destiny is still grappling with a changing marketplace like all other brick-and-mortar stores. The mall has lost more than a dozen outlets in recent years like Sears, Armani, and Payless Shoe Source.

Credit Destiny USA (US Embassy Canada, Flickr)

Milena Petrova, an associate professor of finance at Syracuse University, says that's unlikely to change as younger generations who prefer to do their shopping online are increasingly making up a larger part of the customer base.

"They actually spend less, are more price shoppers, and I think for that reason the malls as we knew them in the past will have to change," Petrova said. "We will need to find other reasons to actually give customers to go to shopping."

Petrova says this younger generation is willing to spend money on experiences. But, the push to add more entertainment-based stores at Destiny may be more of necessity than a strategy.

Two credit rating agencies recently downgraded the more than $400 million it owes in bonds, citing weak performance.

"What Destiny needs is more time because they're experiencing store closures and they need time to lease up that space," Petrova said. 

Payne Horning is a reporter and producer, primarily focusing on the city of Oswego and Oswego County. He has a passion for covering local politics and how it impacts the lives of everyday citizens. Originally from Iowa, Horning moved to Muncie, Indiana to study journalism, telecommunications and political science at Ball State University. While there, he worked as a reporter and substitute host at Indiana Public Radio. He also covered the 2015 session of the Indiana General Assembly for the statewide Indiana Public Broadcasting network.